Show Hide image

Tattooing your name on your partner's forehead is an act of control, not devotion

A woman allowed her boyfriend to brand his name on her body to help assuage his jealousy.

“I do it because he’s paranoid and wants to have me branded.” These are the words of Kourtney Leigh, who has the name of her boyfriend, Ryan Wibberley, tattooed across her forehead.

According to Wibberley, she is not the first of his girlfriends to have his name inscribed on their bodies, although none of the others have gone for quite so obvious a location. “It’s a laugh,” he tells the Sun, “It’s not taking advantage because they want it done.”

Should we be judging Leigh for consenting to be, as Wibberley puts it, “branded like Heinz Beans”? Or is it an act of devotion, perhaps not all that dissimilar to Johnny Depp’s famous “Winona forever” – now “wino forever” – tattoo? There might be a gendered context to this, but isn’t getting your partner’s name tattooed on your forehead on the same continuum as changing your name to his? Or reassuring him that the children you bear are definitely his? It’s all about ownership.

I’ve been with the same male partner for 16 years. I haven’t taken his name but our children have. Wasn’t my decision to mark them out as his also a form of Heinz Beans-eque branding? Certainly I consider it an un-, if not anti-feminist decision on my part. It’s a concession to a culture in which men’s obsession with paternity comes at the cost of female sexual and reproductive freedom.

Nevertheless, my sons will come to see their names as their own, in the same way that I see my name as mine, not my father’s. The compromise I have made has symbolic repercussions but does not come at a high personal cost (which is all the more reason for me to feel bad about it). I don’t think this is the case with Leigh and Wibberley. What is happening here is far more disturbing.

While both The Sun and Metro have adopted a light-hearted, “aren’t people funny?” tone in their coverage of this story, I don’t find it amusing at all. On the contrary, I think what we are witnessing is the sanitisation of coercive control. Wibberley met Leigh shortly after leaving prison for affray, making threats with a bladed article and theft. The tattooing is something he carries out himself (“I just get pissed up and I get my tattoo gun out”). In Leigh’s own words, “he thinks it’ll put other men off.” 

Leigh and Wibberley have already appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show under the headline “Why would I cheat on you? I’ve got your name tattood on my face!” Just like the men who storm on stage screaming at “slags” who “need to prove that baby’s mine”, Wibberley is treated as a part-villain, part-jester. Leigh, meanwhile, is relegated to the role of comedy dupe. Male jealousy is treated as an amusing quirk, not something which leads to men abusing and even murdering ex-partners and children. What happens to women such as Leigh when the cameras stop rolling is of little interest to the baying studio audience. She chose to be with Wibberley; she chose to have that tattoo; why should we care? (And as for all the other women who make similar choices, even the ones who end up dead, why care about them, either?)

But we have to care. I am tired of the way in which the compromises all of us make with male power are used to indulge a lazy, hands-off moral relativism which dismisses actual abuse as a woman’s free choice. Living with a jealous, possessive man who wants me to tattoo his name on my forehead may not be my own, personal “lived experience”; I still reserve the right to judge what is happening here as wrong.

No man who boasts of branding his partner “like Heinz Beans” should simply be dismissed as a figure of fun. He is not some comical detail in life’s rich tapestry. It’s time for newspapers and TV producers to stop trivialising the abuse that is right there in front of us. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear