Boris Johnson presided over a culture of toxic masculinity, partly because of his own hypermasculine leadership style, claims Sian Norris.
The last straw for the Conservative MPs who supported the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson through the Patterson scandal, lost by-elections and “partygate” – not to mention breaking Brexit law and claims he said he would “let the bodies pile up” as people died of COVID-19 – came as ministers were forced to come out and say he was unaware of specific allegations against Chris Pincher. The former deputy chief whip has been accused of multiple incidents of sexual assault, including the recent groping of two men at the Carlton club.
Pincher blamed alcohol and denied other accusations that have since surfaced.
It soon became apparent that the claim that Johnson was unaware of Pincher’s history was simply not true. Two days before his resignation, it became known that he knew a complaint of misconduct was upheld against Pincher when he first promoted him to whip. Even Johnson’s wife, Carrie Johnson, who was on the Conservative staff at the time, had in doubt is Pincher right for the job.
Since then, the spotlight has been on the drama of cabinet and ministerial resignations and promotions, a whirlwind of gossip, backstabbing and sackings, which eventually led to the pulpit being carted off, with Johnson announcing that “they – it’s a break.”
Two things are important here that risk getting lost in thinking about what just happened and what will happen next.
Culture of violence
First, victims of sexual violence and harassment are behind all this. They are not pawns in the political game or gossip fodder for the Westminster sketch columns.
Nobody watches Channel 4 news an interview with Daniel Cooke, Tamworth’s deputy mayor claiming Pincher assaulted him in 2005, can ignore the impact of sexual assault on victims and survivors, even years after the event. Pincher denies the allegations.
The allegations about whether or not Johnson knew about Pincher’s behavior and whether he was right not to remove the whip once the latest allegations surfaced should not and should not overshadow the fact that the men were assaulted.
At the same time, we cannot and must not forget that the Prime Minister not only knew about the accusations, but also promoted the accused, allegedly was joking and kept the incidents to a minimum, and most recently, a day before his resignation, tried to blame alcohol for fueling sexual misconduct.
This is shocking. But it is not surprising. Because the second thing we need to remember is how toxic masculinity and the proliferation of sexually inappropriate behavior has become a harmful norm in Westminster under Boris Johnson.
It is worth repeating the fact that even before the quarrel with Pincher, 56 deputies were investigated for sexual harassment, including three cabinet ministers. This is more than ten percent of male MPs.
Another lawmaker faces rape charges and Johnson allies have been suspended for trying to influence judges in Charlie Elphick case. The ex-deputy was convicted of sexual violence.
Just last month, the Conservatives lost two by-elections after allegations of misconduct. In Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parrish had to resign after watching porn in the House of Commons. A by-election was called further north in Wakefield and beyond Imran Ahmad Khan was found guilty of violent acts of a sexual nature against a teenager.
Try to imagine if more than ten percent of your male colleagues were accused of serious sexual misconduct, including rape. That wouldn’t be normal, right? And yet, in Westminster – the place where men and women go to work to decide how the rest of us behave – male law rules.
Sexual harassment and violence is power. Unfortunately, it is not surprising that he thrives in an environment where men feel unaccountable, where there is a strict hierarchy that normalizes inequality, and where the boss not only joked about sexual assault, but also knowingly promoted a man with a history of inappropriate behavior so that he could receive enjoy and use even more energy.
This has manifested itself in a culture of normalized sexual dysfunction. And make no mistake, when 56 of your colleagues are under investigation, sexual harassment has become normalized. When this happens, a culture of entitlement is created not only around sex, but also around how you view the world and what the world owes you.
Bad guys, good guys
It would be completely wrong to assume that Johnson is responsible for the actions of his colleagues. The only person responsible for sexual harassment and assault is the perpetrator, who takes full responsibility for their actions. To suggest otherwise is to do the victims a disservice, not to mention anything else.
But from a men’s rights perspective that drives sexual harassment, there is a hypermasculinity associated with Johnson and his leadership style that creates fertile ground for men who want to assert their power in toxic ways.
It should also be recalled that Johnson himself was accused of this by touch colleague, he rejected the accusations. He was of course joking that men could “to stroke“female boss” to the bottom and sends her on, normalizing sexual harassment as something men do to keep women in their place.
In terms of leadership style, this is evident in his disregard for the rules we all have to abide by and his disregard for the “good ol’ boy” conventions that have long governed Parliament.
This combination of hypermasculinity and the belief that normal rules do not apply to powerful people creates a very specific style of politics. Even unintentionally, it sends a message from above that certain types of behavior are okay and certain types of men are entitled to get what they want, when they want it.
If Johnson is going to leave, it’s hard to believe that this culture will go with him. The consequences of a normalized culture of sexual misconduct in Westminster, particularly for women’s access to politics and women’s wider access to justice, should worry us all.
Sian Norris is the chief social and European affairs reporter for Byline Times. This article was originally published Byline Times July 7, 2022 under Art name“This is how the king of the world ends: not with a bang, but with a pinch”, and is reprinted by permission.