In the last couple of weeks I have spoken to five different young women who told me they were going to stop posting blogs and tweeting about their politics and their views. Each one of them contacted me for support and advice about how to deal with the vitriol, sexism and misogyny they face every time they speak. The very first thing I said to every one of them was "don't stop, whatever you do, don't let it silence you."
I know a thing or two about this. If any journalist would like to see the dark heart of internet misogyny just mention my name in an article... Bob's your uncle, I've poisoned your comments section. My favourite this week is about how I should get back to ironing my husbands socks. It would be hard for me to get back to doing something I've never done, also I would find it tricky as I do not own an iron. Cue loads of comments on this article saying no wonder she always looks such a mess. No doubt calls for me to lose my job because Britain is no place for crumpled creased clothed harpies like me. Keeping with creases as a theme another top offering this week was:
"Yes, Crease-up (Stella Creasy) is the one most up her own fanny. But there's a wide choice of useless female green leather mites. Top of the list surely is super ugly femascist cow Fiona McTaggert." Kiss your mother with that mouth do you sir?
However it is not those attacking politicians that bothers me so much. It's the fact that any woman is being kept quiet on the internet because dealing with these types of comments is inevitable. A good friend of mine and prominent Birmingham twitterer told me today that he never retweets his 20 year old daughter, even when he thinks she is brilliant, funny and insightful. When I ask why, the answer is simple, "I just wouldn't do that to her."
More than the violent, threatening and blatant misogyny, the worst element of this is the "shut up" bit. The "shut up bitch" is working. Women are shutting up. Not because they are scared, not because they believe the threats but because it is so tiring that whenever you speak you face hatred because of the make up of your chromosomes.
I don't want to get all Mary Whitehouse about this. I love the internet it's full of brilliant people, saying funny things that you wish you'd said (and will later pass off as if you did). My kid's minds are blown by amazing things they see on the internet every day. I just want to make sure that the brilliant stuff on it is from everyone, and while a tiny minority sit in their pants spewing hatred at those of us paying the tampon tax we will limit how wondrous it could be.
So what can we do? That's the toughie. But hey let's try and do something. So I'm joining with my friend and colleague Yvette Cooper and lots of other people to try to reclaim the Internet. (www.reclaimtheinternet.com). This campaign will ask for a few things that might help. Education, support and what to do when it happens to you.
The internet is now the world we walk around in, pin our interests to, share our loves and woes. Unless you are willing to walk up to me or any woman in the street and say, "God you are so fat, I bet your husband is cheating on you and your kids hate you", don't do it online.
Don't believe me? Just check out the comments section, forgive me if I don't bother.