It has taken me a long time to get around to reading this. Published in 2014, I remember the rise of the #everydaysexism on twitter and the reaction to it. Mostly I seem to remember it was men I knew who were shocked at the pervasive sexism and harassment most women have accepted as just normal life, because it happens all the god damn time. Women I knew just sighed or shrugged at the knowledge – so commonplace are a lot of the examples, but they also felt empowered by the size of the movement, the solidarity, and the knowledge that you weren’t alone.
Every single woman I spoke to had a story. But not from five years ago, or ten. From last week, or yesterday, or ‘on my way here today’. And they weren’t just random one-off events, but reams and reams of tiny pinpricks – just like my own experiences – so niggling and normalized that to protest each one felt facetious. Yet put them together and the picture created by this mosaic of miniatures was strikingly clear. This inequality, this pattern of casual intrusion whereby women could be leered at, touched, harassed and abused without a second thought, was sexism: implicit, explicit, common-or-garden and deep-rooted sexism, pretty much everywhere you’d care to look. And if sexism means treating people differently or discriminating against them purely because of their sex, then women were experiencing it on a near-daily basis.
Everyday Sexism is the book summarising the #everydaysexism tweets and the submissions to the accompanying website.
It’s an overview of all the sexist things that happen generally in life. And yes, it covers sexism that happens against men too – though is careful to point out that this is a minuscule problem compared to the pervasive problems that affect women. This isn’t to say it isn’t serious, it just isn’t a problem with the same scale, and the same life affecting consequences.
Everyday Sexism covers the whole wedge of sexism, from seemingly (dismissed by many) innocuous everyday events, to rape and the killing of women. It’s a wedge, and while one end of it is much more serious, criminal, and life shattering, the other end of it is part of the same problem (this reminded me of Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me). One feeds into the other and supports a patriarchal society where sexism is not just tolerated, but expected, and none of us should be putting up with it.
To include stories of assault and rape within a project documenting everyday experiences of gender imbalance is simply to extend its boundaries to the most extreme manifestations of that prejudice. To see how great the damage can be when the minor, ‘unimportant’ issues are allowed to pass without comment. To prove how the steady drip-drip-drip of sexism and sexualization and objectification is connected to the assumption of ownership and control over women’s bodies, and how the background noise of harassment and disrespect connects to the assertion of power that is violence and rape.
Each chapter starts out with some statistics outlining the subject of the chapter. There are other statistics mentioned throughout the text too, where they are relevant. From the section on crime:
Then I looked at the crime statistics and found that on average more than 2 women are killed every week by a current or former partner, that there is a call to the police every minute about domestic violence, and that a woman is raped every 6 minutes – adding up to more than 85,000 rapes and 400,000 sexual assaults per year. That 1 in 5 women is the victim of a sexual offence and 1 in 4 will experience domestic violence.
If that doesn’t shock you, then what is wrong with you?
And each chapter is littered with examples from tweets or entries submitted to the everyday sexism website. There are a few interviews with other people for a few topics. For example, Reni Eddo-Lodge (writer of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race) is interviewed to talks about intersection of sexist abuse and racism.
The book ends on a positive chapter about people fighting back against sexism. It highlights global examples and ends in an uplifting way.
Women everywhere have had enough. We’ve reached our tipping point and we’re not afraid to say it. We’re not afraid to be dismissed, or belittled, or laughed at any more, because there are too many of us. There’s no silencing someone who has tens of thousands of others standing right behind them. We can’t be silenced when we’re all saying the same thing.
Laura Bates is a goddess and I recommend reading this book to everybody. But if you could get every one who says sexism doesn’t exist anymore, then that would be marvellous.