After the Jane Austen announcement I suffered rape threats for 48 hours, but I'm still confident the trolls won't win

Let's start feeding the trolls.

On Wednesday the 24 July, the Bank of England made the historic announcement that, in response to over 35,000 people signing a petition, they were confirming Jane Austen as the next historical figure on banknotes.

“this Perez one just needs a good smashing up the arse and she’ll be fine”

Even better from my perspective, the Bank of England also agreed to institute a review of its criteria and procedures, admitting that its current processes were inadequate if they wanted to live up to promote equality.

“Everyone jump on the rape train > @CCriadoPerez is conductor”; “Ain’t no brakes where we’re going”

The day was overwhelming. Press from all over the world were getting in touch, wanting to talk about the power of social media, and how ordinary people could take on a huge institution and win.

“Wouldn’t mind tying this bitch to my stove. Hey sweetheart, give me a shout when you’re ready to be put in your place”

This has been my life for the past three days: a mixture of overwhelming pride at what we can achieve when we stick together – and overwhelming horror at the vehement hatred some men still feel for women who don’t “know their place”.

The rape threats started on Thursday, and have continued for the past forty-eight hours. And this experience is by no means unique to me. Amid the abuse, I have received countless messages from women telling me of their experiences. The head of WHO called violence against women a “global health problem of epidemic proportions”; she should take a look at twitter, where we have our own nasty little epidemic: an epidemic of misogynistic men who feel so threatened by any woman speaking up, that they feel they must immediately silence her with a threat of sexual violence.

There are those who tell me that I shouldn’t feed the trolls. Ignore them, they’ll get bored and go away. They’re just looking for attention.

Except these ones are different. They’re not looking for attention. They are purely and simply looking to shut me, and any other woman who dares use her voice in public, “the fuck up”. And we shouldn’t give them what they want. We shouldn’t give them what they want because we have a right to speak and be heard. And we shouldn’t give them what they want because, when we don’t, we are stronger than them.

The don’t feed the trolls adage is one that suggests they have the power. But if my experience from the last 48 hours does anything, it is to give the lie to this impression. Troll accounts have been going private left right and centre. My twitter mentions are now overflowing with messages of support, messages from people saying that they want to shout back too. Messages from people realising that if we use our voice in unison, we are legion.

While Twitter’s manager of News and Journalism, Mark S. Luckie, locked his account when a people started tweeting him to tell him about the hours of rape threats I had been receiving, countless more have stood with me. One person, Kim Graham, set up a petition asking twitter to put a “report abuse” button on each tweet; it’s received over 6,000 signatures in about an hour. And it will only continue to grow.

Over the past few days I have been overwhelmed by abuse, and I have been overwhelmed by support. I have felt elated – and I have felt close to defeat. But as I watch my timeline, it is clear which group is bigger. It is clear which group is louder. It is clear which group is stronger.

Let’s remember this. Let’s start feeding the trolls. Let’s start shouting back, and show them that we’re not going away, that we won’t be defeated. Let’s take them on. And let’s win.

Caroline Criado-Perez (right) with Mary Macleod, Mark Carney and Stella Creasy unveiling the new Jane Austen £10 note. Photograph: Getty.

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner. She is also the co-founder of The Women's Room and tweets as @CCriadoPerez.

Photo: Getty
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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia