Published: 18:52, 12 October 2020
| Updated: 19:15, 12 October 2020
An MP branded a "transphobe" after a row on Twitter says she has been left "completely terrified" by threats made against her life - but refuses to be silenced.
Canterbury and Whitstable MP Rosie Duffield says she has experienced shocking personal attacks following the incident, but wants to have a "reasonable and respectable debate" about issues including gender.
The controversy began when television host Piers Morgan challenged CNN's use of the phrase "individuals with a cervix", responding: “Do you mean women?”
Ms Duffield liked Mr Morgan's tweet and was soon criticised by followers including Labour activist and Canterbury resident Sarah Cundy, who branded her a "transphobe".
The MP then sparked further outrage when she responded: "I'm a 'transphobe' for knowing that only women have a cervix....?!"
After being urged to apologise by Pride Canterbury , she took to Facebook to apologise to anybody she had offended, before taking a break from social media amid a flurry of trolling and abuse.
Ms Duffield has now branded the response she received in the wake of the incident as "pure misogyny".
"Every single thing that we say is treated very differently [when you are a female MP]," she said.
"When we join Parliament as women, we're warned that we will get a lot more abuse online.
"I've tested that. I will sometimes tweet the exact same Labour Party tweet as some of my male colleagues.
"Some male MPs get one or two silly comments by people that don't support the party, but mostly women will get personalised abuse.
"It will be about them as a woman, or their appearance, threats of violence or words to the effect that we should shut our mouths, or something that's got literally nothing to do with the policy they're tweeting about. Men do not get that in the same way."
Ms Duffield says she does not know how many times threats have been made against her since she was elected as MP for Canterbury in 2017.
But in an alarming comment made in an interview with the Times, she said: "I’ll probably be killed at some point.”
Speaking to KentOnline today, she added: "I think we all sort of make jokes about it in Parliament, but it is a real threat. And when there's an issue that's contentious, like this particular issue I'm talking about at the moment, all the threats are ramped up.
"So it's quite scary sometimes.
"One of my colleagues who lost her seat in December had really serious death threats all the time and it was really impacting her mental health. I can't see why we have to prepare for that.
"And since [MP Jo Cox] was killed, MPs' security has been a really serious issue."
Ms Duffield recalled a recent incident in which a woman living in her constituency published what she thought was Ms Duffield's address on social media.
"That was particularly scary," she said.
"I made the police aware of that."
Ms Duffield maintains she is "not remotely transphobic" and is keen to enter into a "reasonable and respectable debate" about issues such as gender.
"We need to have discussions and we need to try and learn some basic manners..."
She says she is concerned about "the erasure of women’s safe spaces", such as access to female GPs for medical examinations and single-sex changing rooms.
It is an important topic for Ms Duffield, who has spoken openly about her own experience as a survivor of domestic abuse.
She recalled a frightening moment in which her former abuser turned up late at night at the Labour Party conference and became "physically threatening".
"The first thing that one of my colleagues did was rush me to the nearest women’s bathroom," she told the Times. "We could go in and lock the door and I could calm down. If he had been able to access that room things could have been very different.
“[There should be] some places that are very definitely women-only and safe and I don’t think we need to erase those things if we’re going to give other people rights."
"I'm not remotely transphobic or anti-trans, as my friends in the community know well," she told KentOnline.
"But I've been labelled that by a few people who probably haven't read what I've said, or probably haven't listened in the first place.
"And once you're labelled something, it tends to stick.
"It's become really toxic."
Speaking to the Times, she likened her experience to that of women in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a dystopian novel set in the fictional Republic of Gilead, where women are expected to be quiet and submissive.
"I feel like my female mouth is being well and truly closed without ever actually having been opened," she said.
“It feels as though women’s voices aren’t particularly wanted here.
"That’s what’s so frightening.
"The shutting down of ideas is particularly dystopian.
“Why can’t we have a discussion? Why can’t we be nice and polite to each other?"
Speaking to KentOnline, she added: "I'm really interested in all of us talking about our own experiences on these issues and that's what we're supposed to do as MPs - listen.
"I would never choose to offend anyone but if that means keeping my mouth shut, I'm not prepared to do that."
Ms Duffield acknowledged that social media may not be the best place for nuanced discussions but added that during the pandemic it had become an increasingly important place for people to share ideas.
"We need to have discussions and we need to try and learn some basic manners," she said. "I think social media platforms have eroded our respect for each other and that's really dangerous.
"But I don't think we should be quiet because of that."