Leave Matt Hancock’s wife alone – she didn’t ask for any of this

From jilted wife to scorned ‘mistress’, it’s always the woman who is demonised when a relationship implodes

Victoria Richards
Tuesday 29 June 2021 08:14
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Matt Hancock accused of ‘having affair with close aide’ Gina Coladangelo

I stand in awe of Martha Hancock. Pictures have been widely shared of her striding casually out of her house and past a gaggle of waiting paparazzi, looking cool and dignified, her face giving nothing at all away of the revelations of the past week – certainly not the impact of the fallout of seeing leaked video footage of her husband of 15 years, erstwhile health secretary Matt Hancock, snogging his university friend (and taxpayer-funded aide) Gina Coladangelo in a corridor like a teenager at a school disco.

Hancock (if that is still how she prefers to be known), an osteopath and mother-of-three, hasn’t commented publicly on the revelations, but her husband is now said to have left the family home to be with Coladangelo. Their relationship has been described by Sky News’ Beth Rigby as “recent but serious”.

Follow live: Questions remain about Matt Hancock’s affair

As for his wife, well – she is said to be “very private” and prefers to keep a low profile, so we can only imagine what it must feel like to know that the world is watching and waiting – even gagging – for some public display of emotion; for her to show the impact of the devastation; for a stray tear or all-out breakdown or bitter, angry rant.

I have worked in the journalism industry for more than 15 years – there are parts of it I adore, and parts of it I loathe. But I couldn’t help but cringe when I saw shots of the scrum outside Hancock’s family home; the flashbulbs in her face; the composure she must’ve ironed on before stepping outside of her front door. Bravo to Martha for not giving certain sections of our media (and our society) what they so clearly crave – which is, as it has always been, the very public dismantling of a woman.

Because that’s what happens, and has happened, since time immemorial. When a man behaves badly, we turn our attention to the women around him – the one he’s “left” and the one he’s “chosen”. Whether it’s jilted wife or scorned “mistress” (and never was there a word so laden with misogynistic scorn as that) it’s always the woman who is demonised when a relationship implodes.

Perhaps this is because women continue to be judged through a different lens as compared to men; because women are held arbitrarily up to higher ethical or moral standards. Dr Pragya Agarwal, a behavioural scientist, believes so: she writes that gender “raises the ethical bar”. She points to a number of studies, even one conducted by “married dating site” Ashley Madison, which showed that women are judged more harshly for adultery than men.

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We can see this played out anecdotally all around us – even in the language we use. Just think about the way in which we refer to women who have affairs with men: both parties are culpable, but only one is commonly labelled a “homewrecker”. Even the phrase “the other woman” is loaded, as well as being reserved uniquely for one part of the “guilty” dyad – and it’s never the man.

And when it comes to the innocent party, well – there’s a distinct air of gladiatorial combat surrounding those cameras popping in Martha Hancock’s face. It is almost as if we want to see her sorrow, rather than respecting her privacy; even though we understand at an intellectual level – because most of us have experienced at least some kind of messy relationship fallout in our lives – how painful it is when you are “dumped” or cheated on or humiliated.

The last thing any of us would choose is for our personal affairs to be played out in the public arena, yet we are fascinated when it happens to somebody else – particularly when it comes to romance; particularly when it’s a woman. Perhaps that’s why reality TV programmes such as Love Island are so popular: they tap into the baser, more primal parts of us that pretend to abhor (but secretly revel in) the destruction of another.

We both fear and admire Martha Hancock. We despise the way she’s being treated, yet find it difficult to look away. At some level we understand that her plight is such that any one of us could experience; that it’s just a poor throw of the dice that has landed her here – heartbroken – with the world watching. What we really need to do is leave her alone.

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