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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.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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