No one in the public eye should expect to avoid scrutiny and criticism. As the UK’s first black female MP, Diane Abbott never had the opportunity to be so naive. She has not only weathered political storms and prejudice but endured years of outright abuse without complaint. Now, as she has revealed in the Guardian, things are getting worse – and it is preventing people from entering the field or speaking out: “Once, the pushback was against the actual arguments for equality and social justice. Now the pushback is the politics of personal destruction,” she wrote.
That reflects in part a political discourse that is becoming coarser and more vicious. But those who do not fit the traditional mould of a public figure – white, male and straight – are more often subjected to vitriol, and such vitriol will more often focus on their identity, not their opinions. These attacks are not only ad hominem. They are in many cases ad feminam, or, as in Ms Abbott’s case, doubly poisonous, driven by racism and sexism.
It should be extraordinary that high-profile women receive a torrent of hate messages directed at their gender and ethnicity, and rape and death threats. Instead, it is becoming routine. Female MPs say they feel physically unsafe; Jo Cox was targeted online before her murder by a far-right terrorist, and her death is used to threaten them. Other women who dare to speak out are similarly abused, as Gina Miller and Caroline Criado-Perez could attest. Social…