The man who threw a milkshake at Nigel Farage has been arrested, but why don’t the men behind violent verbal attacks on female MPs face the same consequences?
It took the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 for Parliament to wake up to the fact that women in politics face violence, abuse and discrimination on a daily basis.
And still, female politicians are experiencing abuse on the streets, online, at work and in their home.
Welsh Assembly member Delyth Jewell published an over-due report examining this in 2017. Within it, Baroness Brinton revealed the harassment and stalking she endured over three years while campaigning to get a Liberal Democrat seat in 2010. They damaged her property and defaced posters. But the police only took serious notice of her case when the perpetrator used a very large knife to slash her campaigners’ car tyres. “The next thing will be people,” she recalled them saying.
Six years later, Cox was shot and stabbed in West Yorkshire while on her way to meet constituents.
Why do violent verbal threats need to become physical to be taken seriously?
“We know that threatening to rape a woman isn’t really about sexual desire; it’s about power – taking it away from women, and making sure they don’t raise their voices again,” Jewell wrote in the Independent last year. “The more female MPs dare to voice their opinions, the more vocal their abusers become.”
She added: “We know that threatening to rape a woman isn’t really about sexual desire; it’s about power – taking it away from women, and making sure they don’t raise their voices again. The more female MPs dare to voice their opinions, the more vocal their abusers become.”
The ongoing vile threats of rape targeted at Labour MP Jess Phillips are proof that abuse against female politicians still isn’t being taken as seriously as it should be.
UKIP candidate Benjamin Carl is currently being investigated for repeatedly making comments about raping Phillips. “I wouldn’t even rape you,” he told her in a Tweet in 2016. Earlier this year, he stood by this comment and told a reporter to “get over it” when she challenged him over it. He then recorded a video, saying: “There’s been an awful lot of talk about whether I would or wouldn’t rape Jess Phillips. I’ve been in a lot of trouble for my hard line stance of not even raping her. I suppose with enough pressure I might cave. But let’s be honest nobody’s got that much beer.”
Since that initial tweet about raping Phillips, it’s taken the police three years and hundreds of tweets about it for them to investigate the case. Carl is also still able to campaign as a candidate, which he is doing right now.
The absurdity of this has not been further highlighted by news that the man who threw a milkshake at Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was arrested just one day following the incident.
In case you missed it, Farage came under attack of a Five Guys banana and salted caramel milkshake on Monday (20 May) after an interview on the streets on Newcastle. The man behind the milkshake was handcuffed by police and has been arrested for common assault and criminal damage.
So, does this mean that throwing a milkshake at someone is more harmful than repeatedly making violent comments (read: threats) about raping someone?
Now is a good time to remeber Farage’s response to the verbal abuse hate Conservative MP faced violent face from crowds of pro-Brexit campaigners last year, defending their right to hurl abusive language at her. “We mustn’t overreact to this. MPS, public figures, should be free to go out and express their opinion without the threat of violence,” he told Good Morning Britain. “But if we try now to put in place laws, or if the police start prosecuting people, for throwing terms of abuse – that reaction I think would be over the top.”
Clearly, he also considers the milkshake incident a more serious offence.
Jess Phillips has reacted with a spot-on statement, which many followers have supported. “I don’t think people should throw anything at those campaigning and those elected, but I cannot help but notice that to harass and target women politicians for years is met with much less swift action. I’d rather be doused in milk than drowning in abuse,” she wrote on Twitter.
One woman tweeted back: “Basically women are facing death and sexual assault threats and people are downplaying it, whereas men are facing ridicule via milkshakes, and it’s being played up as an urgent threat. It validates the old proverb: Women fear murder, men fear laughter.”
Another added: “Absolutely! I was thinking about the awful things you have to tolerate and I don’t think half as many people get on their high horse about ‘civility in politics’ when you get abused as when far right politicians get doused in milkshakes.”
And a third said: “So in awe that you just carry on regardless, thank you and all your calm determination. #JoCox.”
Of course, this kind of abuse isn’t endemic to Parliament. Amnesty International reported that a woman is abused on Twitter every 30 seconds. Although female politicians are top targets, any woman with an account is likely to click on a harmful notification at some point. This is why it is so important to count written and verbal threats as seriously as physical acts of violence - because they can end in so much more than milkshake on your face.