I was fortunate enough to meet the amazingly inspiring Laura Bates, journalist and founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, when she visited my old school to talk to pupils from various year groups about their experiences of sexism. Many of you reading this are probably thinking that was a pointless task; sexism isn’t really a problem anymore, it’s not as prevalent as it has been and those who hark on about it are just self-victimising feminists.
If you are one of these people I urge you to visit http://www.everydaysexism.com/ and read just a few of the accounts of sexism people have recorded on the site. The Project aims to provide a safe online space where women can document their experiences of sexism without feeling undermined, laughed at, or overwhelmed by opposition. “The Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest. By sharing stories we’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss”.
The first talk that Laura engaged in was with Year 7 students, most of whom were only 11 years old. What was so telling and interesting was that when asked if they knew of any experiences of sexism the girls already appeared to have experienced numerous incidents of sexism, whilst the boys remained fairly blissfully ignorant. When Laura moved on to talk to a Year 11 class, the reaction couldn’t have been more different, with the female pupils staying relatively quiet and subdued, seemingly feeling that their experiences were not important, or serious enough to merit discussion. When was the last time you experienced an incident of sexism that you didn’t feel you could pick up on, you didn’t feel was important or ‘bad’ enough to complain about?
Because incidents of sexism happen every single day, and for most women they have become so normalised and accepted that we don’t even think of them as sexism; being cat-called when walking to work for instance, or being beeped at on the way to school by a passing vehicle. Being groped on the dance floor of a club or feeling as though that guy at the bar is inappropriately close behind you. Feeling unsafe walking home alone in the evening, consciously altering your route, keeping your phone in your hand, or texting friends to make sure you’re back safely. Being called a whore, a slut, or a slag, just because you slept with someone or feeling ashamed after a one-night stand. Laughing along with rape-jokes even though you find them offensive, having to listen to people joke about sexual assault and rape even though 1 in 4 women are raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime, meaning that there’s every chance one of the girls in the room has been a victim. Most of these things have happened at least once to almost every woman, but we don’t even consider them because they have become so normalised.
As individual incidents it’s easy to ignore them, to push them to the back of your mind and carry on with your day; often you don’t know how to react or what to do. This is exactly what prompted Laura to start the everyday sexism project. In the course of a week she experienced three everyday incidences of sexism and it was only the close proximity of these incidents which caused her to think that it just wasn’t acceptable; it just wasn’t okay to classify these as a normal part of life. Since the launch of the project Laura has received over 25,000 responses from women all over the world, women recording their incidents of sexism and showing that it is still a problem and that their voices do deserve to be heard. Because these are not isolated incidents and they are not simply the fault of the perpetrators; they are a symptom of a society which misrepresents women, which allows this to be okay. Jokes about rape, passed off as banter, give the message to rapists and victims that this is okay, that this isn’t a culture which will ostracize rapists, but one which will actively participate in victim-blaming. Dismissing sexism as a ‘joke’, as nothing more than ‘banter’ has been one of the most successful backlashes against equality; as a silencing method it works better than almost any other. So HCX leaves you with some accounts posted on the everyday sexism projects; a place where women are not silenced by laughter and where their experiences are treated with the respect and importance they deserve.
- My male boss finally agreed to give me a requested pay rise, I replied I’m very grateful to you for sorting it out for me. He replied “it’s a good job you’re married or I would ask you to show me how grateful”.
- Being told at 7:45am on the way to catch the bus for work, to “get my tits out”, loudly and from the other side of the road.
- Me and my friend were walking home from school, two grown men drive past us and cat whistle. I would like to point out that I am 13 years old and was wearing a baggy t-shirt and jeans.
- Age about 8. First time out alone my dad let me go to the corner shop, was flashed by a man in a car. Was terrified.
- In a very small Physics class at my secondary school, I was the only girl. Can’t tell you how many times I got passed over.
- At 11, whilst trying to get away, boys dragged me back into the pool by my ankles, semi stripped and attempted to molest me. Couple of years later one of the boys whispered to friend “I think I raped her”. Didn’t swim again for three years.
- Being touched up on a bus aged 13, felt like it was my fault as I wore short shorts. At age 19 I still get scared on buses.
- At university I was seeing this boy for a couple of weeks. He seemed really sweet and made me laugh. One afternoon in his room, we got a bit carried away and slept together. Afterwards he asked me if I slept with all my boyfriends that soon in a relationship as he thought it was a bit slutty. I got dressed, left his room and didn’t speak to him again.
- On one of my rare nights out dancing in town with my flatmates a group of men pushed me towards one of their friends where he proceeded to forcibly try to kiss me and put his hand under my dress and grabbed my crotch. After running off to find my friends I became very upset only to be told to calm down and you-know what guys are like when they’re drunk.
- 15 years old, I was taking a walk with a friend when we were followed down a dark street by 3 drunk middle aged men asking if we were gay. We told them it was none of their business. They followed us for 5 more blocks shouting obscenities and propositions like “you need to get a sausage in there!” before they finally went away. Very terrifying experience.
Photo credits: Mark Woodward; unilad; everydaysexismproject