“GO back to your quarters and take up your work, the loom and the distaff... Speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all, for mine is the power in this household.”

So says Telemachus to his mother Penelope in Homer's Odyssey, when she asks the bard entertaining her son and his friends to play a happier tune. It's the first recorded instance of a woman being told to shut up by a man in the west.

Almost three thousand years later, in the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron told Angela Eagle, then shadow chief secretary to the Treasury to “calm down, dear”.

Referring to both incidents in Shut Up, Dear, her 2014 lecture for the London Review of Books, classical historian Mary Beard traced how silencing the voices of women isn't just a value woven into the fabric of western culture; taking control of public discourse has been a defining characteristic of traditional masculinity.

Beard was speaking in the wake of the breathtaking level of abuse hurled as Caroline Criado-Perez (pictured below), a woman whose campaign to have a woman pictured on a banknote was met with threats of rape and decapitation.

The year before, after an appearance on Question Time, Beard herself said she received "truly vile" abuse online of the kind that would "put many women off appearing in public".

The theme of women's voices is central to a forthcoming event at Glasgow Women's Library featuring campaigners, academics, and women from groups such as Scottish feminist organisation Engender, Zero Tolerance, which aims to tackle violence against women, and Women 50:50, which campaigns for at least 50 per cent representation of women in parliament, councils and public boards.

Organised by the Centre for Gender and Feminist Studies at the University of Stirling, the day – open to all – will feature round-table and panel discussions on women and politics and gender and the media with reference to the 2015 UK general election, the recent Holyrood election and the Scottish and EU referenda. Bookending the day are two related sessions (Writing and Speaking as a Feminist and Being a Feminist in Public) which address women's voices and specifically the challenges women face using public space to advocate for other women.

“Being a feminist in public is a potentially dangerous thing,” says Lee Chalmers, Engender board member, Women's Equality Party candidate for the Lothians list in the recent Holyrood election and PhD student on trolling and women's engagement in public life.

“Any high profile feminist woman can expect to receive a massive barrage of vile, misogynist, sexually violent messages on Facebook and Twitter and various other social media. It's basically to tell them to 'shut up and make me a sandwich'.”

Chalmers should know. She was with her friend Criado-Perez when the backlash against what the majority of reasonable people took to be a moderate, uncontroversial request reached its most toxic.“I watched her get fifty tweets a minute at one point. I watched her get really scared. I was at her house when the police had just installed a panic button. There were journalists turning up at her door at 10 o'clock at night.”

Chalmers (pictured below) continues: “She certainly wasn't the first person to get this kind of abuse. When Emily Wilding Davison [the suffragette who stood in the path of the king's horse in 1913] was dying from her injuries, guys were sending her letters that read a lot like tweets: “you should die”, “the world will be a better place without you”.

In the classical world, the only time that women were permitted to speak in public was as a victim, or as a future martyr to some cause – and the closer to death the better.

Criado-Perez did not die. And she did not shut up. But the abuse took its toll, and, in fear for her safety, she went into hiding. Her fears were not unfounded: according to one US study, men have around a one in 71 chance of being raped during their lifetime. For women it's one in five. Those figures for both men and women are doubtless conservative, but that disparity is vast.

A 2011 global study on murder found while rates of homicide were down across the planet, rates of femicide – that is, of women and girls being murdered for a reason to do with the fact they were women and girls – were up significantly.

One wonders how such statistics relate to the finding in the recent finding of a global study that women were nearly twice are likely as men to experience anxiety, and were more likely to experience PTSD.

In at least a couple of senses, the trolls are winning. In addition to the damage done to individuals, the fear of abuse hurts women in general when weary activists, writer and politicians retreat from the public sphere.

It's not just trolling though. From Amber Heard, Kesha to the Standford rape survivor and the working class girls routinely abused with impunity in Rotherham, we are living in a culture where the voices of women and girls are routinely discredited, undermined or simply ignored. With each case, there's a degree to which the damage done to other abused and/or discredited women and girls is given new life. Other women and girls pay attention to all of this.

Troublingly, the political movement which fought hard to achieve the rights many do not take for-granted, is experiencing a backlash. This is coming, not just from tweenage trolls who have barely met a real woman outside their family, but sometimes, dishearteningly, from supposed allies on the left who have no trouble identifying oppression in terms of class or race, but have a convenient blind spot when it comes to locating this in matters of sex and gender.

Indeed, try search for “feminism is” to take the current temperature of the movement which won women the right to work, to equal pay, to vote, to reproductive rights, to take out a mortgage or even just buy a fridge on hire purchase.

As Edinburgh performance poet Jenny Lindsay noted on Facebook recently: “Things I have seen in recent “debates” on “feminism” online: that women who think it is important to discuss [feminism] are all 'SJWs' [Social justice warriors, a term used in derision by the reactionary US men's rights movement] who need not discuss it and [they should] just let men say vocally and widely why it's not an important thing to discuss.

That it's all about the word. If feminists would just call themselves something else – 'humanists', 'equalists', then it would aaalll [sic] be fine and everyone could get on board.”

She continued: “If I didn't worry that this kind of thinking had real life effects and relevance, I'd probably not have bothered writing this really, but I really do worry to see supposed allies liking and sharing all this unmitigated bullshit. Honestly, what's the point? To alienate even more women out of activism? Well, well done. It's working.”

It's no surprise that many women have been reticent about coming forward, especially those in roles such as journalism and politics where having a thicker skin is often admired. It took thoughts of her three daughter's futures to finally make SNP MP and National columnist Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (pictured left) open about about the scale of abuse she'd been subjected to since her election last year.

Neither can you blame Labour MP Jess Phillips for considering the unthinkable for the contemporary politician – leaving Twitter – after receiving another wave of abuse after she called out a tweet which said: “I wouldn't even rape you”. 

The contemporary misogynist troll – as distinct from the more playful, anti-authoritarian 'joker' troll of the 2000s – is artless, crass - even sinister, and relentless.

More women will hopefully be encouraged to share their experiences by Reclaim The Internet, a cross-part campaign set up by Labour's Yvette Cooper with others including Phillips, Labour's Stella Creasy, former Tory minister Maria Miller, former LibDem MP Jo Swinson, the SNP's Ahmed-Sheikh and Hannah Bardell and Tulip Siddiq. 

Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn recently told a newspaper she believes online abuse is a direct response to a new generation of strong, opinionated women in the Commons. She said: “They do not feel they have to shut up. For some people that's a big change – they are not used to handling women like that.”

The group believes, like National columnist Cat Boyd, writing in another newspaper earlier this year in her capacity as a Rise candidate, that online abuse isn't just an annoyance or part of the “rough and tumble” of the job, but a civil rights issue. Boyd, like fellow former Rise candidate Jenni Gunn, has also been a target of abuse.

Emma Ritch from Engender says: “There is a part of the population – sometimes I refer to them simply as 'the gentlemen of Twitter' – who really do seem to have a massive problem with it. They see feminism as a huge threat to them and are both very defensive and aggressive and actively try to close down the discussion. There's been quite a bit of research which shows that women expressing any opinion online can get sexist abuse and this jumps quite significantly when it's women expressing an opinion on issues to do with women and gender. But by far, the most abuse is received by those who explicitly identify as feminist and talk about feminist issues such as women's representation and violence against women.”

Ritch refers to research the Guardian commissioned into the 70 million comments left on its site since 2006, including those blocked by moderators. They discovered that, of the 10 most abused writers, eight were women, and the two men were black. The 10 least abused writers were all white men. Articles about feminism and rape got the highest number of blocked comments.

Ahmed-Sheikh also frames the issue in terms of civil rights, saying to a newspaper earlier this year: “We are already facing a deficit of women, of people with disabilities, of members of the LGBTI community in public life. If there are already under-represented groups, how are we ever going to get them to come forward unless we tackle this?”

Common perception may be that our parliaments are continuing to progress towards a make-up more representative of the populations they serve. But despite it being a record high, the 191 female MPs elected at the 2015 general election only amounts to 29 per cent - less than a third.

The strides hoped for after the election of a record number of women in 1997 (120, double that of the previous general election) have somewhat faltered. The Welsh Parliament is more representative with 40 per cent of AMs being women, while female representation at Holyrood remains stagnant at 35 per cent after last month's election.

As feminist campaigner Kirsty Strickland notes, BBC Scotland's coverage of that election was quite extraordinary, with a succession of men in the studio, while Lesley Riddoch (another National columnist), Cat Boyd (pictured below) and journalist Angela Haggerty were packed off to an “election cafe” and weren't called on to speak until very late in the coverage.“

That was all really disappointing,” says Strickland, who writes a blog for Women For Independence in which she collates the number of female and male speakers on current affairs programmes. “It is out of touch.”

We talk briefly of that particular day's Twitter stooshie; of GMB leader and EU Remainer Tim Roache's comment about “Priti Patel, surely a contradiction in her name”. Hours later, Roache claimed his comment was a reference to Patel's stance on workers' rights, not her appearance.

We also talk about the make-up of that day's Daily Politics programme (three men to one woman).

“As is so often the case, it was Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. She briefly got her point across and then the three men scrambled over her, talking about their opinions and the opinions of other men, Boris Johnson and David Cameron. This is reflected on social media too. I think there's many people around the UK, who would have preferred if the debate had't been framed around middle-class white men having a fight. There are other debates to be had, for women especially, such as that around maternity rights and rights in part time work.”

With the exception of last week's ITV debate, which featured five women and one Boris Johnson, research by Loughborough University and Strickland at WFI Media Watch confirms the marginalisation of female politician's voices in the EU debate by a ratio of 10:1. Strickland says the stagnation of women's representation at Holyrood (45 MSPs, 34.9 per cent, the sameproportion as 2011) is the result of unexpected gains by the Conservatives, a party which refuses to adopt any form of gender quota. Presumably they think it's fairer to have male-only lists (Highlands and Islands), or having more candidates called Maurice (two) on their West Scotland list than women (one).“If we truly lived in a meritocracy, we would not need efforts like quotas,” says Strickland. “For Ruth Davidson not to want to help women in this way isn't great. And in the end it does a disservice to their party.”

“It's a smokescreen hiding a picture of inequality,” says Chalmers, referring to the fact that three of the main party leaders are female. Chalmers, whose contribution will come under the heading of Being A Feminist In Public, is launching the Parliament Project at Holyrood later this month in an attempt to “inspire, empower and encourage women to run for political office.” Fittingly, it will be hosted by Willie Rennie whose LibDems failed to return any female MSPs in May. In an attempt to create some gender balance in his top team, Rennie enlisted women from outside parliament and says he supports quotas for elections in the future.

“People get so angry about quotas,” says Strickland (pictured left). “'What if we were to end up with all these mediocre women in parliament!'” I mean, can we say, that when we look around the chamber, that all the men are exceptional? Let's not kid ourselves. Someone said, 'When we have as many mediocre women in positions of power as we have men, then we'll know we'll have reached equality.' And it's not just about the few exceptional women at the top, it's about bringing all women up; working class women, LGBT women, women of colour, disabled women, all women. And it's so difficult to get any kind of coverage. And that all comes down to the media.”

And we do appear to be at a precarious juncture here too. The Global Media Monitoring Project, the world's most extensive study into media representation of gender, found a degree of progress in the number of women making the news both as media professionals and as news subjects in the fifteen years between 1995 and 2010 but regression in the five years up to 2015 as the worldwide recession became the new normal and newsrooms were squeezed by falling advertising revenues and the “culture of free” fostered by the internet. 

Behind the increase in (usually young, always attractive), female presenters, there was a narrowing of the news agenda, women were being called upon less as experts, older women were becoming ever more invisible and the description of women as “victims” with little agency of their own occurred three times more often than when applied to men. And a spice of sex would give often earn the story more prominence. As the report concludes: “Women are at their most interesting when they are lovers or cadavers or both.”

Research by BBC Radio Four's Women's Hour found that, across the UK, men write twice as many opinion columns as women, and that those who decide the news agenda as directors, producers and editors are far more likely to be male too.

“It was very disappointing to me that on the day Reclaim The Internet was launched that the story had become about how women abuse other women on the internet,” says Chalmers, referring to research by Demos which claimed to show that by searching for the terms “whore” and “slut” “half the misogynist tweets” were sent by women.

While there are certainly female trolls, it's no surprise to anyone who went to schools with girls to find that they can be cruel. But more significantly, there is no way to proof that profiles on Twitter are veracious. The clincher in questioning Demos's conclusion is the choice of those terms, however.

“If you have seen or experienced online abuse, it's not those terms which are used, it's 'I'll kill you', 'I'll rape you', 'I'll do this horrible thing to you'. If they'd have searched for those terms, I think they would have found something different. The fact that they chose not to use those terms, and then turned this into a claim about 'half of all misogynistic tweets come from women' is questionable. That takes away from what is really important, which is the structural power dynamic.”

In the same week as the Demos research was published, the Economist ran a piece about censorship and freedom of speech.

“It lumped Reclaim The Internet with issues such as no-platforming at universities, and called this an attack on freedom of speech,” Chalmers says. “These aren't the same thing. When women complain that their freedom of speech is being eroded by online abuse, we are seen as trying to censor. When men complain their freedom of speech is being eroded by things like Reclaim The Internet, it's seen as journalism.”

“It comes back around to the question of whose right to speech are we trying to protect. Who has the right to speak and be heard? Historically, of course, men.”

Could such deep-seated beliefs at least partly explain why some feel the urge to belittle, dismiss or ridicule, say, female columnists for The National within seconds of their articles going on Twitter? Take away the boundaries of face-to-face society, and the urge finds instant release. But why the aggression? Why the defensiveness and resentment? Why would anyone be against affording women equal worth and respect and the power of agency over their lives?

“Feminism appears to be 'having a moment' just now,” says Emma Ritch (pictured below). “Things look as if they may be changing, that there may be a shift. Everytime that happens there has been a backlash. For a certain group of men who define their masculinity in terms of access to resources – including women – the prospect of relinquishing some of that seems threatening.”

“There appears to be the start of an answer in the men's rights movement,” says Chalmers, “And with people like Elliot Rodger (the man who killed six and injured 14 in Isla Vista, California in 2014. His motive is listed on Wikipedia as “societal/sexual rejection”). Their main claim is that feminism has ruined the world for men. It used to be the case that women needed men to survive because they couldn't work. If they got married or had children, they had to stop work. So even what the men's rights term as 'beta males' had guaranteed access to women's bodies. So they feel that women's empowerment has made life harder for them and they really resent that. That they have been cheated out of something they are entitled to.“It links into entitlement, the story that men have historically been sold, that the world is for them, that women are available for them rather than being people in themselves. That fast cars, jobs and money is to be expected. So, for those men who are very much of the opinion that women aren't really people, but exist for them, feminism really does feel like a threat, and that's where a lot of the abuse comes from.”

Feminists know many, many men reject this ideology completely. That many other men are questioning it and finding it does not fit their own aspirations, or those they have for their partners and daughters. We know many men are excluded by and are harmed by it too.  And yet still women are under-represented, generally paid less and sometimes - often for some of us, we feel unsafe - alone at night, in our own homes and sometimes online. We need men to be our allies in trying to make things better. Thankfully, often they are.

“Men in Scotland are hearing more about these things and they are genuinely getting interested -if they weren't already engaged before, says Strickland. “So while I block or mute those people on Twitter who just come on to make an abusive comment, I always engage with constructive discussion, questions and debate. Some of the best conversations I've had on gender have been with politically-minded Scottish men. At first, when I wrote a series of articles on violence against women for The National, or on CommonSpace, I was really surprised by the language used. I had braced myself for abuse but the response from both men and women was overwhelmingly positive. I don't know if that more to do with the sort of readership those outlets have. But we should try to trust and engage with people who are genuine.”

But neither is there any reasonable justification for Tasmina Ahmed-Skeikh, an elected people's representative, when tweeting about it being the day of zero tolerance of female genital mutilation, having to “suck up” a response of “Can you show me yours?”

For Chalmers, we need a “new social contract” for the online world, where so much of our communication, so much of the content of our relationships, now takes place. And the toll abuse and trolling can take in terms of stiffling debate, causing genuine distress, a growing culture of self-censoring, or even deleting their social media account (the online equivalent of restricting your appearance in public to the hours of daylight) is significant and has consequences. Change is stymied, the old injustices remain, and women don't engage.

While The National is proud of its strong group of female columnists and reporters, and often breaks stories on gender issues (such as when one of our team – a man, Andrew Learmonth – reported on the proposed Scottish meeting of the followers of so-called dating expert and rape apologist Roosh V), our online comments and letters inbox has a male-to-female contributor ratio of around 4:1.

Discussing how the language we use to describe the actual sound of women's voices may relate to deeper values about who has the right to be heard, The National's Shona Craven said: “The main reason this matters is that women pay attention to the criticism other women receive, and this can't help but affect their own willingness to stand up and speak. It's a fact of biology that younger women have higher voices, so those starting out in politics face a double disadvantage compared to men of any age. How can we hope to have a 50:50 gender split in our parliaments when women face being dismissed as too hard on the ears before they've even had time to make a point?”

So what's to be done? In the short term, supporting campaigns such as Reclaim the Internet, organisations such as Glasgow's Rape Crisis – which celebrates its 40th anniversary next month – and events such as this which aim to provide a discussion, empowerment and networking.

“We are very lucky in Scotland to have all these wonderful women's organisations,” says Emma Ritch. “They often work together to put on really hopeful events like this. Because reminding yourself that not everyone thinks in that aggressive way, and there's lots of other feminists out there, lots of support, can be really important if you find yourself in a rubbish situation online.”

Strickland is optimistic too. “For a lot of people, feminism is danced around, like it's this shameful thing. Whereas of our politicians at Holyrood, and a lot of our media in Scotland, do seem to be far more receptive to discussing these issues in a more mature way. So I would say, if women want to write, definitely, definitely do it, because we need more women's voices. But also, look to all these wonderful groups that put together initiatives like this. So join these groups, get involved, support them, and then we can help all women up as we go because there's strength in numbers.”

Women, Media and Politics takes place at Glasgow Women's Library on Tuesday 21 June.This event is open to all and free to attend. Call 0141 550 2267 or book online at bit.ly/WMPolitics