I have got used to the abuse I suffer because I am a woman, to the point that I can be called a whore and carry on answering questions about Boris Johnson’s law-breaking
Normally I have to wait until after I have appeared on the television, radio or in a paper to catch up on the abuse that comes into my inbox or Twitter feed incited by my exposure. This week as I appeared on the BBC’s Politics Live show no such waiting was required as I was doing it on Zoom from my office and I had foolishly left my email open while I was on the television. The feedback was live and direct.
It is disorienting appearing on a live show from your office. For a start, I couldn’t see any of those who I was talking to. All I could see was the image of myself. You don’t get to pick up on the social cues as you would in the studio so already it is a tough gig. Throw into the mix that while you are trying to answer a question put by an inquisitive journalist without making a fool of yourself and your party the thing that flashes before your eyes is an email subject title saying that you are a “dirty bought and paid for whore.”
In its entirety, the email read: “Just to let you know I will be actively campaigning to unseat you, f**k off to the tory party where you belong along with the trilateral plant and the rest of the neoliberal filth. Common c**t!” It’s quite hard to decipher, right? Someone seemingly with a left-wing dint is being both horrendously misogynistic as well as unbelievably snobby and classist. Classless I think we can all agree.
Worry not, I got some equally delightful ditties from right-wingers too. I once had a death threat after directly quoting Boris Johnson’s words. I’m an equal opportunities target.
Being referred to as a whore in this instance was in fact a gift. On the same show, the subject of misogyny as a hate crime and the fact that it currently isn’t classified as such was up for debate. It is not news that political women face this barrage of sexually charged and sexist crap all the time. It is a surprise to no woman in the country that misogyny is alive and well, it keeps us humiliated, controlled and, in the worst cases it leaves us mutilated and dead. Yet here we still are debating if such hatred should be treated equally to other hatreds.
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It’s complex you see. Anyone who has paid attention will know that the thing about crimes against women such as domestic and sexual abuse are always described as “complex”. The failure to charge and convict rapists is apparently not the fault of patriarchal norms butting up against a crumbling justice system it’s because “it’s complex”. Domestic Homicide reviews point to how services and institutions failed to prevent murders of women and children because the cases were so “complex”. It’s funny how it is always the crimes and abuse of women that is considered complex. The idea that there is right, wrong and then complex cases is a burden shouldered almost exclusively by female rape victims, victims of misogynistic hate crime and victims of domestic abuse.
To the average Joe on the street, it would not be particularly complex to understand that a police officer accused, on multiple occasions, of flashing at a woman while being nicknamed “the rapist” by his colleagues shouldn’t have been able to serve. I think if I were to ask anyone in my constituency if that would be ok, the answer would be no. However, apparently, it was a complex case. That led to Sarah Everard’s killer being a card-carrying copper.
I have got used to the abuse I suffer because I am a woman, to the point that I can without blinking be called a whore and carry on answering questions about Boris Johnson’s law-breaking. I have also got used to the misogyny that means I have been flashed at, had male strangers masturbate in front of me, had people try to get me into their cars and, on refusal, be told that I am an ugly stupid bitch.
We have asked women politicians to make this part of their jobs, we have asked women and girls to do the labour of dealing with this as a normal part of their lives. We put a man on the moon twelve years before I was born, how about we stop saying men’s violence against women is complex and maybe set about stopping it without relying on women to do all the work for free, as usual.
Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding