‘Everyday Sexism’ by Laura Bates

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‘One of the problems that makes sexism so difficult to tackle, or even to talk about, is that we all view each instance of it from a very individual perspective based on our own experiences’.

Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates, Pg.279

The everyday sexism project was set up in 2012 by its founder, Laura Bates, who had simply had enough of suffering in silence at the everyday harassment she received from men in the street. Disbelieving the thought that she could be the only one experiencing these sexist incidents, Bates decided to set up a website where women could safely document, either anonymously or not, any instances of sexism from street harassment and wolf-whistling to serious sexual assault. As Laura Bates notes:

‘Our experience of all forms of gender prejudice – from daily sexism to distressing harassment to sexual violence – are part of a continuum […] To include stories of assault and rape within a project documenting everyday experiences of gender imbalance is simply to extend its boundaries to the most extreme manifestations of that prejudice. To see how great the damage can be when the minor, ‘unimportant’ issues are allowed to pass without comment’.

Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates, Pg.19

Only expecting a handful of people to step forward with their own stories of sexism, Bates was astounded by the sheer number of entries she received. Within two months there had been over 1,000 entries from all over the world. Today, the EverydaySexism Twitter page has over 155,000 followers and has become a global movement that has seen women share their experiences on a scale that would have been unprecedented ten years, or so, ago.

Split into twelve chapters, with a Foreward by Sarah Brown, Laura Bates covers everything from the many ways women are silenced from speaking out to women in education, politics, media, and the workplace and to double discrimination – where women aren’t just harassed because of their gender but because of their gender and other prejudices such as race, religion, disability, sexuality or age. What makes this book, along with Bates’s everyday sexism website and Twitter hashtag, is that it allows women to speak for themselves. Every voice is unique but united. Although Bates’s writing is powerful, intelligent and concisely researched, she allows the voices of these many women – who have been brave enough to speak out – precedence over the official statistics that start off each chapter. Though the facts and figures are shocking, it is only when we read the numerous project entries that we see these facts and figures come to life. We see how these statistics manifest themselves in the everyday lives of women. As one entry goes:

‘I think we’re all taught subconsciously to be sexist to ourselves. Wish I’d stumbled upon this site earlier in life. It would have saved me all the hard lessons I had to learn on my own to realise what is right. When unpleasant things have happened to me, I’d always find me blaming myself first – not the man who’s at fault. Always making up some sort of excuse thinking ‘maybe it’s me’ and ‘it probably is me’. Or upon hearing something sexist I’d laugh it off […] but really, it’s not funny’.

Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates, Pg.375

This entry sums up everything I felt, and still feel, about experiencing sexism on a personal level. It is hard to speak out about unpleasant or small, niggling experiences that happen regularly and, as we shockingly find out, start from such a young age. As Laura Bates’ book is so good at highlighting, everyday instances of sexism have become so ingrained and normalised in a society that seeks to silence women at every turn. ‘The invisibility; the social acceptability and normalisation; the dismissal, disbelief and blaming of victims; and the accusations of being a Humourless Feminist Bore™’ are all ways in which women are taught to be silent. They are all the ways in which women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies whilst at the same time living in a world that appears to value females based on their sex appeal above all else.

Although not a light read, I couldn’t put Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism down until I had finished the very last page – I read it almost in one sitting. As Caitlin Moran writes on the front cover, ‘following it will make most women feel oddly saner’, which was true in my experience of reading this book. But it was also much more than that. Many reviews I have read, from The Guardian to The Telegraph, have mentioned how Bates’ book hasn’t offered up any solutions to the issues raised but I didn’t feel it needed any. Sexism is so ingrained in our culture as to become normal. What Laura Bates’ book does is shed a light on these apparently ‘normalised’ instances and shows how sexism still does exist and is as rife as ever. It is an eye-opening read in itself which will inevitably make people question their own views as well as those held by others.

Here is a YouTube video of Laura Bates at the WOW Festival on a panel debating Does Page 3 Make The World a Better Place? I wasn’t able to make it to this talk when I went in March as I had opted for the neurotrash one, but this was a really interesting discussion and Laura Bates is such an eloquent and intelligent individual. It is worth watching.

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2 Replies to “‘Everyday Sexism’ by Laura Bates”

  1. I’m about 50% into this book and I both love that it is putting these stories out there and illuminating the facts, and hating how scared it makes me. It really has forced me to think about these things, and not sit happily in my little bubble of privilege. I don’t feel – as the other reviews have suggested – that this needs some sort of solution to be made by Bates, after all it’s not so simple. However, at the same time I am craving a little bit more than the facts, something positive to get women (and men) to come together to change things. I’m hoping I’ll see this in the other half of the book I’ve yet to read.

    1. I agree, it certainly forced me to think about sexism and how prolific it still is. I found that it highlighted many examples that I would have just taken for granted, perhaps that’s how normalised it has become. I really don’t think there are many solutions other than to try and change people’s attitudes and to encourage people (women and men) to speak up about it which is what the everyday sexism project is all about. As Laura Bates said, sexism is a hard problem to tackle because it is very personal and often only involves the victim and the perpetrator.

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