Don’t let them silence you

But does misogyny really matter?

Sally Feldman at the New Humanist:

In their recent memoirs both [Harriet] Harman and [Jess] Phillips – the head girl and naughty first former of Parliament – not only offer impressive accounts of their formidable achievements, but also chronicle the endless sexism that poisons political life. And both are committed to making the path easier for the next generation.

But while Harman deplores the prejudices that women in public life have always had to face, Phillips rages against the newest weapon in the sex wars: internet trolling.

Revealing that she once received 600 rape threats in one day, she gives us a sample of the kind of abuse that comes tweeting her way.

You know what would be funny. Pouring molten iron down this cunt’s cunt until she starts vomiting bullets. These are the kind of people who deserve to be bound up in a basement and repeatedly raped. I think watching her spirit die as you slowly removed strips of skin would be a really rewarding experience. Remove the eyes last, she should have her mutilated broken body be the last thing she sees.

Phillips is not alone. A number of online trolls have been convicted of threats towards female MPs, including two who subjected the Liverpool MP Luciana Berger to campaigns of antisemitic abuse. In 2014 a man was jailed for 18 weeks for bombarding the Labour MP Stella Creasy with messages threatening to rape her.

And Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott recently broke her long silence about the constant poisonous verbal attacks that she has had to endure. Messages like “Get yourself spat at by someone with HIV and die a horrible death.”

It’s ironic to have a prominent head of state joining in.

Feldman veers into a discussion of misogynist violence in tv and movies, and then returns to the just plain misogyny and its silencing effect.

This is Phillips’s message, too. “I am often contacted by young women who are looking for support and advice about how to deal with the vitriol, sexism and misogyny they face every time they speak. Most of these women tell me they’re going to stop posting blogs and tweeting about their politics and their views. The very first thing I say to every one of them is ‘Don’t stop, whatever you do. Don’t let them silence you.’” Abbott agrees that online abuse has become so “turbo-charged” that “it’s almost as if they want to drive some of us out of politics.”

When their identities are uncovered these tweeters will claim that this kind of harassment is just a bit of “fun”, of laddish “banter”, that it doesn’t mean anything. But for the women on the receiving end it never feels like fun. And one horrifying event last year demonstrated just where such vicious hate campaigns can lead. An outspoken and vigorous activist, the Labour MP Jo Cox had been bombarded with brutal Twitter attacks before she was murdered. She was, appallingly, well and truly silenced.

I don’t believe those who insist that overt hatred and contempt is “just” anything; I don’t believe it’s inert or “just” a pressure release. I don’t think it works that way.

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