The Gross Tabloid Language Around Carrie Symonds Is A Total Throwback
By Marisa Bate Posted on 11 Sep 2018
The weekend’s revelation that Boris Johnson was ‘romantically linked’ to a young woman is classic tabloid fodder with a quintessential cast of characters: Old Powerful Man cheats on Long Suffering Wife with Pretty Young Blonde. Of course, with Boris Johnson, there’s a whole bonus DVD’s worth of reasons as to why this is more than just mere gossip that might be forgotten by tomorrow. Not only does his involvement in the next-level debacle of Brexit mean he’s exceptionally answerable to the British public right now, the former Foreign Secretary has been accused of using inflammatory and racist language to distract the press from the scandal, claiming after the story broke that Theresa May “had wrapped a suicide vest around the British Constitution” when referring to the Chequers agreement.
This is a plausible diversion tactic from Johnson if you a) remember what he said about Muslim women and postboxes, and his apparent comfort in employing Islamophobic language, and b) you believe he’s purposely started civil war in the Tory party, planning his bid for leadership and probably hadn’t banked on being found out right now. And while most of the time Johnson appears to enjoy playing with the press, much like the back and forth of a game of “wiff waff”, he was pictured head-in-hand in his Oxfordshire home looking despondent. Because, yes, it seems you can plaster lies on the side of a bus, and yes, you can occasionally charm the press with a cup of tea, and perhaps even yes, you can overthrow the Prime Minister from the safe confines of a lucrative column. But no, not even Boris Johnson can rustle up a headline that is more appealing to The Sun than the poetic “Wife Knifes Bonking Boris”.
Yet it’s his co-star that might actually not be enjoying the spotlight. 30-year-old Carrie Symonds, formerly the Conservative’s communications director until just eight weeks ago, found her face across the front pages yesterday morning. Pictures from social media accompanying the story show Symonds, surprise surprise, in bikinis; another in a croptop on a boat, as if to suggest the woman Johnson is ‘close with’ is a wild and carefree gap-yah student who refuses to come home, not a spin doctor working in Westminster. Unquestionably catnip to the media, Symonds is a posh, pretty political mover and shaker, and in a bikini 80% of the time, according to the papers. You can just imagine the dollar signs lighting up in the eyes of the press when they found her Instagram feed. But it’s not just all those bikini pics that could be construed as problematic.
‘How Boris was smitten by “Apples” - sexy, clever, ambitious… and barely older than his daughter’ smirked The Daily Mail. Here the language puts an emphasis on the temptations of Symonds: Johnson was smitten by her, as opposed to her being pursued or seduced by him, a notorious serial adulterer with at least one secret love child. Instead, Symonds is characterized as a cunning, beautiful “sexy” seductress - a lethal combination that Johnson couldn’t possibly resist, blind to the “ambition” that drove her to climb the political ladder via a political heavyweight, which plays up nicely, of course, to the cliche that successful women have to trick men into bed to get to where they are (She’s also pictured with other senior male Tory figures but no women MPs, funnily enough). Remarkably, the paper even points out that “Carrie herself is the product of an extramarital affair” as if to say her involvement with Johnson was somewhat inevitable and infidelity is a gene.
Click through for need-to-know facts on sexism that women face around the world…
In the grand scheme of the current circus show of British politics, Boris Johnson has some much bigger accusations to face; enabling Brexit, stirring up hate, provoking racial attacks, playing politics with people’s lives and jobs. His extra-marital habits are a footnote in his story to someone like me - a tax paying member of the public who is about to leave the EU and would really rather not. Yet I can’t ignore how easily the media falls on sexist stereotypes and tropes. Alongside any excuse to print pictures of a woman in her swimwear, a character is painted to suit the tired idea that women hang around power using their feminine wiles to tempt unsuspecting ministers and claw their way up via illicit affairs because perhaps that’s the only skill they have. If this is the accepted narrative in the corridors of parliament, and indeed the political press, no wonder Westminster was one of the first institutions in the UK to face its own #MeToo reckoning.
It really doesn’t matter what the truth of the story is, though. Young women are sexually objectified and painted into 2D cartoons in the tabloid press on a daily basis, while Boris Johnson is continuously analyzed as a political mastermind, never having to take responsibility for the abhorrent things he says. “Who is Carrie Symonds?”, asks The Sun. But why are they even asking? Young women in tabloid scandal have no say on who they are. The press will decide that for them.
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