Female MPs have to endure so much vicious online bullying that they should be given special training on how to cope with it, a Labour MP has said.
Tulip Siddiq, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and a member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, told the Sunday Times that misogynistic trolling has become part and parcel of being a female MP in modern Britain. “Being a female politician, there is no way you are going to avoid abuse,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who has not had to deal with it.”
Siddiq is Muslim, and said that she has personally received “horrendous abuse… ranging from, ‘Why aren’t you wearing a hijab?’ to ‘If I could I would kill you’.”
The problem is so widespread that Siddiq and other female MPs have formed an unofficial support group in the House of Commons.
“We meet online and in the tea rooms,” she said. “We support each other as MPs and as women. Online abuse can be really frightening and upsetting for some women.”
Siddiq gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Azalea, in April, and has been outspoken about the need to make Parliament more mother-friendly. (While seven months pregnant, she was accused of “bringing down the whole of womankind” by Conservative Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing for leaving a House of Commons debate to get a snack).
She said that she has faced online abuse from women who criticise her for balancing motherhood with a political career: “[They] said things like, ‘Make up your mind, you are either a mother or an MP, you can’t do both’.
Siddiq joins several other female Labour politicians, including Stella Creasy, Jess Phillips and Yvette Cooper, who have warned that political debate is threatened by constant trolling.
In an interview with Stylist, Creasy spoke of her concern that online abuse will cause girls to "shut down and not speak up any more". Phillips, meanwhile, recently described Twitter as "not safe" after the social media site refused to act when she received 600 rape threats over the course of one evening.
Cooper and Phillips are backing the Reclaim the Internet campaign against sexist online abuse, modelled on the Reclaim the Night campaign to end street violence against women, which calls for online threats, harassment and stalking to be included in the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
A study published in May revealed the shocking extent to which women are abused over Twitter. After monitoring how many times the words “slut” and “whore” were written in tweets, researchers found that 10,000 misogynistic messages had been sent to 6,500 people in the UK in only three weeks, with female celebrities the most targeted. Worldwide, over half of misogynistic messages were sent by women.
Images: Rex Features