Many women deal with verbal abuse their whole lives — at home, at work or merely walking down the street. Now, some U.K. writers are meeting with a deluge of Internet threats for speaking their minds in public arenas.

Historian Mary Beard received a bomb threat tweet last week just as many Twitter users were boycotting the social media site for its lack of response to threats. The threats began when several women started demonstrating against the Bank of England’s decision to replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill on the £5 bill. This change would mean that U.K. money would no longer bear a single image of historical women. The protest led to the bank promising to print writer Jane Austen’s face on £10 bills.

New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny, a feminist left-wing writer who argues that “socialism without feminism isn’t worth it,” received a bomb threat Monday. In an article about the experience, she described being forced to leave her home as “frightening and enraging.” She laments the fact that although she was “lucky” to be single and home alone, other women aren’t as fortunate. One such woman was forced to relocate her disabled child as a consequence of a threat.

Penny is a self-proclaimed “active member of the queer and poly community in London and elsewhere.” Over the past few years she has openly expressed her opinions about women’s rights and her own sexuality. The recent violent backlash shows that this hasn’t always come easily.

In the wake of her latest experience risking her life for the sake of speaking out, Penny wrote:

Right now it’s pretty scary to be a woman who makes a public spectacle of herself in Britain. By “making a spectacle”, I mean “daring to have an opinion in public”; the piece I wrote in 2011 about a woman’s opinion functioning as the mini-skirt of the internet is relevant here. Twitter is also in total meltdown as various camps of campaigners tear chunks out of each other, and it’s upsetting to see[…] There is a deep well of unkindness, of recrimination and refusal to listen, bubbling up online right now in my communities. It is disturbing, and it’s exhausting.

… Not giving up comes at a cost. I haven’t yet flounced off Twitter or made any sort of dramatic, public exit from the spaces in which I work and receive abuse, because I don’t think that my doing so would help anyone. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seriously considered just kicking it in for the good of my mental health. Imagine that you’re a professional dancer and you have to dance down a street where men are screaming abuse at you, throwing things, leering, sending threats. Do you stop dancing, even if you know a little part of your soul will die if you do? No, fuck that. You keep on dancing; even when your bones ache and your head rings from the relentless cunt bitch stupid girl attention seeker sellout whore. You keep on dancing, but there’s a cost. Don’t ever imagine there’s not a cost.

The cost, as we’ve seen these past few weeks, is to endure abuse and threats, and to sacrifice personal safety as well as the safety of loved ones in order to exercise the right of free speech. Let us be thankful that many women, despite the high price to be paid, continue, as Penny so eloquently puts it, to dance in defiance.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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