Simon Kelner: If Sally were a man, would she be quite so vilified?

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The Independent Online

It was, I have to admit, something of a shock. I went to the relevant Twitter page to be greeted with the following message: "Sally Bercow" does not exist (I reproduce this faithfully: the inverted commas are not mine).

So that explains it. "Sally Bercow" is a imaginary concept, a mythological creature invented by middle-aged men in the media to fill their pages on slow news days, to illuminate their publications with a picture when Pippa Middleton or Emma Watson aren't available, and to be a source of reckless opinion when Louise Mensch is occupied.

She had it all: the ability to be portrayed as the wife from hell, or a flirty fortysomething with a push-up bra, or a loudmouth self-publicist who could embarrass her politically ambitious husband. She could conform to every sexist prejudice it was possible for men of a certain age to have. Sally Bercow, pictured, may indeed be a larger than life figure, but – hard though it may be to believe – she is in fact a real person, and she has disappeared only from the virtual world of Twitter.

You may ask, however: what is Mrs Bercow without her Twitter persona? Had it not been for Twitter, would we have even heard of her, or known her political views, or what she thinks about The X-Factor? And would we have cared?

Mrs Bercow's latest "crime" – following her ill-judged and mischievous tweet about Lord McAlpine – was to name the girl who ran away to France with her teacher in the summer. This was in contravention of an order which prohibits identification of the teenager. The tweet was later deleted, to be followed by her entire account, and now she faces a contempt charge and a fine of £5,000.

You could argue that those who live by the tweet die by the tweet, but I do have some sympathy for the beleaguered Mrs Bercow. How is she supposed to know the details of a court order relating to this case? Of course, it would have been prudent for her to have checked first, given the sensitivities of a legal process involving children, but that runs counter to the currency of Twitter, a medium for people to articulate their every half-baked thought idea.

Mrs Bercow, a supporter of the Labour Party, believes the legal action taken against her by Lord McAlpine is "totally politically motivated". She thinks she is being singled out because of her political affiliations. "And I don't do conspiracy theories as a rule," she tweeted.

The truth may be even worse.

I can't help feeling there is a latent sexism in the treatment of Sally Bercow, just as there is with Nadine Dorries and Mrs Mensch. It may be the case that they are in on it themselves, exploiting their female attributes to get to the front, but each of them has been subject to disproportionate vilification, verging on bullying, for offences that – let's be honest – don't amount to much. If they were men, I don't imagine they'd get the same bucket of opprobrium dropped on them.