Women live in a society in which nearly all sectors deem them inferior to their male peers. As a by-product of this patriarchal setting, many women are subject to harassment, which can range from a lewd or suggestive comment about their appearance to sexual abuse. When women speak out about these instances, many are belittled and seen to be ‘making a fuss’, or worse, to blame. Their personal and professional lives are both framed and limited by this misogyny as result.
This begs the question – if gender discrimination is so omnipresent, why is it such an invisible problem?
Journalist Laura Bates decided to find out for herself. In April 2012, she established a website wherein individuals could submit their own personal experiences of sexism. Social media became a powerful tool in the collection of these stories, as thousands of entries poured in. Women relayed stories of how they had been discriminated against, from the unsolicited touching of their bodies by a stranger to the message that their sole purpose in life is maternal, and that denying motherhood rendered them useless.
This was how her new book Everyday Sexism was born.
The book collates the stories received through the project and presents many of them in order to highlight just how real and damaging sexism is for women. In our male-driven society many tend to trivialise the reality of gender discrimination and this challenges those assumptions.
Bates divides her book into chapters, covering the sexism that occurs in nearly every area of society. From harassment in the workplace to the media’s obsession with body image and the sexualisation of young girls, each insight helps the reader to understand the scope of the problem and the importance of speaking out against it.
Another chapter is devoted specifically to the sexism experienced by women studying at university. The discrimination faced by female students in male-dominated areas such as politics, engineering and science is profound. As the book makes apparent, many women feel they are entering a “boys club” and as one entrant explains, her lecturer went as far as to say “girls, stick to the IT guys – you never know, you might strike it rich”, clearly dismissing the student’s own intelligence and ability to pursue a successful career.
A statistic at the beginning of this chapter reads: “One in seven female university students has experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student.” The objectification of female students and rape are frequently reported in Everyday Sexism, making it clear that sexual violence is a reality for many young women. This makes clear how damaging even passing, sexist comments can be, as they maintain a culture in which men feel entitled to objectify and use women’s bodies – with or without consent.
Double discrimination is the subject of another chapter in Bates’ book. Many women not only face sexism, but must also cope with the discrimination they face based on their sexuality, race or age. This proves to be important in the discussion of activism, as it makes apparent the inter-connected nature of discrimination and prejudice in its many forms. The idea that feminism and the action taken against gender discrimination should be taken in partnership with other marginalised groups in society is expressed in the book to help combat bigotry in its many forms.
This is a wonderful, heartbreaking and important book. Many women will find solace in the knowledge that they aren’t alone in their experiences of sexism. A female – or male – reader may also feel empowered to protest the sexist society we inhabit by speaking up the next time a man sitting beside her on the train gropes her leg.
Many men may be surprised at how prevalent and affecting sexism is. Passing comments or ‘harmless jokes’ can shape the way a woman sees herself and fuels the idea that women in our society are second-rate, as this book makes clear. It helps to enlighten sceptics of gender discrimination by presenting the varied and widespread nature of sexism.
Bates has fashioned a book that documents the reality of being a woman, while ultimately encouraging society at large to first understand the position we’re in, and then to help fix it.