There is perhaps no more reliable barometer of whether our attitudes towards women are as progressive as recent musing would suggest than the public reaction to the ongoing saga of Karen Danczuk.
This week, the aspiring television personality, Labour councillor and and wife of MP Simon Danczuk has been back in the news as the man allegedly responsible for her historical sexual abuse has been arrested, and now bailed.
Yet even before these specific allegations were made, her rise to public prominence was a fascinating one. After gaining a 45,000 online following, seemingly simply by posting a number of vaguely sexual selfies, the Sun were quick to declare her ‘The sexiest politician in Britain'. UKIP were, predictably enough, reportedly desperate to claim her as their own MP and Danczuk tweeted that she was preparing herself for a career in television, after she claimed Harriet Harman had branded her 'too pretty' for politics and advised her to join Girls Aloud instead. This was a charge strenuously denied by Harman.
Yet it was only when Danczuk spoke out about alleged previous sexual abuse, and claimed that her obsessive selfie-taking had been therapeutic in helping her leave behind a traumatic past that the truly ugly attitudes were unveiled. Sunday Mirror columnist Carole Malone, for example, was quick to ridicule Danczuk, strongly implying (whilst never overtly declaring) that there was some kind of connection between the sexual abuse allegations and her media profile.
“I can't begin to imagine the consequences being abused has had for her life” wrote Malone. “However I'm surprised that she says one of them is showing her body off in a series of titillating selfies”.
This kind of victim-blaming isn't just the remit of tabloid columnists. Mention Danczuk's name in conversation and most people are quick to discredit her, based on, apparently, nothing more than her penchant for showing her cleavage at every available opportunity.
Having worked in the field of mental health (with a particular focus on body image) for the past decade, I can report that, sadly, this attitude is not uncommon. So all-pervading is the idea that victims of emotional hardships must always be meek, shy, types who inspire pity, we turn our backs on the damaged individuals desperately pleading with us to look at them by misbehaving in the corner.
Quite often, people with self-esteem and mental health issues are really, really irritating. People are quick to dismiss 'attention-seeking' as something done gratuitously which must always be ignored, yet more often than not it's done because the person seeking attention, surprisingly enough, really needs some attention. What they often haven't learned to do is distinguish between the right kind of attention, such as the unconditional love of a network of friends or the support of a counsellor to address their issues, and the fairly meaningless sort, i.e. thousands of drooling men leering over one's tits.
The loudest person in the room is, contrary to what we have been led to believe, often the least confident. Arrogance is low self-esteem's bedfellow and attention-seeking is, in many instances, the damaged person's default mode. When I heard Danczuk's allegations against Harriet Harman I thought I'd never heard anything so preposterous in all my life. After learning of Danczuk's alleged history of abuse, suddenly it made sense. Danczuk's behaviour on social media made me more inclined to give credibility to her allegations, not less.
As for our attitudes to women - the public reaction to Danczuk has shown them to be positively prehistoric. It seems we still live in a time where what a woman chooses to wear and how much attention she consequently 'invites' is enough to inspire wide-spread victim blaming.Reuse content