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Handmaidens, Feminism and Reclaiming the Internet

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I'm never entirely up-to-date on who, exactly, the official Handmaiden to the Patriarchy is actually meant to be. I'm sure we're supposed to have one; that one woman who gets a bit uppity and therefore deserves our public scorn about their body and their intelligence followed, inevitably, by threats of violence. Liz Jones usually occupies this place. The Daily Mail sets Jones up weekly to make a spectacle of herself and we (or, at least the readers of the Daily Mail) buy into this woman-blaming discourse by insulting and denigrating Jones. For the past few months, Nadine Dorries and Louise Mensch have been taking alternating turns for the position of official Handmaiden to the Patriarchy. They've also been taking swipes at one another, jockeying for the role of definer of 'new' conservative feminism. I do not like the politics of either Dorries or Mensch. Their stance on abortion means that neither will receive my support for their political ambitions. I also have no intention of participating in their denigration because of their physical appearance.

I have spent the better part of the week with my teeth clenched at Dorries decision to do a reality TV show. Now, I've never actually watched a reality TV show but I'm fairly sure they don't involve attending constituency meetings. Dorries' decision to do the TV show was simply a bad decision. It was inevitably going to result in her being chastised publicly by Cameron. Part of me thinks Dorries is being set up, either consciously or unconsciously, to take the fall for her anti-abortion stance; that Dorries' public humiliation will force her to shelve the more destructive of her anti-abortion plans allowing the men of Conservative party to look 'kind' by reducing the abortion time-limit to only 20 weeks in the spring. Dropping the time limit to 12 weeks from 24 won't happen. Dropping from 24 to 20 is much more plausible. I think this is why Dorries is being made a public spectacle. She is being sacrificed to make male Conservative politicians look 'reasonable'.

I wasn't going to publish this blog because I didn't want to add to the never-ending number of people lining up to humiliate them. The patriarchy's favourite foul trick to further isolate women is by having other women police their behaviour. Then, it turns on those women by denigrating them for failing to stand up to the very vocal patriarchal bullies. It is so disheartening seeing women, even women I disagree with, being disparaged, insulted and denigrated by all for doing things men do with very little criticism.

This week, I've read three pieces written by women that have reminded me both why I am a feminist and what it means to be a feminist online. CherryBlossomLife's blog on Serving the Man is a beautifully written reminder of what it takes for women to survive in the patriarchy and how we need to keep reminding ourselves of that so that we do not judge individual women harshly for that which is out of their control. Exiled Stardust has written the 6 Step Evil Overlord Plan to Discredit Women in the Public Sphere showing just how Dorries and Mensch have been set up. Today Natasha Walter wrote equally beautifully of how women are taking back the internet and directly targeting the patriarchy in open combat. And, winning.

There are countless examples of the power and space women are carving for themselves online from parenting sites like Mumsnet which are dominated by women to the online Women Under Siege, Women's Room UK Hollaback! and Everyday Sexism Projects which are recording women's experiences of violence under the patriarchy. Despite their very obvious roles as patriarchal constructs of control, Twitter and Facebook are being reclaimed by Feminists. Personally, I have benefited from friendships developed on Mumsnet and strengthened through online activism and nurtured via Facebook. The women of Mumsnet diagnosed my PND and held my hand whilst I got well. I have 'met' many other women on Twitter whose courage and strength never fail to amaze and inspire me. Though Facebook and Twitter continue to support misogyny whilst silencing the voices of women, the sisterhood is fighting back.

I care about making spaces safe online for women so, whilst I will never support the policies of Dorries and Mensch, I do think we need to stop belittling and denigrating them. It is possible to criticise their policies without making it personal and supporting the patriarchy in silencing women. That is what we do when we fall into denigrating women. We are effectively helping to silence other women's voices. Instead, we need to reclaim the Internet and make it the most subversive weapon we have against the patriarchy.

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