By Valentina Zarya
May 11, 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May has become an unlikely hero for millennial women, who are inspired by her fashion choices and unflashy political style. These “Mayllennials” are creating social media accounts and memes about the PM, but the vast majority remain anonymous for fear of getting trolled or harassed for expressing their support.

Most wouldn’t even speak to BuzzFeed for the publication’s piece about the trend, and one supporter explained why: “You’ll notice [May]’s official social media pages get very little engagement from her supporters, and I think it’s all for the same reasons—fear of negative responses and arguments starting as a result.”

This desire to keep support of a female politician under wraps reminds me of the secret Facebook group Pantsuit Nation during the days of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Millions of people—many of whom were women—joined the group and were vocal supporters of Clinton on the platform. And yet few were willing to voice their opinions in public. The explanations they gave me for an August story about this tendency are remarkably similar to the reasons behind the anonymity of May’s supporters. “I just couldn’t fight this battle,” said one woman.

It’s a shame that so many women feel they have to hide their support of politicians—particularly female ones—online. There is already a paucity of women in power (less than 20% of Congress is female), and they are often held to much higher standards than their male counterparts. Hiding one’s support of women leaders is not only ineffective in quieting the trolls and raising the level of civil discourse on social media, but does little to advance gender parity in government. A better fix may be for more women to dive into the political fray—both in the digital world and the real one.

—Valentina Zarya (@valzarya)

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