It’s been exactly one week since I set out on this blog why I voted Labour and how my personal protest against the current state of the Conservative Party would likely be replicated by other moderates across the country. Since that time I have been forced to accept some very painful truths about the reality of political discourse today.
As a tolerant, politically engaged, (historically) Conservative-leaning individual, I will never understand how deeply upsetting it can be for some people to be presented with a point of view that is different to their own. Free and thoughtful debate was, I thought, the foundation of civilised society and competition is, after all, a fundamental Conservative principle.
Thinking, it seems, is where I went wrong. No sooner had I hit “publish” than the internet raced to alert me to the error of my ways. Who was I, an “unqualified” (to have my own opinion!?), “slut” (err) and “teenager” (I’m 29, but thanks!) to dare to have a view on, well, anything. Stay tuned for a separate post entirely on sexism in politics (something I most certainly am qualified to write about) but for now, back to the matter at hand…
To be clear, I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. My blood does start to boil, however, when somebody sees a picture of a young woman next to a political piece and automatically assumes that her opinion is worthless because of her sex or her age. Surely she only got her job in the first place by “looking good” or “shagging” someone, right?
Let’s leave aside the fact that before I worked in politics I was a qualified modern languages and special needs teacher, worked for the FT in Hamburg and in London and trained in private banking (more varied experience than most political advisers, if we really must go there). I am 99% certain that my male peers would not have been subject to the same level of hateful vitriol had they dared to challenge the Party line. They may have got some abuse, they might have been called conniving or malicious, but they probably wouldn’t have been immediately written off as a vacuous tart whose singular offering in life was having a hot bod.
As I write I am already bracing myself to be told just to “get over it” because “it’s not a big deal”. Well, I respectfully disagree and any woman who has fought tooth and nail to achieve career success will tell you that it’s often in spite of a pretty face, not because of one, that you get where you want to be. In fact, it is precisely the fear of this kind of sexist derision that prevents more young women from speaking out on the issues they care about, particularly in the traditionally male-dominated arenas such as politics.
Today marks one year since the tragic murder of Jo Cox. I never met Jo, but her belief that “we have far more in common than that which divides us” strikes to the core of my desire for a more moderate, compassionate politics. We now know that Jo had received death threats for standing up for that most benevolent of beliefs. She had received vile abuse on social media long before that. Why? For being a woman who dared to speak her mind.
And so for Jo and for every young woman who aspires to have her voice heard, I will not retire away for fear of what bad men will have to say. I will not stop holding the Conservative Party I once loved to account for failing to meet the high standards I have for it. And I certainly will not worry about what those who post depolorable abuse about me online have to say.
To women everywhere I urge you to remember this: Twitter trolls are like spiders, they are far more afraid of us than we should be of them.