Of snowflakes and men

Today’s topic was a tough one to write. I sat with it for a while. To be honest, I felt rather demoralized. Then again, if we want anything to change, it’s very important to speak about it. So here you go. 

Many of us are reluctant to make ourselves visible, whether that’s in the shape of speaking up during meetings, public speaking from a stage, or posting our thoughts on social media. With good reason, it seems. And yet, I hope you’ll understand why it’s more relevant than ever to overcome our inhibitions.

Imagine that you did so because you want to contribute to a better world. You’ve joined a group of like-minded people and you’re doing your share, being under public scrutiny all of the time. With your colleagues, you work late hours and on the weekend too, putting your own needs and those of your family aside. But you feel it’s all worth it, because together, you’re changing the world. 

And then, in your social media feed, you’re called a whore. People openly fantasize about gang-raping, mutilating or murdering you. Not just once, but 30 to 90 times a day. 

Most female panelists of ‘Women in Public Life’, a conference I attended earlier this month, have such experiences. Politicians, journalists and civil society activists testified of the immense pressure they are under to shut up. 

Vice President of the European Commission, Vera Yourova, hosted the conference, to reflect on the election year ahead. ‘Women in public life are no snowflakes,’ she said. ‘We’re strong and we know what’s coming.’

Nevertheless, she was one of several politicians present, who announced they are not running for elections again. ‘My children are happy about it. They were afraid,’ she said.

‘I don’t want to live with permanent bodyguards anymore,’ said Member of the European Parliament, Lucia D. Nicholsonova, ‘or be spat on when I walk in the park with my baby.’ She too, won’t run again. 


Nicholsonova also gets threats from women. But more than 90% of violence, online or offline, physical or verbal, is perpetrated by men, American activist Jackson Katz pointed out. For two decades, he has been educating male groups on how to speak up against abusive behavior.

‘Men use violence against women because they feel threatened in their identity and because they can’t gain compliance without it,’ he observed. ‘Political violence is no different. Too often, men don’t like what happens, but defer to women to provide leadership. Men need to speak up on these matters,’ he said.  

‘Extreme misogyny is rampant, especially amongst young, educated professional men,’ Brandon Cox said, widower of British MP Jo Cox. ‘And politicians weaponize it. By embracing it, they make it easier for others to be open about their opinions.’ Like Katz, he works to change minds.

‘Jo’s maiden speech was called “More in Common”,’ he said. ‘Instead of focusing on our differences, she urged us to be talking about what connects us.’ But she was brutally murdered in 2016 by a man consumed by hatred for what she stood for.

About one fifth of online violence turns into physical violence. 

The attackers are a minority. But because they make a lot of noise, the algorithms give them the spotlight. Hate content spreads six times faster than other content. Meanwhile, most of us stand by and watch how women who stand out and speak up are being silenced. That includes the political parties and newsrooms whose representatives are under fire, Silvana Koch-Mehrin pointed out, founder of Women Political Leaders.

By shrugging our shoulders and keeping our own head down when those who challenge the status quo or the powers that be are targeted, we implicitly allow the democratic values of our society to be threatened.

That is why this concerns us all, especially in this global election year. Supporting women who claim their rightful space is not about gender. It is about protecting our precious freedom, about living in a respectful society and about the right for all of us to contribute waht we bring to the table.  

So, please share this message with as many people as you can. And please, go out there and make a noise for the benefit of all of us.

Thank you.

P.S. If you want to receive my reflections in your mailbox, you can join the conversation here.

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