By Jane Fae
How to deal with an uppity woman? Why, just punch her in the throat, and she'll learn her place soon enough.
What do you mean that's unacceptable? This isn't the 19th century.
Well, let's just make a joke about it and move on. Or make a joke about making a joke about it, thereby absolving us of all responsibility and simultaneously implying that really it’s somehow those darned humourless feminists who are to blame.
That in a nutshell, is the nub of this morning’s Twitterstorm.
As you may already be aware, Conservative MP Michael Fabricant today tweeted about his desire to punch Independent journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the throat.
"I could never appear on a discussion prog with @y_alibhai [Yasmin Alibhai Brown] I would either end up with a brain haemorrhage or by punching her in the throat," he tweeted.
Way to go, Michael! But of course, here comes the inevitable joke apology. An hour or so later, he was back on Twitter.
"It appears that some people who don't know me think I actually go round punching 'in the throat'. Not true." he added.
"If anyone believes I would seriously threaten someone with violence, I of course withdraw and apologise."
And then came the excuses.
"I am afraid I know I would get v angry if I had been on the Ch4 debate last night. Glad it was Rod Liddle and not me!"
Then, a few minutes after that: ".Sorry @y_alibhai if you actually thought I would punch you. I actually don't do that sort of thing. But you are utterly infuriating! Xx"
Note the kissy-kissy let’s-make-up x's at the end. He's got that he over-stepped a mark, but it doesn’t quite sound as though he understands the impact of his words.
There is also a hint that the Conservative Whip's Office have ordered him off the airwaves. For this is followed swiftly by: "Just been to dentist, jaw numb, so doing no meejah!"
We did ask the chief whip in the Commons for comment, but answer came there none.
Finally, to show what a stand-up guy he is when it comes to women’s issues, he posts a twitpic of "me in a demo in Lichfield end last yr against domestic violence. 'Real men don't hit women". It's true!'"
So that’s alright then? No. Not really. Here, in a nutshell, from Alison Boydell, co-founder of End Online Misogyny (EOM), is why:
"Michael Fabricant's comment is unacceptable. At End Online Misogyny, we frequently see men indulge in violent fantasies as a default response to disagreeing with a woman.
"Such violent rhetoric is endemic and symptomatic of a culture of misogyny and male entitlement; this was further evidenced by other individuals coming to the defence of Fabricant's comments and minimising them.
"Women experience male violence on a daily basis both on and offline and two women a week are murdered by a former or current partner."
But of course it's all a big joke. No-one could possibly take offence right? Those are the two standard lines trotted out whenever some high profile lad, from Jeremy Clarkson to Nigel Farage, goes off-piste and comes out with this kind of stuff.
This is much the same as the slippery excuses issued by David Cameron, some six months after his own "calm down dear" put-down of Labour MP, Angela Eagle.
Few of us can imagine Michael Fabricant has any genuine violent intent.
Yet Fabricant’s utterance does not happen in a vacuum. As research from EOM suggests, this rhetoric is used to keep women in their place. Deliberately? Not always, but given the violence that regularly attends women who stand up for themselves, it might as well be.
Speaking at a conference hosted by Women's Aid last year, and following the public monstering of activist Caroline Criado-Perez, EOM made two chilling points
- From the perspective of the person threatened, there is no way of telling who is and who is not making a genuine threat, and
- A percentage of those making online threats DO have a history of actual offline violence against women and children
In addition, when high profile public figures make light of such violence, that is seen as a green light by offline abusers.
Still laughing? The entire episode is an object lesson in the silencing of women. Create fear, then belittle that fear.
The problem here is NOT just the original comment, it is the entire let’s-call-it-a-joke-and-move-on culture. It’s there in rape jokes and Violence Against Women jokes. It’s doubly there in the pained dismissal that follows.
Fabricant's tweeted kisses are not friendly. They are an added insult, encapsulating in two short letters, the contempt Fabricant has for the woman he has just attacked.
Let's also not overlook the "utterly infuriating" jibe, which none-too-subtly puts the blame for all this back on the victim.
Meanwhile, Fabricant has created a rather more intractable problem for the Conservative party, as an open letter from Shadow Women’s Minister, Gloria de Piero MP to David Cameron this lunchtime makes clear.
What, she asks, is David Cameron going to do about his rogue member?
It's a good question. My first thought on visiting the Twitter profile of @Mike_Fabricant was that this was a spoof. It reads like the sort of thing thrown together on a Saturday night after a drink too many down at the local rugby club.
But no: it’s real. As are some of the comments that Fabricant can now retweet as, he gleefully observes, he is no longer vice chairman – a dismissal that followed other indelicate remarks made earlier this year about Maria Miller.
But Fabricant's comments should not be dismissed. This is an issue on which Cameron himself has already given great offence to one half of the electorate.
The bar has already been set before by UKIP. Mindful of the damage done by thoughtless social media comment, Nigel Farage has made it clear that at least in the lower reaches of the party, comments that reek of bigotry are a one-way ticket out of the party.
Is it possible that removal of the Whip is now a very serious option being considered by David Cameron as well?
Jane Fae is a feminist and writer on gender issues. You can follow her on Twitter here.
The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.