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Isabel Hardman Was Right to Call Out the 'Totty' MP - The Media Were Wrong to Name and Shame Him

14/04/2016 12:19 | Updated 14 April 2016

If someone came up to me and said "I want to talk to the totty", I think I would dropkick them into 1792, the year that Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women was published.

An MP said this to political journalist Isabel Hardman the other day, and her approach was a bit more pacifist. She tweeted about the incident, not naming the MP in question, but saying that "lobby women shouldn't have to put up with it".

Like a true professional Westminster-reporting sexism-fighting hero, she said she "wouldn't betray sources, but she would betray sexists".

It's obvious from Hardman's tweets that she thought more than once about whether to draw attention to the incident, and quite deliberately didn't mention the MP's name. She spoke carefully, flagging up unacceptable sexist behaviour rather than encouraging a personal attack on the individual that said it.

As anyone who speaks out about sexism on the internet will know, you have to weigh the scales before you do it. What's more important - taking a stand against things that shouldn't still be said in a day and age when we have cars that drive themselves? Or not falling under an avalanche of toilet people, who seem drawn to such conversations like they are catnip for misogynists?

Of course, behaving like adults is sometimes hard, so the media set out to find Totty Man, and The Sun today revealed him to be MP for Beckenham, Colonel Bob Stewart.

What follows is just the view from the totty, so you might want to disregard it, but personally I don't think setting out to name and shame Stewart helps anyone.

That's not me saying that speaking to women like that is acceptable or shouldn't be called out. I find it enraging; Hardman is an award-winning journalist who was doing her job and who's also human being. She's not some woman-fun-toy who exists for men's amusement while they talk about the economy and try not to spaff their pants.

And of course, the onus shouldn't be on women to make men feel comfortable when they try and tell them they like to be referred to by their names and not one pejorative group noun. But hunting down Stewart and sending a Twitter mob after him with pitchforks won't stop old guard sexists from referring to women as a collective mass of jiggly boobs.

Twitter mobs are nasty, unconstructive, and make the victims of them feel under duress. And I think I'm using the word 'victim' correctly there - because anybody who has read Jon Ronson's recent book on Twitter-shaming (So You've Been Publicly Shamed) will know that they can genuinely destroy lives. Scientist Sir Tim Hunt is a perfect example; I still don't know if he misspoke or had his comments about women crying in labs taken out of context, but I do feel uncomfortable that he had to leave his job because of the toxic media barrage.

The problem with Twitter mobs is that no one in them is taking a deep breath and thinking, 'let's look at this in a really nuanced way and work out what might be the best way forward so that something positive comes out of this'. The lesson is pretty easy: no one is going to listen to each other if we don't talk to each other like human beings.

My greatest concern is that when things like this Go Off, as the youth might say, women speaking out about sexism end up with an angry internet tornado ripping through their lives, and it might make them think twice about doing it again.

I hope that even if her Twitter feed is an ocean of bigoted jizzy chumps today, Hardman never regrets calling out sexism in Westminster. It has to be done - but we need to be sure that when we show solidarity in condemning it, we're not harming the exact person who we wanted to help.

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