You all know I’m on Twitter, right?
A couple of weeks ago I changed my name on Twitter by adding a ‘Ms’ in front of it. This was because one of the volunteers at the CAB where I work on a Wednesday told me about a 70s song called ‘Ms Grace’, I looked it up on Spotify, it’s quite cheery and I liked it. If you’ve got Spotify you can listen to it here.
After I changed my Twitter username (and I really should have seen this coming) someone else picked up my old one, copied my avatar picture, started following all the same people I follow, and tweeted that I love Thatcher. So far, so pant-wetting.
However, my imitator got an imitator (are you following this?). I’m not that popular, I tend to ignore my critics rather than respond to them, and I am very easy to mock. So the Tory trolls found another target: Bevanite Ellie, a fellow Tweeter who will be familiar to regular readers. A fake Twitter account was set up in (very nearly) her name to make nasty, vicious and personal comments about her (and occasionally me, again).
Ellie puts up with a lot of crap from these people. I block Tories on Twitter as a rule because I don’t expect to get on with them personally, and don’t believe there is anything either side can gain from a political argument perpetuated by two people of intransigently opposed points of view in 140 characters at a time. (Also because I generally know what they’re going to say, but more on that later.) But Ellie perseveres, and engages, and debates, and for her pains she gets patronised, smeared and targeted for misogynist abuse.
This evening Ellie has hit back, and although I disagree with her contention that she’s an unworthy target (she’s a fiery and articulate commentator and a rising star of Labour’s online presence), I have to respect her decision that it’s time to take twats to task for being twats.
I imagine it would make a lot of people uncomfortable if I said that one of the reasons Ellie and I (and Kerry McCarthy, and, and, and…) come in for such a lot of stick is because we’re women. But the absolute effluent spouted by ‘the fake Ellie’ makes it hard to deny. Whoever set up that profile saw a picture of a happy young woman with long hair, and from that they judged that she is a silly, thoughtless, upper-class girl with a pony who doesn’t have any opinions of her own. It’s bollocks, it’s insulting, and it is sexist.
Make no mistake, a large part of the outrage directed at politically active women, from the me-and-Ellies on Twitter to the Harriets and Hillarys in the real world, is still grounded in the language of knowing our place. If we’re going to be women in politics, we should at least accept that men know better than us. We should at least pick men as our role models, when other women are so obviously laughable. We should at least stop banging on about sexism. We should at least accept that our looks are going to be compared to each other’s, and that we will be judged on that before we say a word. We should at least know when to shut up.
When it gets to me, it gets a bit more complicated. I’m not going to pretend that my bad press on the internet comes exclusively from being an outspoken left-wing feminist woman, because it doesn’t. Most of it comes from the fact that I did a very bad and stupid thing a couple of years ago. I paid the price for doing it, but I know it’s not going to go away, so since Harry Cole, Donal Blaney and others have already blogged on it, I thought it was about time I did too.
A couple of years ago I was the Academic & Welfare Officer of my Students’ Union. One night I stupidly got involved in an argument with a student I knew and – in the heat of the moment – in a state you could describe as ‘tired and emotional’ – I slapped him. He, and the rest of the campus right, then ran a campaign to force me out of my job.
I lost the confidence vote by eight. I’m ashamed of having been reduced to violence. But I paid the price, not least in losing a job I loved dearly and (I think) was pretty good at. But you move on and you learn lessons. I learned things about which friends you can really trust, about the media, about how to rebuild your life from the ground up, and other things I never thought I would need to know at the age of 22. I will never be proud of what I did, but I am proud that having lived through a local media shit-storm, one lesson I won’t ever learn is not to speak up for what I believe in. I know that most young women in politics will never make the same stupid mistake I did, but I hope they can learn from it anyway, and I hope no-one ever shuts them up either.