From Gina Miller to Anna Soubry, female anti-Brexit campaigners and commentators have long since been faced with a barrage of abuse and threats. Professor Tanja Bueltmann shares with us her experience of what it means to be an EU citizen — a foreigner — and a woman taking a stand against Brexit.

As an EU citizen — so a foreigner, as it were — and a woman who speaks out against Brexit, first-hand experience of xenophobia and abuse, much of it misogynistic, has been a constant part of my everyday life for over two years now. From being called a ‘treacherous EU whore’ prior to the EU referendum to threats of rape: I see a toxic daily cocktail of nastiness that goes far beyond what I sometimes choose to share publicly. This began the day I started to write about the EU on Twitter.

Women on social media are generally more likely to receive insults and abuse. This is a well-established fact and it clearly plays a role here too. But there is also a specific Brexit dimension: abuse goes up more than one notch for female anti-Brexit voices, and there can be no doubt that the fact that I am an EU citizen adds a further notch still: ‘foreign cunts like’ me, as I was told recently, ‘should be forbidden to speak on British streets.’

From the many conversations that I have had with male anti-Brexit campaigners it is clear that they too get trolled and that bots are a shared problem. But, without exception, all confirmed that they never get the level of — nor type of — abuse female anti-Brexit commentators receive.

Simply put: Brexit is misogyny writ large.

Yet while I am far too familiar with all of that, last Friday marked a watershed that I had hoped would never come. For the first time since this all began, and despite having certainly been shocked before, I was actually scared. Scared because of what happened at a little gathering on Parliament Square that I had organized as a show of solidarity for women against Brexit.

My Twitter timeline tells a happy story of that gathering, and in many ways it was, but it comes with a big dent. For there I was, standing next to Millicent Garrett Fawcett💬’s statue – where she holds a banner that says ‘courage calls to courage everywhere’ — worrying about the young man wearing a red hat. The young man who had come out of nowhere. The young man who made himself part of the group. The young man who circled and loomed. Picture the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and you get an idea. In her memoir Clinton writes that her ‘skin crawled’. Indeed.

Even so, I would probably have dismissed it all as just a little bit creepy until that point. But then we left. Thankfully, it was a ‘we’, but even that did not prevent what happened next: the young man followed us. In an attempt to establish whether he really was, we walked around Parliament Square. No matter what peculiar turn we took, he remained on our tracks. Red hat and all.

Until he changed his outfit to a much less visible grey hoodie. At that point I became genuinely concerned, so we decided to go to Downing Street because we knew that police would be there. After speaking to them, two officers approached the young man to talk to him, but unfortunately he realized what was about to happen and ran off quickly. We were simply told to leave. Because of course: nothing serious had actually happened.

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Some will say that, because of that uncertainty, it is wrong of me to tell this story. Some will shout that this did not happen because that is what they always shout, no matter how much evidence there is. Others will indulge in blaming me and argue that I brought this upon myself by having made Brexit so personal, and by suggesting the gathering in the first place.

True, I cannot be 100% certain. But what I know is this: the young man’s first question to me was about Brexit. That when, at the point at which he arrived, our gathering had not really started yet. That when we were just a couple of people sitting on a wall on Parliament Square, with no identifiable link to Brexit. Except, of course, me.

The reality is that since last Friday I have jumped sideways several times just because someone happened to suddenly walk more briskly towards me. I do not accept that I have to carry this impact of what happened on Friday on my own. I am not prepared to keep wondering about it on my own. Because one way or the other: Brexit did this.

And make no mistake: that is true also because this is not just my story. It is Gina Miller’s story. It is the story of many other women against Brexit. The reality is that far too many of them have seen levels of misogynistic abuse that are way beyond the pale. The reality is that some of them too have also been approached in public. This must stop. In a democracy all of us — Remainers and Leavers, women and men, foreigners and Britons — have the right to express our views in public without abuse and without fear.

So I will continue to stand on the streets of Britain. And return to those of London to walk to Parliament Square. On 23 June 2018 to support a People’s Vote. For a future built not on fear, but on the kind of courage Fawcett’s banner speaks of. For a future built on hope not hate. Come walk with me.🔷

(Note: With deep appreciation to the two people who share the memory of this incident and already walked with me last Friday.)

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(Cover: Dreamstime/Karen Foley.)



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Professor of History & Faculty Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor Knowledge Exchange. Faculty of Arts Design & Social Sciences, Northumbria University. Migration & diaspora history. Anti-Brexit campaigner.

Newcastle, UK. Articles in PMP Magazine Website