‘Take it as a compliment?’ Women go online to speak up against ‘everyday sexism’

Published: July 20, 2014

Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, poses for a portrait in London, Monday, July 14, 2014. AP Photo/Matt Dunham

SYLVIA HUI
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LONDON — When Laura Bates was followed home one night by a man from her bus, she didn’t think much of it. Incidents like that just seemed to be part of living in London.

But the writer said several other similar situations followed within days: One stranger shouted obscenities at her out of a car window. Another propositioned her forcefully in a cafe. A third groped her on the bus, and commuters looked away when she spoke up. She was startled not so much by the incidents — but how accustomed she had become to brushing such behaviour aside and not taking action.

“I started talking to other women, and I couldn’t believe how many stories they had. I think many of us just think ‘maybe I’m unlucky,”‘ said Bates, 27, in an interview. “Just like me, so many of them said ‘until you asked me, I’ve never talked to anyone about this.”‘

Those conversations triggered the birth of the Everyday Sexism project, a website that Bates set up for women to share their experiences of sexism and harassment in their daily lives — in the office, on the train, in school or on the street. Two years on, what started as a simple idea has become a movement that is steadily gaining momentum, galvanizing support from politicians, police and thousands of women and men from Britain and beyond.

The project has collected 70,000 posts from some 20 countries, describing a wide range of unwelcome behaviour and offences from a colleague’s casual comment to unreported rapes. Many tell of assault, threats of violence and verbal abuse in public places. Others report seemingly innocuous behaviour and comments: One woman tells how a sales assistant handed back her change to her male friend, after she had paid for the goods.

Some are disturbing because those posting are so young: A 12-year-old wrote to tell how she was told to “get back in the kitchen” by her male classmates when she raised her hand to say something, and numerous preteens say they are harassed daily by men who shout at or touch them on the way to school.

The outpouring on Bates’ website, and the attention it has garnered, has translated into some successes offline. Bates has addressed a United Nations-hosted forum and worked with British politicians, schools and businesses, and she and other activist groups have collaborated with British Transport Police to help reduce sexual assault and unwanted sexual behaviour on subway trains and buses.

“The greatest problem is a high degree of underreporting,” said Inspector Ricky Twyford, who oversees the force’s awareness campaign. That has improved in the past year or so, he said. “Definitely there has been a shift in the confidence and awareness of people who either experienced or witnessed it to come forward.”

The force says reporting rates have increased by 36 per cent, while arrests were up 22 per cent compared to the year before.

Bates said she was surprised that despite perceived equality in the workplace, sexism in the office remains the most commonly voiced concern on her website.

“There were men in their office printing off pictures of female applicants and rating them out of ten. Other women say their colleagues went to strip clubs at lunch time with clients and they just missed out on these deals,” she said. Many such incidents go unreported largely because women are afraid of losing their jobs, she said.

The popularity of social media has been key in sparking interest and debate in women’s rights campaigns like Bates’. When a disturbed young man who had professed hostility to women went on a shooting rampage in California in May, hundreds of thousands of women worldwide turned to Twitter to reflect on the misogyny they experience in their own daily lives, using the hashtag YesAllWomen.

Bates said the online community has encouraged women to speak out against sexism even if they have been ridiculed or told “not to make a fuss about it” elsewhere.

“That doesn’t work anymore because suddenly 50,000 people are saying the same thing. The social media age has enabled a sort of collective action and made people feel courageous,” she said.

Not all the reactions have been positive. Critics have argued that the focus is too trivial and distract from more important women’s issues. Others say some of the behaviour described in the entries does not count as sexism, or claim the women are being overly sensitive.

Bates has plans to expand the project’s reach to places from Mexico to Serbia to India, and says there is still much to be done at home. Sexualized images of women are still everywhere, she said, a major influence on how women are treated from day to day. This week, when Prime Minister David Cameron announced a government shakeup to promote more women to the Cabinet, British tabloids chose to focus on what the female politicians wore and how they styled their hair.

“People say sexism doesn’t exist anymore,” Bates said. “But it really is one of those things where once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it all around you.”

——

Twitter.com/sylviahui

13:35ET 20-07-14

[+]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Readers Comments (0)

Comments are closed.

Featured

Royal Wedding

Aga Khan’s eldest son Prince Rahim and his wife Kendra Salwa Spears expecting their first child

VANCOUVER DESI The Aga Khan’s eldest son Prince Rahim and his wife Princess Salwa (Kendra Salwa Spears) are expecting their first child, the spiritual leader…
Continue Reading »

CIVIC ELECTIONS

Surrey mayoral candidates share city visions at first meeting

AMY REID VANCOUVER DESI SURREY — Surrey mayoral candidates met for the city’s first all-candidates meeting Thursday night at SFU. Six of the seven candidates…
Continue Reading »

OTTAWA

Surrey MP Nina Grewal’s account of the shootout in Ottawa

NINA GREWAL SPECIAL TO IANS  When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking at about 9.30 a.m. Wednesday in a caucus room of parliament, we…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

CIVIC ELECTIONS

Surrey mayoral candidates share city visions at first meeting

AMY REID VANCOUVER DESI SURREY — Surrey mayoral candidates met for the city’s first all-candidates meeting Thursday night at SFU. Six of the seven candidates…
Continue Reading »

OTTAWA

Surrey MP Nina Grewal’s account of the shootout in Ottawa

NINA GREWAL SPECIAL TO IANS  When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking at about 9.30 a.m. Wednesday in a caucus room of parliament, we…
Continue Reading »

Parliament hill

Editorial Exchange: Rational responses needed

NEIL GODBOUT PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS Canada’s innocence should have ended in 1970 with the FLQ crisis but it didn’t. It should have been…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

student dead

Two dead, including gunman, in school shooting north of Seattle

DOUG ESSER THE ASSOCIATED PRESS MARYSVILLE, Wash. — A student opened fire in a high school cafeteria north of Seattle on Friday, killing at least…
Continue Reading »

attack on Parliament Hill

Ottawa shooter kicked out of Burnaby mosque two years ago

Zehaf-Bibeau was asked to leave the mosque, because he had “gotten a hold of keys and stuff from the mosque, and when he got out…
Continue Reading »

labour laws violation

U.S. company penalized for mistreatment of Indian employees working 122 hours in a week

MICHAEL LIEDTKE THE ASSOCIATED PRESS SAN FRANCISCO – A Silicon Valley company is paying more than $43,000 in back wages and penalties after labour regulators…
Continue Reading »

DESI-SOCCER

Surrey soccer captain played the U-18 national club championship using only one foot

KYLE BENNING SURREY NOW SOUTH SURREY – Kyle Sohi’s perseverance and performance in the 2014 Sport Chek National Club Championships U-18 Cup Final might go…
Continue Reading »

SURREY-FIELD HOCKEY

Barinder Rasode announces plan to develop field hockey pitch in Surrey

Third field at Tamanawis Park would cost approximately $3 million KYLE BENNING SURREY NOW NEWTON – Barinder Rasode and the One Surrey team were at…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Stan Lee-Bollywood

Stan Lee plans Bollywood film on his first Indian superhero

VANCOUVER DESI Stan Lee, the legendary ‘Spiderman’ creator, is reportedly planning his Bollywood entry with a film on his Indian superhero character ‘Chakra: the Invincible’….
Continue Reading »

KANGANA RANAUT

Even my parents think I am weird, says Bollywood ‘Queen’ Kangana Ranaut

HINDUSTAN TIMES Kangana Ranaut has always made unconventional choices, be it her movies or the way she dresses. And the actor says she’s happy the…
Continue Reading »

Happy New Year-Bollywood

Happy New Year: Mandatory ‘formula’ and all those old Bollywood references

HINDUSTAN TIMES Film: Happy New Year Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Sonu Sood, Vivaan Shah, Jackie Shroff Director: Farah Khan…
Continue Reading »