In 2012 after being sexually harassed on London public transport Laura Bates, a young journalist, started a project called Everyday Sexism to collect stories for a piece she was writing on the issue. Astounded by the response she received and the wide range of stories that came pouring in from all over the world, she quickly realised that the situation was far worse than she'd initially thought. Enough was enough. From being leered at and wolf-whistled on the street, to aggravation in the work place and serious sexual assault, it was clear that sexism had been normalised. Bates decided it was time for change. (from Goodreads).
Everday Sexism is a thoroughly depressing and yet important book. Bates has collated the normal, run-of-the-mill experiences of countless women, on a range of topics, and together it makes for pretty grim reading. I was shocked to find out that one in three girls from 16-18 have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school, that women are still missing out on jobs in case they decide to take maternity leave, and that the unemployment rate for men in the recession has increased by only 0.32%, whilst for women it has jumped by almost 20%. The statistics were shocking enough, but what makes this book more powerful is that Bates includes the individual stories of the women that have tweeted her and posted on the everyday sexism website. I could identify with so many of the experiences - the newlywed woman being asked when she is going to start having babies, the pregnant woman who only ever gets asked about her pregnancy, and the teenage girls who know they are more than their looks, but can't escape their insecurities. Bates also shows how these experiences are normalised in the context of 'banter', with women who protest to e.g. sexual comments getting responses like "can't you take a joke?" or "you should be flattered."
I think the chapter that made the most depressing reading was the one concerning teenage girls. I was lucky enough to be a teenager before the internet was everywhere (the days of dial-up), and I'm sure that it's so much harder now social media means that sexual bullying is common. I was shocked to read about the amount of rape jokes reported in secondary schools, but when I asked my husband about it (he's a secondary school teacher), his experience matched those in the book. When I was at school, boys might have joked about how girls looked, and that is cruel, but to be the subject of jokes about raping you, or what they want to do to you, or to have private photos shared - I can't imagine how hard that must be. Bates reports on the girls that have committed suicide as a result of all these things.
I've always known that if I had a girl, I would raise her to be a feminist, to value herself for more than her looks, and to know that she can do anything that she wants to do. Reading Everyday Sexism, I've realised that it is just as important for me to raise my son to respect women, to see them as more than objects, but as friends, colleagues, partners and equals. I don't care if my son wants to cry when he is upset or play with dolls, and I certainly will try my best to ensure that he judges men and women in the same way, as people.
I'd definitely recommend Everyday Sexism. It's depressing reading at times, but does end on a note of hope, with stories of how women are starting to protest against the current culture, and how things could change for the better.
Source: Personal copy (kindle)
Published: April 2014
Score: 5 out of 5