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Boris Johnson

Why Boris Johnson as Prime Minister is catastrophic for women’s rights

Oh, Boris. What a loveable, silly goose he is.

Over the years, Boris Johnson has successfully managed to build a brand based on buffoonery and sitcom-like mishaps which have managed to shroud his more sinister motives and help absolve him from taking any kind of responsibility for his actions.

For example, who can forget when his troubling Islamophobic comments comparing women to ‘postboxes’ was quickly glossed over because, being funny old, oh-so-random Boris, he pacified journalists with an elaborate tray of tea—complete with a tactically-placed Mini-Eggs mug from an Easter Egg box to remind us of how relatable he is? Soon, the media narrative surrounding his comments shifted into yet another example of how funny he is, completely disregarding the reason journalists wanted to confront him in the first place.

I think this was the moment I truly realised what Johnson was truly doing. I realised that he plays the role of the harmless, loveable rogue (a role that the British public can’t get enough of) in order to conceal much more dangerous motives. We have to hand it to Johnson; he’s put on a very good show thus far; a show so carefully crafted and entertaining that the audience demanded infinite encores at Number 10. But now, the show is over. The reality is that we have a dangerous misogynist in power that threatens to derail the women’s rights movement beyond repair. If we read between the lines and look beyond the performance, it is clear that the women of this nation have plenty of reasons to be worried.

Firstly, consider the domestic dispute he had with his girlfriend in the midst of his leadership campaign. Concerned neighbours called the police to the home Johnson and girlfriend Carrie Symonds share following a violent-sounding row. There was reported screaming, slamming and banging which was seemingly in reaction to her wanting to access Johnson’s laptop and, most concerningly, Symonds was heard shouting at Johnson to “get off” her and demanding him to leave the flat. Other neighbours took the incident to the press, and recounted hearing “glasses being smashed, screaming and lots of arguing. I thought someone was being murdered”.

An elaborate media cover-up ensued, with Symonds posing in staged loved-up pictures with Johnson shortly after the incident and several right-wing activists claiming that the neighbours had no right to call the police on Johnson. The Metropolitan Police even refused to confirm Johnson’s involvement until they were confronted with evidence. Even Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s rival in the leadership contest dubbed the matter as “irrelevant”—thus suggesting that a woman’s safety is subordinate to politics. Despite a collective of domestic abuse campaigners co-signing a statement defending the neighbours and urging others to take action, the neighbours were still painted as the villains in this event and forced to move for their own safety.

Even if the neighbours did somehow misinterpret their row, this was the perfect opportunity for Johnson to speak out about domestic violence and assure the women of this nation that their safety was his top priority. But instead, he chose to stay silent and let the extremely serious matter of violence against women be twisted, diminished and reinterpreted as a left-wing smear campaign—putting himself at the centre of woman’s issues and, through his silence, paint himself as the true victim of the row.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a passage from The Handmaid’s Tale. This is the world we live in now, where a man who is alleged to have compromised the safety of his own girlfriend is now, by extension, responsible for the safety of all women in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, an incident that occurred almost simultaneously to Johnson’s row with his girlfriend was the violent manhandling of a female Greenpeace protestor by minister Mark Field. The rage in his eyes and the level of viciousness he employed in pushing the protestor was widely condemned by the press and members of Parliament alike—he was suspended pending investigation. Although the fact that someone capable of such violence was in this position of power was deeply worrying at the time, it seemed as if the Government was standing up against politicians’ treatment of women by stripping him of his power. It seemed as if social change was, at long last, starting to happen.

Yet, Johnson undid any possibility of that happening within his first week as Prime Minister, as he used his prerogative to drop the investigation into Mark Field. As well as this being highly unjust, it also shows that misogyny is alive and well in Johnson’s government; violence towards women isn’t deemed a good enough reason to strip someone of their governmental power. Say what you will about Johnson’s logic behind this, but it undoubtedly sends a message to the women of the UK that they don’t matter. It tells us that a man can shove us, bully us and hurt us without any kind of consequence, which further perpetuates that cycle of men in power viewing themselves as ‘untouchable’ and, consequently, believing that they can treat people as poorly as they want to.

Maybe my problem is that I set my expectations too high. After all, this is the man who repeatedly referred to Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry by her husband’s name during a heated debate. Many say that he did this in an attempt to demean her and diminish her importance as an extension of her husband, and at the time, John Bercow dubbed the move ‘inappropriate and frankly sexist’. Similarly, several female members of the London Assembly criticised Johnson for employing a ‘disrespectful, patronising way at meetings’ that he apparently ‘does not display when dealing with male assembly members’. Coupled with his claims in 2013 that women only go to university because they ‘have got to find men to marry’, it is abundantly clear that he views women as being subordinate to men and thus less worthy of respect and, apparently, safety.

Johnson’s outlandish claims that women graduates are to blame for rising house prices and that ‘the fickleness of [the female] sex’ was to blame for Labour’s growth in polls didn’t seem too threatening when he was limited to his columns. But everything has changed now. Our lives and liberty are now at the mercy of a man of ignorance, inaction and—quite frankly—danger. More than ever, we have to stand up and fight for our freedom before the Prime Minister damages it beyond repair.

Featured image: Mike Trukhachev / Shutterstock.com