ELIZABETH DAY: Don’t tell me male rage is just a private matter
ELIZABETH DAY: I’ve had an angry lover’s hand round my neck. So don’t tell me male rage is just a private matter
There are those who will have read about Boris Johnson’s early-morning altercation with his girlfriend and instantly dismissed it.
‘Well,’ they might have said over their breakfast toast and marmalade, ‘who cares? After all, it’s a private matter. It happened behind closed doors.’
There are those who will have fallen back on the cliched fig-leaf of romantic narrative to insist it was simply ‘a lovers’ tiff’, as if an explosion of fury so violent one neighbour thought a murder was under way can be explained away as no more than an effervescence of passion.
Mark Field, the Conservative MP whose automatic response when a peaceful female protester had the temerity to walk behind his chair at a black-tie dinner, was to slam her violently against a pillar and grab her by the neck
There are others who have focused on why the recording was made in the first place and what right a neighbour had to leak the story to a Left-leaning newspaper, and whether it was all part of a nebulous conspiracy to unsettle Johnson’s leadership ambitions.
And then there are women like me. Women who have, in their past, made many, many apologies for male rage.
Women who, for decades, have handled explosions of male anger, who have been conditioned to accept it as an expression of potency. Women who have told themselves it’s a fact of life, that it is ‘just one of those things’ that happens between couples.
Generally, we are women in our late 30s or early 40s – the sandwich generation of feminists, whose mothers fought big legal battles for equal pay and whose daughters are calling out myriad sexist slurs we accepted as our lot.
Of course, no one will ever fully know the truth of what went on between Johnson (above) and Symonds other than the two people directly involved. Instead, let’s examine the undisputed facts. Johnson is pictured outside the flat days before the incident
We are women who have been raised to be grateful for our rights and to understand how easily they can be taken away. We are women who have learned to put up with things – frequently to our detriment.
When we read about Carrie Symonds shouting ‘Get off me’ and ‘Get out of my flat’ and when we read about the screaming and the sounds of slamming and banging as Johnson was allegedly heard refusing to leave and telling his girlfriend to ‘get off my f****** laptop’, our reaction is different.
We recall past relationships where something similar happened.
In my case, I thought back to the time a former partner pushed me up against a wall, with one hand around my neck, another raised as if to hit me, while he shouted at me and told me I was worthless and that I would be nothing without him.
For years, I was too ashamed to tell anyone. I felt the fault was mine. I felt embarrassed. And I felt scared.
I cannot speak for Symonds but I know that if I were in her situation and I found myself in a fractious argument with that particular man, I would feel threatened. Johnson’s power is founded on privilege – of birth, of age, of education, of race and of gender
When you tell me that a row loud enough to be heard through brick walls is ‘a private matter’ and that it took place ‘behind closed doors’, I would counter that such terminology is precisely what has allowed domestic abuse – both emotional and physical – to flourish, unseen, in every street in the country.
It is easier to turn a blind eye when the curtains are drawn.
Of course, no one will ever fully know the truth of what went on between Johnson and Symonds other than the two people directly involved. Instead, let’s examine the undisputed facts.
First, Johnson is 55 and Symonds is 31. He is broader and taller than she is. Second, Johnson is a white, Old Etonian man who hails from a semi-aristocratic family with an impressive network of connections. Third, he is currently the front-runner to be our country’s next Prime Minister.
I cannot speak for Symonds but I know that if I were in her situation and I found myself in a fractious argument with that particular man, I would feel threatened. Johnson’s power is founded on privilege – of birth, of age, of education, of race and of gender. His actions cannot for one minute be separated from inequitable systems that underpin them.
And if you think I’m being melodramatic, consider this: when the newspaper that ran the story first contacted the Metropolitan Police to corroborate the facts, the reporter was told no such incident had taken place.
When you tell me that a row loud enough to be heard through brick walls is ‘a private matter’ and that it took place ‘behind closed doors’, I would counter that such terminology is precisely what has allowed domestic abuse – both emotional and physical – to flourish, unseen, in every street in the country
It was only when given the case number and reference number, as well as identification markings of the vehicles that were called out, that the police issued a statement admitting they had responded ‘to a call from a local resident… the caller was concerned for the welfare of a female neighbour’.
Let’s also examine Johnson’s history. Taken in isolation, this fracas might – at a stretch – be forgivable. Yet it’s one of many examples of Johnson’s unpredictable behaviour. This is a man who has repeatedly been callous with other people’s feelings, possessions and livelihoods.
It’s the ethos of the Bullingdon Club he was once a member of at Oxford – the idea that you can go out, get drunk and smash stuff up because you have enough money to pay for the damage.
On the recording of their argument, Symonds is reportedly heard saying Johnson had ruined a sofa with red wine: ‘You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt. You have no care for money or anything.’ Sound familiar?
This is a man who would not publicly acknowledge the child he fathered outside wedlock, who has affairs without retribution and seemingly without care for the emotional havoc he is wreaking.
This is the man who was sacked from more than one job for lying and whose blundering carelessness in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the woman detained since 2016 in Iran accused of engaging in propaganda against the regime, put a British citizen’s life in jeopardy.
Yet he has got away with it because we find him charming. It’s almost as if we have been so overloaded with information that we have become inured to it.
There has been so much of his bad behaviour that it has become Johnson’s new normal. Now it’s just what we expect – his refusal to play by the rules has been rebranded as a positive. But sometimes rules are there for a reason. Sometimes rules are there to protect people who are less powerful than you.
Boris Johnson attended the Uxbridge and South Ruislip Conservative Association Summer Drinks in Uxbridge just an hour after reports of the blazing bust-up between him and his partner
I have no doubt that he will survive this latest controversy and be elected to the highest office of state. Powerful men have a way of triumphing.
Just look at President Trump, who last week was accused of rape, bringing the total number of women who have said he sexually assaulted them to 16.
Or at Mark Field, the Conservative MP whose automatic response when a peaceful female protester had the temerity to walk behind his chair at a black-tie dinner, was to slam her violently against a pillar and grab her by the neck. Field was caught on camera, his face contorted in eye-popping rage.
Once again I was reminded of all the times I’ve experienced male anger and been scared by it, by its uncontrollable nature and its physical expression.
Perhaps this will provide Johnson with an opportunity for self-reflection. I doubt it, though. Five years ago, I was sent to interview the-then Mayor of London for a Sunday newspaper.
I asked Johnson about his chequered relationship with the truth. He responded by quoting a line of dialogue from Scarface, the 1983 film about a drug baron (played by Al Pacino) who viciously murders anyone who stands in his way. ‘I always tell the truth even when I lie,’ Johnson said.
It was a surprising admission. This, I think, is the key to understanding the Johnson psychology: he believes he knows what’s best, for himself and for the country.
It doesn’t matter what he has to smash up to get there.
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