Keep My Friends Out Of This



From top: Facebook Likes, Illustration by Jennifer Daniel ; Anne Marie McNally

Maintaining a veil of privacy over your personal life – even on social media – has nothing to do with fear of scandal and everything to do with protection and the maintenance of clear lines of demarcation.

Anne Marie McNally writes:

The personal is political or so the saying goes. But is that, or should that be, the case? Isn’t it perfectly acceptable to want to keep some things beyond the scope of inevitable scrutiny that comes from being in the public eye?

Or is there a legitimate expectation that every part of a politician’s (or aspiring politician) life be laid bare as required by the media outlet of the day?

The question I raise concerns itself more with the intimate details of one’s life rather than any public pastimes so before the commentators get carried away telling me that they have a right to know if someone is a member of the KKK or engages in some other type of behaviour which is likely to have a direct impact on their role in the public eye, then yes, I agree – fair game.

My question however refers to the truly personal.

As a woman I am repeatedly asked about my family status, perhaps that’s the same for men but I can’t be sure. When someone asks you directly ‘do you have children’ is it acceptable to say ‘I’d rather not say?’ and if not, why not? The same argument applies to any relationship? So far I have tried, wherever possible to keep my two worlds separate.

Why? I’m not 100% sure to be honest but I do know this, the scrutiny that comes from being in the public eye is not always pleasant and I’m loathe to subject anyone to it who hasn’t specifically chosen it.

I’ve chosen it therefore I’m good with it but would it be fair for me to open others up to the possibility of attention they may not desire?

For a while now I’ve been left with the distinct impression that my evasiveness on those type of questions is somewhat unacceptable and other times I’ve felt judgement for some perceived ‘disowning’ on my behalf.

We’re lucky here in Ireland that we don’t have a tabloid media as feral as Britain’s. As such we’re devoid of the regular ‘scandals’ regarding the personal lives of public figures but that’s not to say we don’t get the gossip type columns where innuendo and subtle clues point to the identity of the person involved.

Then there’s social media where speculation and finger-pointing comes with the territory. That’s one side of the coin but the less salacious, less obvious reason for maintaining a veil of privacy over your personal life has nothing to do with fear of scandal and everything to do with protection and the maintenance of clear lines of demarcation.

I tried to keep my personal Facebook page personal, but the friend requests kept coming and I now have people on there who are more colleagues than friends and so I’ve adjusted the personal content pertaining to others in my life accordingly.

This may mean that you’ll only see photos of me socialising with political friends – it doesn’t mean I don’t spend the majority of my life with those not in my political world, it just means you won’t read about it on Facebook.

During the recent General Election campaign I had a hugely positive campaign and response but there were blips. Unfortunately a woman becoming so visible in public life will always bring slugs from beneath rocks and I had some really nasty emails from clearly disturbed individuals.

I had hate mail from people who wanted me to not exist; I had ‘fan’ mail from delusional men who thought they were in love with me; and I had one or two ‘lovely girl’ emails with embedded rape threats.

I’ve even had one ‘nice’ man go to the bother of sending me an email recently to tell me ‘my lovely bum is too round for politics’ – though he did clarify that statement with the bracketed disclaimer (‘that’s a compliment by the way’) – well that’s alright so, thanks for that.

I brushed those incidents, and other similar ones, off without much of a second thought, I know what comes with the territory but my family and friends did not and so my unwillingness to involve them in that side of my life is not me choosing to pretend they don’t exist.

it’s me refusing to open their existence up to the same level of scrutiny that I’ve signed up for.

Anne Marie McNally is a founding member of the Social Democrats. Follow Anne Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally

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24 thoughts on “Keep My Friends Out Of This

  1. BelfastGerry

    Given the title, I had thought that this article, from a founding member of the Social Democrats, would be about the travails of one of the other founding members.

  2. Steve

    This is a pertinent article but given recent events id say timing of publication should have been changed. Publishing this morn damages effectiveness and message

    1. De Kloot

      Indeed. I wonder if Anne Marie would care to comment on recent activities surrounding one of her party faithful… Now, not his antics… or should I say alleged antics, but the blatant media blackout yesterday…. I’d be interested to hear her thoughts on that.

  3. Tony

    Joan of bleeedin Arc!

    “I brushed those incidents, and other similar ones, off without much of a second thought”

    I just wrote a column about them in Broadsheet.. As you do.

    1. fluffybiscuits

      My sentiments exactly, just keep her FB to people she knows and set up a page for everyone else. That is common sense for everyone.

      In saying that rape threats and the like are not acceptable at all and being asked how many kids do you have and other such personal questions is unacceptable unless the people are good friends….its too over familiar and would never really be asked of a man tbh…

      1. Tony

        its amazing how many things are up for debate as being “acceptable” or not. What or who arbitrates this line today or is it on a case by case basis. Because the world and its mother seem to be intent on telling “their story” on how that line was crossed, how hurt they feel, how the world should change, and please send me hugs. Honestly, I am afraid for the resilience of my own species with the wimps that are becoming its spokespeople.

    2. Kieran NYC

      I wouldn’t imagine she’s exactly thrilled to be talking about them on here either, but feels it’s worth it to start the conversation.

      Good article, Anne-Marie.

  4. Clampers Outside!

    When someone asks you directly ‘do you have children’ is it acceptable to say ‘I’d rather not say?’

    Well… “I’d rather not say” is one of the answer options on POF, the others being, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. The question is only truly moved from a casual question to a personal one through the vagueness of the answer.

    You’re a politician, creating vagueness is not your desired goal, I’m sure.

    On the Facebook front… your FB is now work. I’m sure FB would allow a profile name switch. Your FB profile becomes your “Anne Marie McNally SOCDEM” profile, and you set up a new family profile. That should help, it’s how I’d go about it.

    Sorry to hear about the weirdos.

  5. classter

    ‘When someone asks you directly ‘do you have children’ is it acceptable to say ‘I’d rather not say?’ and if not, why not?’

    No, it isn’t because it makes you seem odd and disconnected. If in the course of small talk with a colleague or work contact, I ask if I have children, they are usually pleased to speak about it – up to a certain point.

    If they said, ‘I’d rather not say’, then I would smile politely but I would find it bizarre. You need to make a connection with voters & like it or not, Ireland is a very family-orientated society.

    I don’t think you would be expected to go much further than answering that question however. You don;t have to say why you have x number of kids or why you have no kids or whatever.

  6. nellyb

    On children: women with 0 to 1 child are sometimes bunched into “selfish” group by some older pious folks. Yet “arbitrators” fail to explain WHY every woman should have 2(+) children to be ‘respected’. Offspring survival rates are mighty good. We don’t face large predators. We exercise neutrality – no population attrition by war. Our attrition is through emigration. But is it our responsibility to keep the wombs going to replenish emigration loss :-)? Chill, Ann Marie, it’s not worth feeling anything about it – a burp of the past.

  7. Moroccan rug dealer

    Ann Marie……i diagnose emotional constipation . No problem stating you in a relationship , a couple of tiddlers and your career separate to your family. Tell to feic off after that.

  8. Ms Star

    I don’t know what this is supposed to be about but I sense that I should be impressed and outraged in equal measure… A would-be politician should be well able to bat off inappropriate personal questions; this seems more like a profile-raising exercise and a fairly feeble one at that. All hail the silly season.

  9. Mulder

    Christ knows or well know what i mean, obviously christ is not on the interwebz, well he is on the interwebz but not in person or as far as know.
    Anyway, it be tough on the interwebz highways, it is a bleeding jungle so got to be careful.
    But then any politican would possibly already know that from the political jungle with some of the biggest animals and savages around.
    Or maybe not, strange world online and off, often find.

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