Politics is a dirty old game particularly for women who are roundly abused

Social Democrats politician, Cork TD Holly Cairns, spoke out about a stalker recently. Colette Sheridan says there is a need to stop dehumanising politicians
Politics is a dirty old game particularly for women who are roundly abused

Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns, who has spoken out about an incident involving a stalker who turned up at her home. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

ANONYMOUS trolls should not be allowed to wreck people’s lives.

This applies particularly to female politicians, who bear the brunt of the ire of twisted individuals posting vitriol online.

It should be a requirement of social media companies that users disclose their real identities.

If being called demeaning names and being threatened online isn’t sinister enough, consider the plight of Cork South West TD, Holly Cairns, who disclosed last week that she had to cancel constituency meetings with voters because of a disturbing stalker who kept turning up at her home, leaving her “absolutely terrified”.

In other words, she is unable to carry out her full duties because of some creep harassing her.

Gardaí advised her not to hold constituency clinics because it would involve revealing where she would be at specific times. She has installed CCTV at her home.

The Social Democrats politician told The Group Chat podcast from Virgin Media News about the sexual nature of abusive comments sent to her online and by post. Included were clippings from pornographic material featuring other women named ‘Holly.’

It’s no wonder that the 33-year old - the only female TD for County Cork – says she might never have put herself forward for election had she known the degree of abuse she would face in the course of her job.

Yet there is a crying need for greater representation of women in politics. The Dáil has just 36 women while the number of men is 124. And if abuse is part of the package, then fighting back is essential for democracy.

That’s easier said than done if you’re the subject of objectionable behaviour that stinks of misogyny, resentment, and utter disregard for dignity.

“Any woman in her right mind would not go into politics. You are completely dehumanised,” said a female politician to the Irish Times recently. She was one of five public representatives talking to the paper about the threats and insults that are par for the course in a political career. However, the five women spoke anonymously which is an indictment of the kind of fear they operate under.

As one of them said, there is a need to get more women into politics.

“The more women there are, the less targeted we are.”

It would seem that the abusers think that female politicians have got above themselves. They can’t accept the idea of a level playing field. They think women, in public life, are fair game for behaviour that should be criminalised.

When two bags of cow dung were thrown at Fianna Fáil Minister of State Anne Rabbitte and Fine Gael TD Ciaran Cannon earlier this month at a public meeting, we were shocked. Regardless of these politicians’ policies and beliefs, there was sympathy for them. No one should be subjected to such vile behaviour. It shone a light on the safety of politicians.

There is a need to stop dehumanising politicians. They are not punch bags, no matter how frustrated the populace is with them.

It took a leading female politician to state the obvious (but not often uttered) about her cohort. In light of her announcement to resign as Prime Minister of New Zealand because she no longer has enough “in the tank” to do the job justice, Jacinda Ardern said: “I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.”

This is a politician unafraid to display her emotional intelligence, something that male politicians are not always comfortable with.

Jacinda is bowing out next month because, unlike narcissists who try foolishly and desperately to cling on to power, like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, she knows her time has come. She is not prepared to hang in there just for the sake of holding onto a powerful position.

This, I like to think, is because she is a woman in touch with reality and self-aware.

Asked how she would like New Zealanders to remember her leadership, Jacinda said: “As someone who always tried to be kind.”

She also said that she hopes she leaves New Zealanders “with a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused.

“And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go.”

In the past year, Jacinda has faced a significant increase in threats of violence, particularly from conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers angry about lockdowns. But she says this isn’t behind her reason to step down. The threats however have “an impact. We are humans after all...”

You can hardly blame female politicians for not recommending a political career. But we need more women in politics. It’s a tough arena that badly needs the feminine touch.

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