According to recent surveys carried out by the US’s Department of Justice, between 75 and 80% of all crime is committed by men. It seems that the task of raising a son is a more difficult than raising a daughter, and boys require more work to turn them into good men. The primary place such influence will come from – aside from the obvious factors of education, class, race, wealth, and background – is the home. It makes sense that behaviour heard or witnessed by a child will be mirrored either then, or in later life. We take this as a given. You can see how committed Chris Huhne was to setting a good example from the start: ‘I took becoming a father so seriously I gave up smoking’, reads one of his campaign leaflets. A noble gesture, and evidence of his commitment to parenthood? I guess so, but there are certainly better ways to set a good example for your kids. First and foremost, I’d say maintaining the family unit, and sticking by your wife. The Huhne affair has transformed from a petty criminal act to a full-blown moral dilemma. In the past weeks we’ve been a flinching witness to what happens when a person commits the ultimate in family taboo, abandoning children and partner.
The media have followed this most grim of love-triangles like hawks, and it’s clear why. It’s a criminal, political and moral debacle which has seen a group of people torn to shreds before the hungry eyes of a courtroom, and by the quick pens of many journalists. Private lives have been prised wide open. What began as one, overarching problem – essentially, Huhne’s attempts to pass off his own bad driving as that of his wife – has now become several cases cross-hatching over each other. ‘There but for the grace of God…’ has, I’m sure, been an oft-repeated mumble amongst those who can only imagine what the three involved are dealing with. We’ve had media moralising on a Montague vs Capulet style stage, where some have sharpened their pencils to deliver loyalist polemics for, and others against, the parties concerned. It’s Team Jordan vs Team Andre. It’s the middle-class version of Chat, Pick Me Up or That’s Life!
In May of last year, Carina Trimingham’s appeal to the High Court was dismissed after she claimed a breach of her privacy, and harassment by Associated Newspapers. For someone who spent much of their professional life bitching about others for the London Evening Standard’s gossip column this seemed, on the face of it, quite rich. However, what became so striking was the media response to Ms Trimingham, who, in case you didn’t know, is a bisexual. A bisexual. Trimingham has proved completely unable to shift the label of sexual athlete: sitting on a sticky wicket, not picking sides, ruining lives.
The Daily Mail emerged as the most interested – nay, fixated – by this. Trimingham’s ‘cropped hair’ became an almost Dickensian trope, her ‘boyish… love of Dr Marten boots and jeans’ a constantly unflattering portrait of an arch husband-stealer. There were, and still are if you care to browse them, swathes of ugly comments on message boards as article after article retold the same sordid story (‘No offence but he left his amazing wife for that?!’ (and by the way, when is ‘no offence’ ever the preface for something that isn’t deeply offensive?). Suddenly, the real concern wasn’t that Huhne had had an affair, but that he’d had it with someone who was unanimously agreed to be unattractive. Ms Trimingham has been subjected to all manner of online abuse, when in actual fact the only person in the equation licenced to make any such comments is Ms Pryce herself (who did: ‘f***ing man’). Hell hath no fury, indeed.
Amongst the taped conversations, the snide remarks, and Huhne’s hypocrisy, we need to remember that this case is a fundamentally human one, and as such it touches the entire spectrum of human existence. It’s justice mingled with sexual betrayal mingled with careers mingled with politics: a veritable shitstorm.
Affairs, of course, take place in abundance within everyday society; we know that. Sometimes they’re quietly swept under the rug, never discussed or even discovered, sometimes the old wounds heal. Unfortunately, this most undesirable ménage a trois must now prove the example of what can happen when they implode. I write as a woman, but with no particular gender bias either way. Both Huhne and Trimingham have been quite rightly attacked for cruel and selfish behaviour. The sexual double standard here is that it’s men who are often vilified for their lack of self-control, or thoughtlessness: they’re simply ‘following their cocks’. This is used as both a judgement and an excuse. It is often easy to forget that women, evidently, are capable of exactly the same. Ultimately the argument’s not about gender or sexual competition. It’s about human decency, what Caitlin Moran has termed looking out not specifically for men or women but for ‘the guys’, for everyone. It’s just about not being a dick.
I’d be ashamed to read the message exchange between Huhne and his son if I were Ms Trimingham, realising the damage of my actions and only imagining the heartache I’d caused. These sorts of stories are labelled ‘sex scandals’ and make the whole thing seem more naughty than horrific. Again, it was the Mail who described Ms Trimingham as a ‘PR girl’. The language used here is ridiculous, and negates the seriousness of what she’s done. Here is an intelligent, forty-five year-old woman being presented as a clueless, naïve young thing of my own age perhaps, who just made an error of judgement. It’s like Bush (and I hasten to add that I draw no comparisons between the acts themselves) telling his country he’d “be smokin out the folks who did this” after 9/11.
Just because the scandal here involves sex does not make it titillating, or more worthy of news than theft or murder. Infidelity is, after all, another type of theft, another type of murder. It should be treated as such and not presented as a sexy courtroom drama. Ms Trimingham is no girl. Where a firm partnership is concerned, and especially children, the ardent desire for someone who’s already taken must pass. Blood cools, whereas rage boils over and might not ever stop flowing. This dismal story teaches us that if you like it, by all means put a ring on it; if it’s got a ring on it, stay well clear.