‘This is their story. This is the sound of a hundred thousand women’s voices. This is what they’re telling us.’
Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project which has taken off more than she could have imagined. Bates reaches out to people through this online forum, along with twitter and other events and talks that she attends. Bates has really become a name in the fight against sexism and the fight for equality. Alongside this book, she has also written a book called Girl up which is a Sunday Times bestseller and I have reviewed it here. Girl up is for a young adult and upwards sort of age and focuses on lots of issues faced by girls today. Everyday Sexism is also a popular book, having been shortlisted for Waterstones’ Book of the Year and Polemic of the Year at the Political Book Awards.
I heard about this book through reading Girl Up and was very keen to read it. In fact, there is a quote on the front of the book that says ‘Read the book.’ How could I not after seeing that? Additionally, once at the till, the woman serving me told me she feels that this book is so important and influential that it should be compulsory reading. As if all of that was not enough, looking at the front and back covers, the book is littered with praise and positive comments. Here are a few:
‘A game-changing book’ – Cosmopolitan
‘A pioneering analysis of modern-day misogyny’ – Telegraph
‘This is an important work and if I had my way would be compulsory school reading across the globe’ – Feminist Times
‘Admirable and culturally transferable. “A storm is coming,” writes Bates. After reading this book, you’ll hope so’ – Independent
The book begins with a foreword by Sarah Brown. Brown gives an insight into why books like this are needed, and what seems to happen to us from when we were optimistic children. She also gives her view on the Everyday Sexism Project and why she thinks what Bates is doing is so important. I think that this is a good start to the book because we are provided with an overview before Bates herself begins.
After the foreword, Bates writes an introduction entitled ‘Everybody Has a Tipping Point’. This is where Bates shares her story and her experiences of sexism that inspired her to start the project and then to write this book. I think that it is good to learn a little bit about the author before beginning to read because it provides some background information and makes the book a little more personal to Bates. However, it is also expressed that this book is not all Bates’ story. The stories in this book are also of real women, and men, who are sharing their own experiences. Yes, Bates does share her thoughts and experiences too, but this is not an autobiography.
I think that the book itself is well organised. Each chapter begins with a green page that has the chapter number and title, and alongside this there is a quote of the kind of thing you can expect from that chapter. When you then turn the page there is a page entitled ‘Vital Statistics’ where Bates compiles a list of statistics on the topic that the chapter covers. These sources and dates of these statistics are all listed and I was often shocked by what I saw on these pages. Each chapter then has a few tweets that have been sent to the project which show that real people are experiencing the problems the statistics show. After this, Bates talks about her experiences on the topic and the experiences of people in the public eye and other people who have contacted her in some way. Tweets, project entries and survey answers are dispersed amongst Bates’ writing to back up her words and to allow real people to use their voice.
Overall, I was really impressed with the number of topics that Bates covers. It almost feels like a lifetime of sexism is portrayed as we go from ‘Girls’ to ‘Young Women Learning’ to ‘Women in the Workplace’ and ‘Motherhood’. Of course, other topics such as women in the public sphere, women in politics, men and abortion are also focused upon. It was both shocking and eye-opening to see how many aspects of life sexism touches and how often it goes unnoticed or ignored.
Next, I would like to talk about the positive aspects of this book and project. Most importantly, Bates is giving women a voice and a place to talk and share what they have been through. Being able to be open and be heard is really important and stops these issues being ignored or supressed. There is no negative response to these women and they are listened to and not belittled which means that more and more people are gradually talking and through being more honest and open people can see that there needs to be a change. Bates is also opening women’s eyes to the legislation that is already in place. In the book she includes the UK legislation on sexual assault and I think that it is really important that people are aware of what the laws actually are. After giving this legislation, she also talks about how the project has already changed things statistically, especially where transport is concerned. 39% more cases of sexual offences on public transport are now reported with an increase of 40% of perpetrators being brought to justice. These statistics are amazing and show that this project is having an impact.
‘This is not a men vs women issue. It’s about people vs prejudice.’
What it is so important to remember when talking about sexism is that not all men are bad. The fight against sexism is not about trying to villainise all men: it’s about trying to stop those who are causing problems, which could be women, companies or society as a whole. So often people think that the feminist movement is about women being better than men, and that is simply not true. Women want to be equal and to be treated like they are equal. What is often missed is that women and men being equal, and fighting sexism, is a good thing for men too. I cannot personally understand how not being allowed to be sexist towards a woman is a bad thing for a man? If sexism is not treated as okay, then women or other men will not be able to be sexist towards men either. This would have great impacts when it comes to paternity leave and men being able to do things like showing more emotions without being told to ‘man up’ or to ‘stop being such a girl’. Sexism is very harmful for men too, especially young men. It can be forgotten or overlooked that young men are under a lot of pressure just like young girls. There is pressure on both genders to be successful and to look good and to be popular, these are not female only issues. Bates explains very well that problems for both genders are often rooted in the same gender imbalance and that feminism is for men too. She also explains clearly and carefully why it is that the main focus is on women. If you are someone who cannot understand why women have the most focus when it comes to issues like sexism, then I recommend reading the ‘What about the men?’ chapter of this book because Bates explains it all so well.
As I was reading I actually learned a lot and was given a lot to think about. There were things that I had simply never considered, like the fact that if we allow smaller acts of sexism to continue they become normalized in our society and this paves the way for the bigger acts. Even when I read something that seemed like an exaggeration, I was often scared to realise it was actually true. This included things like how the language used towards women in places like the street gives a message that this language is okay and that this is an appropriate way to treat women in all aspects. I also really liked the positive attitude of some of the women Bates spoke to and how they fought back against sexist comments with humour. There are great examples of this when Boris Johnson made a comment about women only going to university to find a husband. Additionally, reading comments from real women meant I could connect and understand some of them. At the end of the ‘Young Women Learning’ chapter, there is an excellent bit written by a young woman all about how she feels. What she said resonated with me and I could feel her determination and fight through her words:
‘How can I believe the people that say women have equal rights? When the worst insult a man can be called is a woman…My gender is not an insult.’
Only a few pages later, Bates herself describes perfectly why street harassment is so unpleasant. Far too frequently the word ‘compliment’ is used for such a scenario, but in that situation there is so much more to it than what is being said or done, it is the shock and embarrassment as well.
Of course, the point of this book is not only to display what is going on all over the world, (this is a global problem) it is also to start combatting sexism. Bates wants us all to stand together and she gives good advice on how we call all help to make a change. For example, she talks about different methods to safely stop or intervene when you are involved in or see sexual harassment.
Naturally, I did not agree with everything that was said. That could be because of my own opinions (everyone has them) or because of how I have been raised and the experiences that I have had. Bates talks about something which I have heard mentioned on television talk shows a few times recently and that is how toys are affecting our children. It is said that toys are very stereotypical and are telling our children from a young age which careers they can have and what their roles are. Now maybe things have changed in the past few years, but when I was younger I do not remember such things being a problem. I was a very girly child, yes, and I had all the dolls and babies and everything, but my sister and I also played Lego and Pokémon and things that may be considered for boys. I also remember playing houses and families with male friends when I was little and that was never considered a problem. So when reading about this in the book I struggled to see the large issue because it is something I have not personally come across. Marketing does angle things at genders, but I guess I think that it is up to the parents to not allow those stereotypes to take over. Just because I had cooking sets and not science kits, that has not at all influenced how I view careers and gender. Just like I could not personally agree that Disney princesses are causing body issues in very little girls. Again, it could just be that my life has been different, but I remember thinking princess were so beautiful, but I always knew that that beauty was another league, that was not how everyone looked. As a little girl, I had no concerns about weight or image because it was never really on my radar to worry about such things. Yes, princesses and Barbie’s were very pretty, but they were not real.
This were the main issues that I came up against, I think, and whilst there were smaller things that I disagreed with, I think that everyone has different opinions because everyone has had different experiences, and that is okay. I think that the main thing is that we acknowledge that a lot of these things are going on and that sexism is an issue we cannot ignore.
At this point I would like to look at how reading this book has changed how much sexism I see. Before reading the book I saw plenty. Not just in the comments or car horns being beeped as I walk down the street, but in what I see in the media. Sexism in music videos is something I have really noticed. To me, if a song is good, the video does not need half-naked people dancing around for no real reason. There are many videos that I love and they rarely have someone in little clothing when there is no need. For example, the video for Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran is one of my favourite ever videos and that is him and a woman doing a beautiful dance, dressed in lovely clothes. Yet, what annoys me more than these videos, are the adverts on TV. There is one advert for a female perfume that has a shot of a naked woman playing the piano. Firstly, why does she need to be naked to play a piano? And secondly, I’m not sure that a naked woman would appeal to the majority of females. There are many adverts which are sexualised for no reason at all and I simply feel that it is unnecessary to give off this impression that women are sexual objects in so many places. I think that it conveys the wrong image.
Since reading the book, I noticed something very interesting. Bates goes into how much female politicians face and I think that I always hoped that they would be slightly more respected. She gives details of women being brushed aside when trying to raise an important issue and struggling to raise ‘women’s issues’ for fear of being labelled. Alongside this were many examples of newspaper headlines that have belittled female politicians solely because of their gender. I was not really surprised that the media does this, and not long ago they did it again. Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, two very powerful women, were having an important talk about Brexit and Scottish independence, and somehow, a newspaper decided it was appropriate to run the headline ‘legs-it’ in order to compare which leader had the best legs. I honestly felt despair when I saw that front page.
Before any of this, I was in more despair due to a more serious topic raised by the book. The book talks about rape and how the victim is never to blame, and that arguments about what she was wearing etc. are insulting and are silencing victims. In fact, these arguments are proven wrong when you look at the fact that the majority of rapes are carried out by someone known to the victim. After finishing the book, I have seen multiple discussions in the media on this exact topic. One TV show was even asking if the victim is to blame. I could not believe how deeply this question was debated. There was so much consideration into whether it was the victim’s fault and I just wanted to shout that no woman deserves to be raped. Victim blaming is a big problem with rape and it sends a worrying message to men that it is not their fault if they rape someone. Rape is never okay.
‘And if you think the storm has reached its peak, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is just the beginning. What we have witnessed so far was just an overture.’
I love this quote because it sums up the perfect attitude. The end of the book is full of this feeling that the fight is only just beginning and there is so much more to come. I felt empowered and uplifted and ready to do all that I can. Of course, the first thing anyone can do in this fight is read a book like this one. I have learnt so much about people and events and what is actually going on around the world and in our society. The positive ending of this book is that sexism is a problem that we can solve and progress is already being made.
Overall, this book is more politicised than Girl Up or How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (click for full review) but it focuses more heavily on the subject of sexism and is about real awareness and showing that things can change because they need to change. I would highly recommend reading this book to learn more about how much sexism occurs around the world, and what we can do about it.
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, first published in Great Britain in 2014, this edition published in 2015, published by Simon and Schuster, RRP £10, ISBN 978-1-4711-4920-7