Vicious and personal online attacks on Carla Lockhart have only strengthened her resolve to succeed, the DUP general election candidate has said.
Political rivals have also rallied round to show support after the Upper Bann MLA faced a torrent of Twitter abuse based on her appearance.
In response to the weekend slurs, Mrs Lockhart tweeted: “Whenever you attack someone on their appearance you have lost the argument already. Thank you to those who have voiced support, who can disagree on ideology but do so respectfully. #NotBowed #NotBroken #GE19.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long – who has also been subjected to personal online abuse – posted a message of support on Twitter, saying: “I have little in common with @carlalockhart politically, but she should be able to fight the election without having to contend with vicious personal abuse.
“It’s disgusting, yet all too common an experience for women in particular in public life. It’s bullying. It needs to stop.”
Dolores Kelly of the SDLP branded the abusive comments “disgusting” and “upsetting,” while Sinn Fein councillor Liam Mackle tweeted: “Absolutely disgraceful comments!! Disagree all you like with the politics of the DUP but such personal attacks on @carlalockhart, a hard working young mother are despicable.”
It will not break me, but it is my family I feel for more than meCarla Lockhart
Mrs Lockhart told the News Letter she was “overwhelmed” by the solidarity being shown by political rivals and others.
“I want to sincerely thank everyone who has weighed in behind me to show their support. I’ve been overwhelmed.
“When people start to attack your looks they have lost the argument.”
She added: “It will not break me, but it is my family I feel for more than me. I am in politics, I am thick skinned, but I am a mum and I am a wife, I am a sister and I am a daughter.
“This has got to stop. Social media platforms have got to start to get a handle on it because it is a form of bullying.”
Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken has also expressed support.
He tweeted: “The misogynist vitriolic abuse about Carla from those hiding behind anonymity must be strongly condemned by all – @Twitter & @facebook should name & shame the perpetrators.”
Mrs Lockhart went on to say: “You do tend to become accustomed to it but that doesn’t make it right.
“All female politicians have been subjected to this kind of abuse at some stage.
“No matter what your background or beliefs, you shouldn’t be called out on your looks.”
Meanwhile, female members of Parliament are three times more likely than male MPs to be criticised for their looks, a newspaper’s analysis has shown.
Research carried out by The Times found that female members were often referred to as “ugly” or “thick,” while male MPs were more likely to be branded as a “liar” or a “fraud” by the online trolls. A number of female MPs have cited the abuse as a reason for quitting politics.
Labour candidate Tulip Siddiq said: “This shouldn’t be a career where only tough women can do it. There is no sense of humanity in the way we are treated.”