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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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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