Kristin Raworth: Call out harassment by your own political tribe
It is, quite literally, the least you could do
By: Kristin Raworth
“I’m so sorry but I received an email and they are referencing you. It’s really horrendous but would you like me to send it to you?”
This is a private message, on Twitter or Facebook or other messaging apps, that myself and so many other women with any kind of public profile have received in recent weeks. In a renewed campaign of harassment, mostly female journalists have been receiving constant threats, including of rape and murder. All of them indicate we are on a hit list and that we are being watched. The first email I saw threatened to gut me. Since then I have received two more increasingly frightening emails; my boss got one for standing up for me and the other women impacted. Predictably, and depressingly, the abuse is often even worse for women of colour.
Every time any woman on the receiving end of this campaign talks about it we get accused of being partisan. Yet we are told our efforts to call out the right-wing extremists who make and amplify these threats is attention-seeking behaviour. For many of the journalists, to speak out is to be attacked as just pro-Trudeau partisans out to hurt conservatives.
Here’s the irony: I am a conservative voter. This isn’t my first time being subjected to death threats. The first time it happened, it was overwhelmingly by Liberal supporters. So allow me to clarify: nothing about this is partisan at all. The failure to hold your own side to account is, sadly, universal, and we have to demand better of our own.
Because there is nothing partisan about the fact I had to call my parents and tell them I got a death threat and have to hear the fear in their voice. It wasn’t political that many of us named in these hateful emails are now connecting to share advice about how to stay safe and how to process what is happening. There is nothing partisan about the fact that I feel afraid to leave my home alone.
Again: I vote conservative. But it still worries me that Pierre Poilievre has consistently attacked journalists online; these attacks often coincide with noticeable upticks in online harassment and hate received by Poilievre’s journalistic targets. Many the victims have pointed this simple fact out.
This apparently makes us the problem. Can a politician screen every follower or fan? Absolutely not, but what they can do is denounce unacceptable behaviour and threats.
Pierre Poilievre could easily become prime minister, which makes the fact that he has constantly attacked the media and helped creative an environment in which it has become normalized to attack journalists more troubling. The fact that there are many Canadians who think that talking about the death and rape threats that I and others are receiving makes Poilievre a victim is a sad comment on how we put politics ahead of basic decency.
And again, I’ve seen this before, from the other side. Many years ago, I came forward about sexual harassment I experienced by then-Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr. (He resigned from cabinet and apologized to several women but remained in the Liberal caucus.) The response from Liberal supporters online was quick and brutal. I was called a whore, a liar, I got a threat at my home, I had to have corporate security protect me for over a month. My family was targeted. It was one of the most difficult things that I have ever gone through.
You know who defended me then? Conservatives.
Some of the people who today call the attacks on these female journalists into question are the very ones who supported me when it was Liberal supporters doing the attacking. The hypocrisy is stunning: when I speak out against a Liberal I am a champion, but when I use that same voice to defend women against the hard-right I am an enemy? The accusations of partisanship are laughable when viewed in this light — only a partisan extraordinaire could be this blind.
Which brings us to August 26th and what happened to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in Grande Prairie in my home province of Alberta. As she was leaving an event, a man (accompanied by a women filming the encounter) walked up to her as she was getting into an elevator and began to scream at her. He called her a traitor and said she was unwelcome in Alberta and then launched into a tirade of misogynist slurs. Thankfully it did not become physical and he was escorted out of the building. The response to this incident was immediate and the vast majority of folks on the left and the right were united in condemning what happened and in calling out the increasing levels of hate directed at women.
Good: I would like to see these same figures make a stand at organized harassment campaigns aimed at journalists as well.
To fail to condemn this behaviour is an abdication of responsibility from the right while engaging in the same whataboutism they so frequently accuse the left of doing. Because the reality is two things can be wrong at a time.
Media criticism is vital to democracy. Political criticism is too. What is happening to us is not criticism. What happened to the Deputy Prime Minister is not criticism. We’ve been threatened with rape, with being murdered, we’ve been put on a hit list, women politicians across the spectrum are subjected to threats and online abuse daily. If we share it then we are told we are playing the victim, if we don’t we are called liars. We are damned if we do or if we don’t.
It is the bare minimum to ask our political leaders to call this out. It should be not seen as partisan to ask that the people we vote for respect the criminal code. Because what is happening to us is criminal. It is a crime. It isn’t hurt feelings. It isn’t anything other than criminal harassment. So the least we can ask is that our leaders don’t shake hands with a man who openly has our faces on a hit list on his wall.
We are just a collection of women trying to do our jobs and live our lives and have opinions. That shouldn’t be a death sentence and saying that shouldn’t be partisan. There has to be a minimum standard of behaviour. Because your political loyalties don’t exempt you from being human.
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