South China Morning Post (SCMP), Hong Kong's main English-language daily, published on Friday (March 17) a rare apology online by its editor-in-chief for an extraordinarily sexist essay by a male columnist telling women how they should dress in cold weather.
"The SCMP takes very seriously our role as a forum for meaningful discourse in society. We welcome diverse views and never shy away from controversial issues. However, we will not be a platform that perpetuates the objectification of women, nor the demeaning of any group in society," wrote editor-in-chief Tammy Tam in the letter posted on the Hong Kong news landing page of the newspaper's website.
"In this case, our online posting of the column 'How Hong Kong women manage to dress so well in cold climes' represented a serious lapse in judgement," she said.
The offending commentary was published on the newspaper's website on Thursday afternoon.
Written by Mr Mike Rowse, a former civil servant who is now a private consultant and adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the column started off with a disclaimer: "WARNING: Readers of a nervous disposition, or who have supped too long at the well of political correctness, should turn away NOW."
Mr Rowse then went straight for the jugular.
"I would like to pay tribute to the way many Hong Kong girls dressed themselves during the recent cold snap so as to keep warm while still managing to look very attractive, thereby warming the boys too," he wrote.
"They say that men dress to please themselves, while women dress to please men. I have always thought the first part of that expression is mostly true, but I have reservations about the second part."
He applauded, almost paternally, women who continued to wear miniskirts, shorts and skimpy tops in colder weather. "My enjoyment of their appearance is outweighed by my concern they will get pneumonia, so please, as I still want you around when summer is back, do look after yourselves."
But he castigated women who "go completely in the opposite direction and give up altogether".
"At the first cold blast of air they throw on two or more shapeless quilts and stagger around looking like eskimos who took a wrong turn at the North Pole," he chided.
The best outfit, he said, comprises "boots and a traditional dress with a smart coat on top".
"The boots finished a couple of inches below the knee, the coat two inches or so above, and inside a dress or skirt not quite as long. So with every confident stride forward that they took, there would be just a glimpse of thigh, nothing immodest you understand, but enough to light a spark in an old man’s eye."
The column was taken down hours after it went up, said Ms Tam, the editor-in-chief in her apology.
"We realised shortly after posting the column online that it did not meet our high standards. We removed the article from our website and deleted the relevant Facebook post and tweet as soon as was practicable. We also removed it from the list of articles to be published in the next morning’s print edition," she wrote.
"We did so not because the article was controversial, but rather because it goes against the SCMP’s editorial and company values. We have notified the author of our decision and stand by it.
"We take full responsibility for this mistake and apologise to our readers for not living up to the standards that they deserve from us."