Sunday 18 March 2018

'Women who give their views are immediately belittled' - Ruth Coppinger on councillor's 'keep your clothes on' tweet

TD Ruth Coppinger. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
TD Ruth Coppinger. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Kathy Armstrong and Amy Molloy

Women are afraid to express their opinions online in case they receive abuse from trolls, Deputy Ruth Coppinger has said after a Fianna Fáil councillor tweeted that she should "keep her clothes on."

Solidarity TD Coppinger said that negative comments online can leave women feeling threatened and silenced, as she admitted she avoids Twitter except for work purposes.

Ms Coppinger was speaking on Newstalk Breakfast this morning after Kilkenny Councillor Patrick McKee tweeted about her appearance after she was  a guest on The Claire Byrne Show on Monday.

Ms Coppinger had said on the show that she felt the use of "ring girls" in combat sports was "outdated" and "sexist".

To which Cllr McKee tweeted: "We live in a "reasonably" liberal democracy. If women want to wear a bikini & take part in sporting events let them. It has nothing to do with you @RuthCoppingerTD Please just keep your clothes on. Please."

Cllr McKee has since apologised for his comment and deleted his Tweet.

Ruth Coppinger and Patrick McKee, who has apologised
Ruth Coppinger and Patrick McKee, who has apologised

"Last evening, during a debate on the Claire Byrne Live Show, I tweeted a personal opinion which referenced @RuthCoppingerTD. I want to apologise to Ruth for any offence caused. It was certainly not intended," he said.

Dublin West TD Coppinger said that his remarks are part of a wider problem of abuse against women and marginalised groups.

"I thought it was ironic because he was making a misogynistic comment in a debate about misogyny and he didn't seem to see the irony.

"I was asked to comment on a number of sports and I would like to point out that I didn't comment on what women are wearing because I feel they should be able to wear whatever they want.

"I think this shows the level of online abuse that can be directed at women.

"If a councillor tweets something like that to a TD then you can see just some of what other women might be receiving online.

"Unfortunately you do experience worse online but I suppose the point is that this is a councillor for a major political party and he doesn't seem to realise this is not acceptable," she said.

Deputy Coppinger said that woman are fearing for their safety after receiving threats online.

She explained: "Amnesty International did a poll about a lot of the online abuse that is directed towards women.

"They found that over 40pc had felt physically unsafe and threatened, they had experienced things like rape threats and other threats, all because they dared to give an opinion online.

"I think it feeds to a level of sexism that is out there in society, Asian and black women would experience even more of this.

"Of course it wouldn't (be aimed at a man), I don't think so.

"Women who give their views online are belittled, immediately it descends into commenting on their appearance and bodies, without actually engaging in debate

"The impact is that women feel their self-esteem is threatened or undermined and they might then be much less likely to give their opinion online," she added.

"For example, Laura Bates - who runs a page called Everyday sexism - told Amnesty International that she received around 200 abusive messages every day and that was even before the project became very high profile and it has a silencing affect for women or marginalised groups as well."

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers earlier criticised her colleague for the remark.

"@fiannafailparty does not condone such tweets, it falls far below the standard of commentary I would expect from an elected member of the party. Apologies to @RuthCoppingerTD," she said on Twitter.

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