The Belfast Telegraph has produced a quite staggering article judging election candidates based purely on their looks and dress sense in campaign posters.
Reaction to the double-page spread on Thursday, which labels one female candidate a "girly girl", admires a "plunging neck line" and notes that another looks like she needs "a good night's sleep", has been branded sexist and outdated by commenters online.
And reading the article (titled "So, which candidates are topping the poles [sic]") in full, it's perhaps easy to understand why people might hold those opinions.
While male candidates don't escape the objectification (one looks "smirky smug", while another has teeth that "look as if they were never intended for eating with"), they play a mere peripheral role on the layout of the page.
Here is a selection of the more outrageous quotes:
On the Workers Party candidate Gemma Weir:
On teeth and eyes, she is right up there with Jo-Anne, but she beats her flat on looking like she thinks more than she plays.
On the UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson:
See how the lip gloss seems to catch the glow off her cheeks. She’s a girly girl. But is she an MP?
On Alliance’s Naomi Long:
Naomi is a good looking woman. The camera likes her… That fiery red hair is priceless. She gets away with it, because it is nature's endowment.
On the Green Party's Claire Bailey:
The plunging neckline is a great idea. On her right side it looks as if it has been manually arranged to meet the photographer’s conception of optimal exposure. You can just hear him saying: ‘Just a bit wider there dear’.
And here's some of the reaction:
Even Alliance's Naomi Long has responded:
A spokesperson for Alliance told i100.co.uk:
"For anyone to suggest Naomi Long lacks a sense of humour or the ability to laugh at herself is ridiculous. One only has to look at her social media accounts, where she regularly engages with everyone in a light-hearted way, or her recent ‘mean tweets’ video, in which she responded to online trolls in the face of their abuse. Even her tweet in reply to this article was good mannered.
"There is however a clear difference between a bit of fun and casual sexism, which this article clearly is. The excuse that men were also covered or it was intended to be humorous falls rather flat when the female candidates are so prominently highlighted, especially given the struggle women face to be taken seriously in politics.
"The article was especially disappointing when it comes from what claims to be a reputable newspaper."
Malachi O'Doherty, who co-authored the article, told i100.co.uk that there is absolutely "nothing sexist" about it.
The piece relates to more male than female candidates and most get a drubbing, so there is nothing sexist in the writing of the piece.
Most of the images are pretty ghastly and since I live here and am confronted with them every day for weeks I felt entitled to jibe at them. The best outcome would be that all parties would put a bit more consideration into posters in future.
- Malachi O'Doherty, co-author
Reacting to the criticism, the Belfast Telegraph has provided the following statement to i100.co.uk:
"The editorial spread has been wilfully misrepresented by being selectively shared online.
"As well as looking at the election posters of four women, it also looked at the posters of five men.
"Those men were also the subject of robust comments about their appearance — though you wouldn’t know that if you took your news from social media.
"We asked two writers, Malachi O’Doherty and Frances Burscough, to take a tongue-in-cheek look at how the candidates had chosen to publicly present themselves.
"The key word here is 'humour'.
"Political parties — without exception — employ professional PR people and professional photographers and stylists to make themselves look “good” on posters which pollute every telegraph pole in the land, but then complain about people passing comment on the image they are actually trying to convey on them.
"The question should be asked: why posters at all? And why foster and promote a cult of personality with certain politicians and then run off when people laugh at them?
"What they are really objecting to here is being laughed at. The women issue is a diversion — which they are all very good at promoting."
You can read the full article over at the Belfast Telegraph's website here, if you really want to.