As the magazine More! is about to close, I decided to buy a copy. I’m pretty sure I bought the first ever edition so it seemed fitting to be there at the end. I haven’t bought it much in the intervening 25 years – and for that my sexual repertoire will no doubt have suffered – but I felt it might be interesting to see what the magazine’s like now. Short answer: still crap.
Long answer: possibly even worse than it was before. I don’t know for sure. I was twelve when More! was launched and while I didn’t religiously follow all the advice the glossies threw my way, I didn’t actively question it, either. I absorbed it passively, as you do when you’re working on the assumption that there’s lots of adult stuff out there which might look weird but that’s only because you don’t get it yet. Sometimes you question it, briefly, but ultimately hurry back to acceptance. After all, who are you to know better? I remember watching James Bond films in the 1980s, disturbed by the fact that it looked as though the Roger Moore character was raping women but concluding that he couldn’t be because mainstream films, like glossy magazines, are “proper”. And after all, this is 007 and he’s a goodie, isn’t he? Now I’m older I ask questions more, but to a certain extent I still have to force myself to do it. If everyone else appears to think something is acceptable, it feels arrogant to argue otherwise.
This week’s More! has a piece on male partners who are too controlling, or rather, “overprotective”. The kind of men who tell you what to wear, want to know your every move, insist you don’t see your friends and even make decisions about what you eat. These overprotective men, eh? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. And of course the burning question is not “how do we support women who are suffering this type of abuse?” or “how do we change attitudes towards relationships, gender and control?”. It’s “is having an overprotective man nice or a nightmare?” Because hey, after all, it’s kinda flattering, isn’t it?
As probably-made-up spokesperson Penny Lane argues:
If I stepped out in a bum-grazing bodycon dress and my boyfriend didn’t care, I’d think there was something wrong with our relationship. If my bloke texts me several times a night to check up on me when I’m out with the girls, it makes me feel safe and sexy – not annoyed. And I love that his mind is 100% on me, even when we’re apart.
Ooh, lovely! That imaginary man must really adore you, Penny! Meanwhile I’m obviously feeling seriously unloved since I find myself sort-of agreeing with TOWIE’s Lauren Goodger who offers the contrary argument (“Never let a man tell you what to do!” It’s straightforward, if nothing else).
According to More!, being with a controlling man is a bit of a celeb trend. Kanye West is “overprotective”, having “reportedly banned his six months pregnant baby mama from any more major public appearances before she gives birth”. More!’s view on this? “Given how hard Kim [Kardashian] works, we do kind of get it” (heaven knows what More! would make of a pregnant women who has an actual job). What’s more, West isn’t the only “fun police boyf on the loose”. Miley Cyrus’s fiancé is apparently wanting the “20-year-old wild child” to clean up her act, while Justin Timberlake has it in for Jessica Biel’s dress sense. Somewhat surprisingly, “fun police boyf” par excellence Chris Brown doesn’t get a mention. Oh well. Perhaps there wasn’t column space.
There are many things I find bloody terrifying about all this. The way in which borderline (and not so borderline) abusive behaviour is presented as something quirky, almost endearing. The way in which being with someone who is controlling is presented as merely a personal preference; if you’re feisty like Lauren you won’t like it but if you enjoy being cared for – and recognise that “even us independent women need looking after” – you will. It’s all very “surrendered wife”; the same creepy old message that as women we only get what we want by pretending to men that they’re getting their own way (the difference between reality and pretence never having been made clear).
I’m reluctant to do so, because it seems such a huge leap to make, but I can’t help thinking of Ruth Fuller’s testimony during the current inquest into the deaths of her three children, murdered by their father (who then committed suicide) in what has been coyly referred to a “family incident”. Much of the reporting has created the image of a gentle man driven to the edge by his flighty wife (with her Facebook statuses displayed all over the gutter press). It turns out there were issues with this man’s “possessive nature” in the past. The couple had previously split up over it. He’d once tried to kill his wife with a telephone cord. He didn’t like her travelling to her humanities course alone. And yet the Daily Mail – a newspaper which essentially believes every mother is a crap mother – describes him as a “loving father”. I find this curious, but then I don’t. Owning your partner – and then by extension your children – is seen by some as love. I don’t however think it is. But what was Ceri Fuller, if not murderously “overprotective”?
Well, at least More! will soon be no more, but these messages will pop up again elsewhere. It’s difficult and tiring to bat them down, but clearly this needs to be done. We all want to be cared for but it’s possible to be so “protected” that you and your loved ones aren’t safe at all.