Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

/ posted in: Current EventsReading

I’ve followed @everydaysexism on Twitter for a while and was always confused by one thing. There are a lot of tweets about street harassment. I haven’t ever seen or experienced that. No one has ever yelled at me in the street. If this was such a big problem elsewhere why didn’t it happen anywhere that I’ve lived? It wasn’t until I was listening to this on my way to work that it hit me. I’m never on the streets. I live in Midwest USA. There is no public transportation and no one is able to walk to work. We are always in the car. We are never out to get yelled at. I walk around my neighborhood but it is quiet.

This is just one example of how this book will make you look at the circumstances of your life in new ways. It discusses a variety of topics from rape to domestic violence to female genital mutilation to street harassment to body image to online targeting of women to women in the workplace. It also discusses how sexism hurts boys and men by putting them in strict gender roles (no crying, “man up”, gendered toys, no parental leave, etc.)

Each chapter is accompanied by stories that have been sent in to The Everyday Sexism project from women around the world. The goal of the book is to make people notice what is going on in the world around them and to have them speak up when they see sexism.

The author points out that every woman has stories that fit in the book. Listening to it, I remembered several. During my first year of vet school, I lived in an apartment that had access to a bike trail. I was walking on it one day when a guy grabbed me and kissed me and asked me out. It turned out that his wife was pregnant and he was in need of a sex partner until the baby was born. We were neighbors (I’d never noticed him before) so I would be convenient. Would I be ok with that? Yeah, um, no. He seemed surprised. He kept watching me for the rest of that semester and then they moved away. It never occurred to me to report this to anyone. I never told anyone, not because I was ashamed but because who was going to do anything? I wasn’t physically hurt by the guy. He was just creepy.

And the street harassment thing that never happens? In October of this year I was France. I was waiting outside a cafe while the husband paid the bill. A random guy walking past came up to me, put his face right in my face, and roared at me. I busted out laughing because it was so absurd and I figured that would offend the guy most. I was alone on a busy street in a city for about 2 minutes and a guy felt the need to mess with me. Nothing else happened for the rest of the trip because I was always with the husband. Nothing says, “Don’t harass” like appearing to belong to another man.

Some times you can have fun with it. I’ve written before about sexism in my profession. You know that thing when women have an idea that is met with blank stares until a man repeats it and it is the greatest idea ever? We used to get mad about it at my office. Now we bet on it. We’ll have an idea and then go tell it to the male business manager. We make sure the women all know when we told him and then we bet on how many days it will be until he has a brilliant idea out of nowhere! He’s used to it now so when we laugh he just asks who told him it and when.

I think this is a great, eye-opening book for both men and women.

My only criticism is that it is very British. There is a tendency to refer to British celebrities or news stories without explaining it those of us in the rest of the world. It will say things like, “Like what happened with so and so last year.” I usually had no idea who so and so was or what happened. It would have been easy to add a sentence to explain what happened. It starts in the introduction. It is written by Sarah Brown and refers to what happened to her with no explanation at all. I found out later that she was married to a Prime Minister so maybe that was part of the issue but still have no idea what she was referring to in her introduction. I also had to look up what “Page 3” referred to. That’s a topless photo of a woman run as a regular feature in a major English newspaper. See, one sentence explained it. Also, are you kidding me?

For those who think that sexism isn’t really still an issue you can just look at this review of the book on Amazon.

“Of course there are a few sexist men around, but expecting the world to change, and sexism to end, infantilises women. Still, with this book out and presumably selling well to other whiny women – of whom the world has no shortage – Bates officially becomes a professional whine merchant. I see men get a mention in chapter 10. Yippee. The difference between the sexism faced by women and that faced by men is that men don’t whine about it, they suffer in silence. If you want to get a sense of the sexism faced by men, which has immeasurably more serious consequences than the sexism faced by women, visit the website of The Alternative Sexism Project…”

I’m guessing he didn’t read the book.

The Lady Errant