Book review: Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
by Ian Sinclair
Everyday Sexism is already an important touchstone in the fourth-wave feminism that many commentators are now heralding.
The book comes out of the website Laura Bates, a young journalist, set up in April 2012 after experiencing a particularly bad week of street harassment. Since then the website and Twitter account has collected tens of thousands of testimonies from girls and women detailing the appalling level of sexism that continues to blight societies around the globe. It is these relentless, often shocking, stories that so ably inform Bates’s argument – that we live in a culture ‘steeped in misogyny and the objectification and subjugation of women’.
This ‘normalised misogyny’ has very real impacts, she argues. Women are significantly under-represented in senior positions in the political, media and economic sphere. Every year, 85,000 women are raped in UK. Every week in the UK, two women are killed by a current or former partner. Across the globe, one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. ‘We are in the middle of an international epidemic’, Bates emphasises, although it is rarely described as such. With men the main cause of this suffering, my own reaction as a man was: What is wrong with us? Or, more precisely, what is wrong with the type of masculinity that is dominant today?
Accessibly written, with many much-needed, sardonically witty asides (because if you didn’t laugh you’d cry), this is a great resource for activists.
As well as being a deeply-affecting read it does an impressive job of marshalling up-to-date statistics, moving quotes and killer arguments. Activists will be particularly interested to read the huge success achieved by Bates’ social media activism in such a short space of time.
The British Transport Police recently used the accounts collected by the Everyday Sexism Project to retrain 2,000 officers about street harassment, with a corresponding increase in the reporting and detection of offenders. More broadly, by receiving tons of media attention the Project has played a leading role in the burgeoning feminist movement which, arguably, is slowly beginning to achieve a shift in the culture and polity.
Of course, the battle is far from won. Borrowing a famous Bushism, Bates ends the book with a challenge to those on the sidelines: ‘You’re either with us or you’re against us. There is no in-between, because it’s the in-between that has been the problem for so long.’