The extent of vitriolic and misogynistic abuse targeted towards female politicians – often via social media – is having a disturbing impact on two levels; making many of those who are already serving as MPs consider whether it worth continuing with a Parliamentary career while also discouraging other women from entering politics.
Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman – drawing on both her extensive political contacts and the recent research she has done into pioneering British women overlooked by the history books – says while the abuse of early female MPs in the 1920s was sadly prevalent, the situation is arguably even worse today almost a century later as Twitter becomes the modern-day equivalent of the poison pen letter.
To take two recent examples in Yorkshire alone, Paula Sherriff has received multiple death threats after urging Boris Johnson to moderate his language over Brexit, while the daughter of Yvette Cooper has spoken of the extreme security measures necessary at their home. Newman has heard from both senior MPs and politically-engaged young women that they feel being involved in politics is not worth the cost of being a target of abuse. This has disturbing long-term implications for our democracy, especially given Parliament already has a reputation as an Old Boys’ Club. Last year, The Huffington Post website interviewed 40 female MPs – with half saying they had been bullied and 30 per cent reporting experiences of sexual harassment. Almost 60 per cent said it is harder to get things done as a woman in Parliament.
There is clearly much to be done to alter the sadly-understandable calculation that many women feel political service comes at too high a cost to their and their families’ physical wellbeing and mental health. But effectively tackling the toxicity of online debate would be a good starting point.