Women paying for a public life

Had you noticed the growing concern for the security of women in politics this year? Or was Jo Cox’s assassination the first time you realized the scale of the fear?

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Perhaps it’s been a media slow-burner but this year has already been one of more decisive action. On March 8th Madeleine Albright published the article, A hidden reality: Violence against women in politics.  As Chairwomen of National Democratic Institute (a not for profit organization created by the U.S. government to promote and support democracies overseas)  she was spearheading the campaign,  #NotTheCost – calling for indicators on the prevalence of threats and abuse to women in politics, and offering support for those affected. With plenty of examples from around the world to illustrate her point.


British MP Jess Philips and many others have also publicly spoken about the abuse and threats they regularly receive online. In brave statements they dismiss the trolls work as “bigotry, boredom and a sense of powerlessness in their own lives” (Laurie Penny). With the world only half paying attention to online threats, women are feeling a need to take the issue into their own hands, from strategy to support. (crashoverridenetwork, trollbusters, heart mob).

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These attempts to mitigate against a tide of hatred are a good start. But it’s time for the artistic world to catch up. Western world cultural interpretations of misogyny towards women in public roles has been very slow to keep pace with the fast moving world of mass media and communications.  There is very little literary work to read or watch to help us – yet.

“I believe there is still a special hatred saved for simply being a woman!”Sarah Maple, artist

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“Jo died doing her public duty at the heart of our democracy, listening to and representing the people she was elected to serve.” 

And now we’ve come to witness the ultimate cost of politically motivated hatred.  The murder of the MP, Jo Cox on June 16th (the first  British woman, the first Labour MP to be murdered in office).  It feels like comfort is hard to come by these days.  Her husband, Brendan Cox, in his expressive eulogy found the words to console a hurting nation;

Jo has “come to symbolize something much bigger in our country and in our world, something that is under threat—her belief in tolerance and respect, her support for diversity and her stand against hatred and extremism, no matter where it comes from. Across the world we’re seeing forces of division playing on people’s worst fears, rather than their best instincts, trying to divide our communities, to exploit insecurities, and emphasize not what unites us but what divides us. Jo’s killing was political, it was an act of terror designed to advance an agenda of hatred towards others. What a beautiful irony it is that an act designed to advance hatred has instead generated such an outpouring of love. Jo lived for her beliefs, and on Thursday she died for them, and for the rest of our lives we will fight for them in her name.”

There’s unlikely to be a rational explanation for the gunning down (and stabbing) of a wife and mother, one afternoon, in a small Yorkshire town.  And that’s a shame, because a reason could give us hope.

There might be little to offer consolation but we can try to understand more; both the lives of those who elect to represent us and the isolated who wish to hurt us.

Watch: to celebrate the women whose lives have been defined by public duty;

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Suffragette (2015) The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue an increasingly brutal campaign for women’s suffrage. Meryl Streep is Emmeline Pankhurst – whose autobiography is much better than this film.

Bhutto (2010) Benazir Bhutto’s life story is a tale of Shakespearean dimension involving a woman heroically battling tradition and terrorism in the most dangerous country on earth; Pakistan. Her tumultuous life story is intertwined with the equally tumultuous history of her homeland. Assassinated by a bomb on 27 December 2007, she became a martyr but left a legacy that will be debated for years to come.

The Iron Lady (2012)  Meryl Streep plays an elderly Margaret Thatcher as she struggles to come to terms with the death of her husband, Dennis,  as scenes from her past life, from girlhood to British prime minister, intervene.



Listen: to a range of women’s issues around politics and internet trolls

BBC Women’s Hour – Journalist Helen Lewis Hasteley and campaigner Tamara Littleton talk to Jane Garvey about the sexist trolls lurking on websites who pour scorn on female writers.

The Women’s Podcast – Irish women in politics – discussion produced by The Irish Times.

What would a feminist do? Hillary Clinton and female leadership – Guardian podcast.

Jessica Valenti speaks with writer Rebecca Traister about the sexism that powerful female leaders face on a daily basis.

Read: to understand the minds of the lonely, isolated, paranoid;

One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath by Asne Seierstad. The compelling story of Anders Breivik who killed 77 people on 22 July 2011.  A psychiatric case history, as well as a close look at Norwegian society, not least by paying as much attention to Breivik’s victims, as to their murderer.

And this New Yorker article, Inside the Mind of a Mass Killer by Karl Ove Knausgaard

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy by Sue Klebold. On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.Here Dylan’s mother   tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, to try to make sense of the senseless.

Featured Image – Reuters