By Anna Fazackerley in THE GUARDIAN, 14 September 2018:
On Wednesday evening my eight-year-old daughter shouted to me that there was a strange man staring at her through the living-room window. A Daily Mail reporter had tracked me down, and was prowling round the back of my home in the countryside. I am a journalist and a busy mum. I am also one of the women currently being dragged through the mud in the endless non-stories about Boris Johnson’s divorce.
Twelve years ago, I was reported as having an affair with him by the News of the World. The police have confirmed that the newspaper hacked and probably also stole my mobile. It hired a private investigator to trail me on a family holiday to Cornwall (he went on a lot of dog walks and got quite fed up). For one nightmare week, just like Carrie Symonds – the former Conservative party PR chief who has recently been linked to Johnson – I had tabloid reporters camped outside my house and those of everyone in my family. I had to go into hiding with my mum. It was hell.
The point is that the women in these stories aren’t treated as women at all. We are dehumanised for the purpose of titillating readers under the trumped-up banner of outraged public interest. Imagine if you’d supported a friend through something as upsetting as an abortion. Imagine if you’d been through something as traumatic as a miscarriage. How would you feel if it was in the papers for the next 15 years?
Personally, I find it bewildering that what I got up to when I was 29 and single should be the subject of public scrutiny more than a decade later. I am bored with men I don’t know expecting me to find their innuendo amusing. Would a young man’s life be subject to the same judgment? Would the press be poring over his Facebook account hoping for a picture of him in tight shorts? Would someone be peering through his window? Of course not.
A neighbour in my village came up to me in the queue at Caffè Nero this week, fizzing with the excitement of reading about me in the paper. I wouldn’t dream of talking to her about the details of her private life, but it simply hadn’t occurred to her that she might be being intrusive. The message from the sexist tabloid media is that I have forfeited my right to sensitivity. Permanently. I am public property.
But, like Symonds and all the other women who wish they weren’t starring in this pathetic media circus, I am far more than the hollow, blond honeypot caricature that has been assigned to me. I have worked hard to establish my career and I’m good at what I do. I have a first-class degree – though I wish I didn’t feel the need to tell you that. I go to meetings with serious people, and stand in a crowded playground waiting for my kids. In both of those scenarios I wish I didn’t have to wonder whether anyone was judging me based on something they’d read about me.
Being in the eye of my own media storm was a painful and destabilising thing. I decided then that the best policy was to keep my head down, try not to read anything on the internet, and wait for it all to blow over.
I have never dignified the many stories about me with any response at all. But 12 years on I feel enough is enough. If women like me don’t speak out, then misogyny wins. That is why this week’s open letter from women working in and around politics – names such as Tory MPs Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, Labour’s Stella Creasy and journalist Kate Maltby – condemning the shameful press coverage made me cheer.
I know, as a former speechwriter to a cabinet minister, that Symonds would have had to fight many battles – and be very good – to get to where she was in the male-dominated world of Westminster. But the age-old message from the tabloids is that as a young woman you are really only there because you are blond and pretty.
I don’t know Carrie Symonds. But today, rather than hiding out hoping no one will notice me, I stand beside her. I have absolutely no interest in her hot pants, whether she goes to parties, or what she does in her bedroom or her lunch hour. Stories like this one remind us that the tabloids despise women. My daughter is strong, smart and confident. I hope in another 12 years the pendulum will have swung in her favour.
• Anna Fazackerley is a journalist