JUST when you thought we’d heard the worst of the linguistic Brexit adaptations, along comes “Legs-it” and blows them all out of the water. “Never Mind Brexit – Who Won Legs-it!” was the headline on the English Daily Mail’s front page yesterday alongside a photo of Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May and yes – their legs.

The First Minister and Prime Minister were meeting in Glasgow, ahead of the ScotRef vote in Holyrood on yesterday and the triggering of Article 50 today.

But rather than going down that stale, old-fashioned journalistic route of just reporting an important meeting between the leaders of two countries, the Daily Mail asked us to judge which woman has the better legs.

The headline and bizarre focus on their limbs was smutty, demeaning and undoubtedly sexist. The article inside, written by Sarah Vine, was arguably much worse.

She said: “But what stands out here are the legs – and the vast expanse on show. There is no doubt that both women consider their pins to be the finest weapon in their physical arsenal. Consequently, both have been unsheathed.”

She went on to suggest that the First Minister’s “shapely shanks” were arranged in a way which demonstrated a “direct attempt at seduction” and that she was saying to voters “come, succumb to my revolutionary allure’’.

The article also examined in excruciatingly cringeworthy detail the way the two leaders placed their hands. Nicola Sturgeon has a stressed-out-looking thumb, apparently. Who knew?

A separate article in the same paper, by a male “etiquette expert” determined that Sturgeon was “sloppy” for the way in which she crossed her legs.

There need be no ambiguity about this. No devil’s advocate or whataboutery. It doesn’t require strenuous thinking to come to the conclusion that the nature of this coverage is because the two leaders are women. People can point to mentions of Boris Johnson’s hair, or tabloid photos of Jeremy Corbyn in a tracksuit all they like. But the focus – bordering on obsession – of the clothes, shoes and body parts of the Prime Minister and First Minister is unparalleled when it comes to their male counterparts.

There is often a scramble to hold up May and Sturgeon as examples of how women have achieved equality. Coverage like this is a helpful reminder that we have not.

Women in public life are subjected to a constant drip, drip, drip of objectification and sexist coverage, bearing no relevance to their roles or positions.

Whether it’s Sturgeon Photoshopped on a wrecking ball in her underwear, or Kezia Dugdale being described as “an accessory to Corbyn, and not a very attractive one at that” – it’s always there.

It’s not always on the front page, where it draws a lot of attention, but lurking in the column inches, serving to undermine and diminish the authority and stature of women in politics.

On social media, the headline and accompanying article was largely met with condemnation and mockery. Some of the discussion was centred on how we collectively react to blatantly sexist coverage when we see it. It was suggested that the backlash to the Daily Mail was giving them exactly what they wanted. Many commented: “It’s the Daily Mail – what do you expect?” I have sympathy with that view.

I certainly don’t expect much by way of decency from the Daily Mail, and I am loath to draw attention to them in a way that will generate ad revenue.

However, the broader picture must be taken into consideration. Women are under-represented in politics.

If we are to encourage more women into public life then we need to take steps to address sexist portrayals of female politicians.

Whether we react or not, the articles and headlines will still be there. Having low expectations of the journalistic standard of a certain newspaper doesn’t mean we give up in trying to force meaningful change. In truth, this isn’t even about Sturgeon and May as individuals.

I doubt they will have lost any sleep over what a newspaper columnist thought of their legs.

It isn’t even about one headline, or one newspaper. This type of coverage is part of a much wider problem concerning the way women are represented and reflected in the media. Too often, women are portrayed as passive objects to be enjoyed for their looks and as decoration to fill the pages. We see them in the news regularly due to violence being perpetrated against them. What we don’t see as often is women being reported on for their work, their achievements and their influence.

When two of the most powerful women in the country are reduced to the sum of their body parts, it sends a message about the value that the media places on women’s abilities. It serves as a reminder to women that it doesn’t matter how high they climb, how many glass ceilings they shatter or even if they are in charge of running a country. For as long as they have legs, and shoes and clothes and faces that sometimes aren’t smiling – these are all fair game for commentary, over and above the work they do or the contribution they make.