Guest blogger Julian Norman talks about the online bullying of Louise Mensch.

Louise Mensch.jpg

Another week, another epidemic of sexist abuse on Twitter. This one, however, you may have noticed in places it’s not usually reported, like the Telegraph and the BBC, as well as Radio 4. The police provided comment, which is pretty unusual when the abuse is ‘merely’ sexist.

The target in question this time was Conservative MP Louise Mensch, and on the conservativehome blog (not, I add, a website I often frequent), Frank Manning posed the question: Why do Conservative women like Louise Mensch, Nadine Dorries and Margaret Thatcher receive such vitriolic abuse? His conclusion was that it was because they stand for conservative values, and as such, the left and the “divisive, man-hating feminists” dislike them and encourage – no, even participate in misogynist abuse of them, saying that left wing women are the worst culprits. This article is something of a response to that.

Nonsense #1: It’s just Conservative women who get abuse. Claptrap. It’s just that you don’t notice when other women do. Online misogyny is a massive problem for women who have the temerity to put their heads above the parapet, particularly those women who are in a position of power.

The New Statesman ran an article about it only last November, citing a number of well known bloggers and writers who get abuse. Well before Louise Mensch ‘favourited’ her abusive tweets for posterity, Laurie Penny did the same, and her tweets make Louise’s look like the murmured endearments of a languid lover. The contention that it’s only the Tories who suffer these barbs would no doubt surprise Harriet Harman, Jacqui Smith, Polly Toynbee, and anybody who was ever referred to under the patronising and sexist banner of “Blair’s Babes.”

It’s not even restricted to political women: Caroline Farrow blogs at Catholic Voices, which one would imagine has a more spiritually minded readership than most – but she reported getting sexually threatening emails as a result, too.

This is abuse that women get for being women with opinions. That’s it.

Nonsense #2: It’s mostly women who conduct these attacks. Manning says that “a large majority of the insults come from Labour-supporting female activists.” Either he can’t count or he couldn’t be arsed to count: of the 22 tweets in question, 18 came from men, 3 from women, and 1 from an organisation. Labour-supporting female activists will argue with Louise Mensch, sure, but you won’t find them calling her names.

Nonsense #3: Lefty women hate righty women. The misogynist abuse didn’t come from “Labour supporting female activists;” see nonsense #2. Yet in what can only be a spurt of dripping irony, Manning propagates one of the most widely believed misogynist myths about feminism: that what we do is catfighting, bitching, bickering, and that the movement can be dismissed as a bunch of silly women squealing at each other.

We feminists disagree. Of course we do, and it’s important that we do. Feminism is not a hive mind. It would be peculiar indeed if, Stepford Wife style, we behaved as if programmed. We agree on one thing: that women are equal to men and should be entitled to equal rights, and most of us would be on board with the Seven Aims of the Women’s Liberation Movement. We don’t always agree on the best way to achieve that utopia of equality. Radical feminists, socialist feminists, progressive feminists, liberal feminists, conservative feminists, queer feminists – there are just as many perspectives in the political beliefs of women as there are in the political beliefs of men, yet nobody scorns the differences between Cameron and Milliband as mere “catfighting.”

So yes, we disagree, often with just as much conviction and passion as men do. There are many reasons that I disagree with Louise Mensch’s politics (some of which are encapsulated here at the Sturdy Blog) and many reasons that I find her variety of feminism flawed, self-serving and inadequate. I daresay I’m one of those horrid lefties that Manning describes as man-hating (clue: I don’t hate men), because I do find conservative feminism problematic. I would have no issue telling Louise to her face that I think her support for Murdoch and indeed for “Calm Down Dear” Dave to be inherently at odds with claimed feminism. However, unlike some of the blokes on Twitter I don’t feel the need to call her names while I do it.

So while feminists might have variety in our views (just as if we were, like, people or something!) we are diverse, not divided. You will not find a feminist using misogynist insults to another woman. What is divisive are articles like Manning’s, with its approving head-patting of Tory feminists and dismissal of the rest of us as “man-hating,” and its attempts to put in an arbitrary divide between left and right where – on this one issue – there is none.