How the Media Treatment of Katie Price Reflects Hatred of Working-class Women
It’s been almost a year since the death of British TV presenter Caroline Flack and the ensuing #BeKind campaign, inspired by one of Flack’s Instagram posts in the weeks before her suicide.
Flack took her own life on 15 February 2020 following a sustained period of turmoil and distress. The details of Flack’s suffering became daily media fodder, including photos of intimate moments such as her vomiting in the street after a night out and images of her blood-stained bed sheets after the alleged assault on her boyfriend, Lewis Burton.
Flack’s tragic death seemed to trigger a national discussion of press intrusion and the online bullying of celebrities. Even the government called for the social media industry to tighten regulation of unacceptable content.
And here we are, eleven months on…
Have a scroll through social media and the tabloids and the treatment of Katie Price suggests that we’ve learned nothing from the circumstances surrounding Flack’s death.
England’s national sport appears to be the daily humiliation of Katie Price. Price came to public attention in the nineties as her glamour model alter-ego Jordan and, due to her turbulent personal life and erratic — sometimes seemingly outrageous — behaviour, she’s remained a fixture in the gossip columns ever since.
Price has many accomplishments to her name, including disability rights campaigner, author, designer, entrepreneur and mother of five but none of them prevent her from being publicly derided and debased on a regular basis, despite clear and frequent signals that she is fragile, distressed and unstable.
And who wouldn’t be in her shoes? Her mother, Amy Price, is terminally ill with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; she’s been through three divorces in twelve years; experienced financial ruin; been diagnosed with PTSD; had substance abuse issues and been treated for addiction; and she’s just made the heart-breaking decision to put her son Harvey into a full-time residential college after caring for him at home for 18 years. That’s not even taking into account the many and various infidelity and legal scandals that have plagued her marriages and the constant barrage of abuse that she and her son, Harvey, receive on social media.
Even Price’s decision to move Harvey into full-time residential college did nothing to deter the trolls. While Price’s fitness as a mother has been called into question many times in the tabloids over the years. Harvey’s absentee father, retired footballer Dwight Yorke, is rarely mentioned by the press or in the parenting criticisms directed at Price. Yet, Price has worked tirelessly and fiercely to protect her son from the horrific racist, ableist trolling to which he’s been subjected since his birth.
Ironically, Price is one of the most active and vocal campaigners against trolling but she rarely raises the issues of the smears aimed at her, instead focusing her energies almost exclusively on her son.
Despite all this, Katie Price seems to be exempt from the #BeKind rule apparently so widely espoused — or at least retweeted — by social media users since Flack’s death.
The tabloids certainly haven’t given ‘The Pricey’ a break from their relentless scrutiny of her life. From her latest cosmetic treatment to the state of her ‘Mucky Mansion’ as Price negotiates financial decline, no inch of Price’s life — or body — goes without comment.
There’s a hand-rubbing glee about the misery of Price’s life as she finds herself unable to maintain the home she bought during her hey-day as a media personality and a crowing mirth over her attempts to generate income.
Price has been dismissed, blamed, denounced and trivialised across the media despite the various states of distress and precarity she’s experienced publicly over the years. It doesn’t seem to matter, though. Public and media distaste and disdain for Price remain alongside a prurient fascination with her body, behaviour and (repeated) downfall.
The day before Flack’s death, The Sun carried the headline ‘HOUSE OF HORRORS: The disgusting reality of Katie Price’s mucky mansion with ‘drug wrap’ by her bed, piles of poo and stench of old food’. The article featured photos of Price’s living conditions — including a close up of the alleged faeces — and accompanying commentary by a former caretaker of the property. The piece reads as a particularly unpleasant piece of voyeurism at the expense of a person clearly experiencing serious difficulties. Let’s hope the former caretaker was paid well for the gross invasion of his employer’s privacy.
The next day, Caroline Flack took her own life. In the aftermath of the tragedy that so heartbreakingly exposed the potential effects of press intrusion and social media bullying, did we all rally round Price, the scales falling away from our eyes to see the error of our ways? Did we recognise that the relentless surveillance, insults, nasty headlines and online jibes could very easily tip another fragile media personality over the edge? Did we hell.
A quick scroll down the responses to most of Price’s social media posts reveals trolling on an astonishing scale, mostly misogynistic and classist insults.
The insults of ‘tart’ and ‘trashy’, judgements that are repeated by swathes of social media users across Price’s accounts, are telling. What are we really talking about when we use terms such as ‘sket’, ‘slag’, ‘slut’, ‘tart’ or any other synonyms for a woman perceived as sexually promiscuous? What does it mean to call a woman ‘trailer trash’? These are loaded terms that are shorthand for the hatred of working-class women, especially those who seem to be unashamed or unapologetic about their sex lives.
It’s almost as if Price’s financial and mental health struggles are seen as a kind of comeuppance — some sort of moral justice — but for what? Price is outspoken and unapologetic. She’s a forty-two year old woman who’s forthright about the cosmetic procedures she undergoes — including the botch jobs along the way. Shouldn’t we find her authenticity refreshing? How many other middle-aged women in the public eye are as honest about their impossibly taut bodies and complexions? But no. Price is constructed as a grotesque figure of fun — to be repeatedly pilloried and rejected by the public and press. It seems, then, that some authenticities are more valued than others.
What sets Katie Price apart, then? Why is Pricey-baiting an acceptable past-time on social media? Why does she deserve the casual cruelty of social media users and tabloid journalists? Is it so offensive that she turns her humiliations into earning opportunities? The ‘Mucky Mansion’ story ran for weeks until Price included a clean-up of the property as part of her reality show. Some might argue that Price is ‘asking for it’ by subjecting her life to the scrutiny of the public eye but what she’s doing is taking back her narrative. She’s telling the story and making the money (which she desperately needs) instead of money being made from her. Good on her.
Price is a single-mother experiencing financial and psychological distress alongside caring for seriously ill family members. How many women in the UK — the country of her main audience — are the same? Millions. When we trivialise the experiences of Price, we trivialise similar experiences of women across the world. Maybe that’s the point.
The treatment of Katie Price gives us an insight into wider perceptions of working-class women and what’s considered respectable and acceptable conduct.
In the inquest following Caroline Flack’s death, coroner Mary Hassell confirmed that fear of public judgement was one of the main reasons for Flack’s suicide: “I find the reason for her taking her life was she now knew she was being prosecuted for certainty, and she knew she would face the media, press, publicity — it would all come down upon her. To me, that’s it in essence.”
We know the pain and damage that press intrusion and social media trolling can inflict. Why must Katie Price be exempt from the #BeKind message? Who gets to decide which women are respectable and therefore worthy of our compassion and who are distasteful and therefore warrant the cruelty to which they are subjected?
Caroline Flack’s death was a tragedy but the sustained psychological distress she experienced was plain for all to see. Katie Price is resilient — she keeps taking the knocks on the chin and getting back up again. But she’s punch drunk. No one should have to take the kind of bullying and we know what it leads to. There’s no excuse.