Appearing on Stylist’s new political TV show Women of the House, Conservative MP Kemi Badenoch reveals she takes steps to avoid seeing abusive messages on social media.
For many female MPs in the UK, vile online abuse can feel like an inevitable part of the job. Meet with constituents, read through parliamentary briefings, block the thousands of Twitter trolls who are threatening to rape you: just another day in the office.
Of course, this shouldn’t be the case. Everyone has the right to criticise politicians, but we should be able to denounce their policy positions without using hateful language or threatening their safety.
Yet the online abuse and harassment of MPs is on the rise – with women politicians much more likely than their male counterparts to receive sexist comments, and women in general more likely to be subjected to digital sexual harassment and stalking.
During a discussion on Stylist’s new political TV show Women of the House, Conservative MP Kemi Badenoch revealed that she has taken steps to stop herself seeing the abuse she receives online.
“It changed the way I decided I would use Twitter,” the MP for Saffron Walden in Essex said. “So if I don’t follow you, I don’t see anything. People who are saying things are shouting into the ether.”
Twitter has been heavily criticised for not doing enough to protect women from online abuse, and figures and institutions including Theresa May and the union Unison Wales have warned that trolling could be deterring women from pursuing careers in politics.
However, the social media platform does have a function that allows people to mute notifications from users they don’t follow, who don’t follow them, or who have a default ‘egg’ profile picture (a tell-tale sign of a troll account).
Badenoch said that she found it frustrating when other people tried to draw abusive Twitter messages to her attention.
“What was annoying was people would say, ‘Oh, have a look at what someone said,’” she said. “I don’t need to see it. And that’s helped me deal with it – that I say what I need to say, and constituents can email me.”
Launched as part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, new TV show Women of the House is a media first: a “safe space” designed to allow female politicians discuss subjects that matter to them, from Brexit to misogyny to social justice.
Hosted by Sky News presenter Isabel Webster, the pilot episode dropped ahead of the centenary of women being able to stand for parliament.
“Our mission is to encourage more women to engage with politics, consider a political career and to champion the women already making waves in Westminster,” says Lisa Smosarski, Stylist’s editor-in-chief.
“After working for over 20 years in the male dominated world of Westminster politics, including No.10 Downing St, I felt that not only did we not hear enough from our female representatives, but they were often drowned out by others,” says Katie Perrior, British political advisor and co-creator for the show.
“I’m thrilled to create something that is not only thought provoking but also entertaining and warm. As Jo Cox once said, “we have more in common than that which divides us.’ It’s time for more women to step up and be heard.”
Find out more about Women of the House and watch the first full episode here.