Witches & Bitches: How Political Discourse Demonizes Women

If you're a woman reading this, chances are you've been called a bitch in your life. Worse (or better, depending on your alchemic life choices), you've been called a witch.

For females in the public eye, the chances are infinitely higher. And for female politicians, well, you'd need an eye-wateringly strong potion to avoid either label.

Where there is criticism aimed at a female political figure, more often than not, the insults – and memes – spread to her hair, clothes, age and chance of witchcraft. Hillary Clinton, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Diane Abbot, Melania Trump and more recently Kellyanne Conway have all been the subject of misogynistic political commentary en masse. They're not the first, and I doubt they'll be the last.

witch-tights

(Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

On top of comments about her clothes, hair and body jiggle thing, Hillary Clinton was non-stop publicly annihilated after it broke that she had been using a separate email server to the government. When the same scandal was unearthed last month with Mike Pence’s private email account, the reaction was non-existent.

The story is more directly damaging for the first black woman to become a member of the UK parliament, Diane Abbot. She receives racist and sexist abuse online on a daily basis, and death threats on the regs; most recently, she found this directed at her: "Pathetic useless fat black piece of shit Abbott. Just a piece of pig shit pond slime who should be fucking hung (if they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight)."

Despite decades of such abuse, only this year has she opened up about it, for fear it's getting worse.

On the other side, our second ever female prime minister, Theresa May, has faced unrelenting coverage about her footwear – much of it positive (they're leopard print after all). But shoe coverage isn't

But shoe coverage isn't necessary in our discussions on the PM. More importantly, her facial appearance has been routinely insulted, her 'witch-like' wrinkles a fave pre-drinks politics topic. (Literally, while I was writing this article, new tweets appeared likening a video of May's laugh to a witch cackle.)

Misogyny's new female political victim is Kellyanne Conway, councilor for Donald Trump and former Republican Party campaign manager. Following that photo of her sat on an Oval Office sofa, knees crossed, in a dress (gasp!) going viral, the internet was quick to slut-shame and demonize her. For what? Doing what a man could get away with invisibly.

Her peer Republican Cedric Richmond was one of the many to point out the ~unladylike~ faux-pas of a woman spreading her legs (what would the Victorians say?!), making a weird sexual joke about it.

He's since made a statement which only deepened the misogyny around the situation, but that it was so easy for him, among hundreds and possibly thousands in the social media backlash who were effortlessly quick to disrespect a woman sat on a sofa demonstrates the innate sexism female politicians face. This might be a novel example, but it's an example nonetheless.

Both sides now

It may be surprising though that the misogyny is by no means one-sided. In the same way extremism is thriving of both the left and right, sexist attacks on female politicians are from the direction of their lovers and haters.

If we look at the way Conway, Clinton, Abbot, May and all the rest have been covered in the media, it's evident that no one ~side~ is the demon doing the demonizing. Everyone and anyone can make sexist comments and memes, regardless of political party.

Women at totally opposing ideological poles are still stirring up the same anxieties. And those worries are down to the fact that these female politicians are powerful, assertive and making decisions.

The attacks are also by no means (as it's commonly believed) from the direction of Camp Male. As with other forms of sexism, women, as well as men, quickly turn to blatantly sexist complaints about female politicians when disagreeing with them.

“These sexist memes are not the purview of one party,” Clinton campaign Senior advisor, Karen Finney, has said of the former presidential candidate's often-sexist commentary. “We fear strong women and women with power. These attacks are meant to delegitimize that power.”

See ya, bitches

So how do we put a stop to this? Start with yourself. When discussing politics you don't agree with, don't rush to brand the females bitches, witches or whatever else you can come up with. Discuss the real issues, instead of focusing on character or appearance.

While we may fundamentally disagree with someone, we need to be making decent points about their points, instead of endless, dumb and boring jibes at aesthetics, laughs or ways women sit on sofas.

Attacks against women who step out of "traditional gender roles" aren't new: one candid scroll through Reddit, Twitter or Facebook and you'll find any unconventional (read: intimidating) women being shut down with violent language. But when such vitriol persists and invades our discourse online and offline, we've got to put a stop to it, no matter what side you're on.

Make like Chelsea Clinton, who stood up for women's rights by defending Conway against the leg-spreading sexism despite obvious opposing ideals. That's how change is made – they found allies in each other, made clear by Conway's thanks.

It's about time we drew a line and pushed back against this form of misogyny and demand all political discourse is that – political. Nothing more, nothing less.

Read More -> 'Fearless Girl' Is The Defiant Statue Celebrating The Power Of Women

Part time puncess. Pitches, tips and nudes to lydia.morrish@konbini.com