Everyday sexism: ‘Change is on the way’
Laura Bates started the Everyday Sexism project to highlight the prevalence of the problem. Despite receiving death and rape threats as a result, she senses progress
Laura Bates: set up the Everyday Sexism website, inviting women to share their stories
A university lecturer who gropes his female students. A middle-aged man telling a 10-year-old he wants to be the first person to know when her breasts develop. A gang of boys spitting in a woman’s face when she ignores their attempts to flirt with her. A workmate who constantly addresses a female colleague as “Big Boobs”. Science kits being marketed as “boys’ toys”. Being masturbated on when travelling by bus.
Individually, these incidents range from the annoying to the traumatic. But together, they add up to what many believe is a widespread culture of misogyny that has a severe impact on women’s lives. It’s a culture that British journalist Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism project, wants to change.
“Feminism really wasn’t something I was aware of growing up or at university,” says Bates (27), who studied English at Cambridge. But in March 2012, after yet another experience of street harassment, she realised just how many little sexist incidents she put up with from day to day. She started asking other women about their experiences, and discovered that everyone had similar stories; incidents that were so much a part of daily life they never usually bothered to talk about them. If they did, they were often told they were making a fuss about nothing, that women in the West were equal now, that sexism was a thing of the past.
So in April 2012, Bates set up the Everyday Sexism website, inviting women to share their stories. “I didn’t think I could solve the problem,” she says. “But I wanted people to acknowledge that there was one.” Two years later, more than 50,000 women have contributed to the site, and the @everydaysexism Twitter feed has 139,000 followers. This month, Bates was named by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour as one of the UK’s top 10 “game-changers” who are making a difference to women’s lives. Her first book, Everyday Sexism , has just been published.
In the book, Bates documents women’s experiences of sexism in all aspects of life, from childhood to the workplace, and from motherhood to the media.
“The message we’re trying to send is that these things are all connected. This is a spectrum, and the way we treat women in one sphere has a direct impact on the way we treat them in another,” she says. “So it doesn’t work to tackle the issue of under-representation of women in business and politics without acknowledging that the media depiction of women as dehumanised sex objects has a big impact on the way the public sees politicians and decides who to vote for.”
Sharing these stories shows other women that the daily humiliations they endure can be challenged. “How much of an impact sharing stories can have on the people who hear them shouldn’t be underestimated,” says Bates. “It helps people to recognise that it’s acceptable to take the smaller incidents seriously, which is a really tough battle.
“It’s not until you put it all in one place and look at it all together and roll it out like a map in front of you that you start to realise how one aspect can compound another aspect, and how in combination they really can operate as a severe penalty on women’s aspirations, on women’s freedom, on women’s achievements.”