Elena Bunbury is a Conservative councillor and Head of Communications for 1828.
Not that long ago, scrolling through Facebook and stumbling across posts saying that “one like equals one prayer” for whichever random illness or crisis happened to feature that day was the norm – and, to some extent, it still is.
The recent Times investigation commenting on which MPs follow the least women feels like it’s following a similar theme: “click a button from behind a screen and you can solve gender inequality!”
The focus of the investigation seems to centre around the principle that you can only support women and strive for equality if you follow enough women on Twitter. If you fail to meet the quota allotted to you and your position in society, there’s only one explanation: you’re a raging misogynist.
Recently, International Women’s Day has given a spotlight to many vital campaigns, such as the fantastic work Nimco Ali has done for female genital mutilation, the drive to encourage women into STEM subjects, and a variety of other issues. In comparison to these fantastic women and their incredible campaigns, quibbling about how many women male MPs follow seems, frankly, ridiculous.
Twitter, as a platform, is not the most productive for a wholesome debate. Generally, it’s used for sharing memes, spreading abuse, and trying to get seen by celebrities – not for tackling issues that have been raised by International Women’s Day and the wider feminist movement.
The Times article has put forward the view that not following a majority of women shows a lack of respect and a lack of willingness to support women in the political field. But I entirely disagree with that.
When scrolling through Twitter, gender balance isn’t at the forefront of my mind. If someone posts good, funny tweets, I’ll follow them. If they don’t, I won’t. I am 99 per cent sure that none of those listed within the Times article are sexist MPs who actively avoid women, they probably didn’t even realise the ratio themselves. That is because it simply does not matter.
I’m confident that most people reading this will be – and think – the same. We’ll follow people we associate with and stumble across. It’s a bizarre concept to demand members of parliament sift through their “following” list with a fine tooth comb thinking: “ah, I really enjoy his tweets – but he doesn’t quite fit into my gender quota.”
Twitter is a free platform where no one is obligated to meet quotas or forced to follow people who do not interest them. So, why has the referenced article even been written? The answer is because it’s just another virtue-signalling opportunity to make MPs look bad and patronise women even further than they already are.
MP accounts are mainly based around the local fair they’ve visited that week, or the petition that is being launched about car parking within their constituency. So, why would someone follow them unless the issues directly affected them?
Instead of the virtue signalling displayed, the Times should have spent their time researching what work the listed MPs have done to support women. Numerous MPs mentioned have spoken in debates supporting women and the issues raised by International Women’s Day, and held surgeries supporting women within their constituency. Why does the Times care who they’re following on Twitter?
Finally, as a woman, I find it offensive that people are being forcibly shamed and pressured to follow women on social media. Not because they are interested in their individual platforms, but just to have a better image. People need to stop treating women as the lesser gender which constantly need extra help, attention, and special dispensations – and start treating them as individuals with their own merits.
I don’t think that the MPs listed in the article are sexists. I think this pretentious investigation by the Times is.