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Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories

Laura Bates describes how a project she launched two years ago has struck a chord with women around the world

When the Everyday Sexism Project was launched in April 2012, I thought that 50 or 60 women might add their experiences to the website. By now, less than two years later, we have collected 50,000 entries. What started out as an awareness-raising campaign has become an international movement, with new branches of the project flourishing in 18 countries around the world, and universities up and down the country passing Everyday Sexism motions in their student unions and holding special events to highlight the issue.

We have heard from women of all ages, races and sexual orientations, and from men and boys too. From girls as young as nine facing explicit sexual harassment in public spaces, to elderly women being dismissed and ignored as if they are invisible. From a disabled woman being asked to do a pole dance around her walking stick, to a student being sexually propositioned by her lecturer. From an airline captain being belittled by passengers, to an engineer who was told to “pick a more reasonable job for a woman”.

Already, the project has had an enormous impact, leading a successful international campaign this summer which forced Facebook to change its policy on rape and domestic violence content, and working closely with the British Transport Police to help them crack down on sexual offences on trains and buses. Talks and workshops have been held at schools and universities up and down the country, and bodies from big businesses to political parties have used it to tackle gender imbalance.

But there remains a long way to go. We are still receiving stories from women in the workplace who are afraid to report discrimination for fear of losing their jobs; from five-year-old girls who want to be turned into boys so they can go into space; and from young women whose lives are unbearably punctuated by the daily drip, drip, drip of serious sexual harassment.

In the next year, the Everyday Sexism Project will expand into a further 10 to 15 countries around the world, with branches for India, Japan, Mexico and Serbia already in the pipeline. Having received so many entries from young women and girls, the project will also launch a major international campaign next year focusing on sexual violence among teenagers, the group most at risk of partner abuse according to the British Crime Survey.

There is still much work to be done. But 50,000 voices raised in just 20 months is a sign of a very strong public appetite for change.

Horror Stories: women’s experiences of sexism

* I recently met a (male) senior partner at the firm I work at. My (female) manager introduced me as “the pretty one I told you about”. He then responded that I was “even prettier than he imagined”. Ten minutes later, he came and asked me if I was embarrassed, and my manager responded: “Why would she be embarrassed? She is pretty – how else would she want to be described?” Hard-working, an asset to the firm, intelligent...

* I was in a bar with some friends and as I was walking to the toilets some guy smacked my ass. I confronted him and told him I had not asked him to touch me. His response was: “Your skirt told me to do it.”

* I work in a shop. I frequently have to kneel on the floor to stack shelves. I’ve lost count of the times male customers have jokingly asked me to give them a blow job.

One time, a customer rammed his trolley into me when I politely refused. Instead of helping me, my (male) manager told me I’d be sacked if I tried to press charges, as it was common for customers to make jokes and that I’d risk bringing the company into disrepute “over nothing”. He suggested that I came up with several “banter” replies I could just trot out when necessary.

To my shame, I listened to him. I’m still working for the same company and still dealing with everyday sexism.

* I used to revise for my (A-level) exams in a public library. Once, walking down a flight of steps inside, a man heading the other way whispered “Nice legs” right in my ear as he walked past. It was so unexpected and shocking in such a quiet, respectable public place. Really made me feel uncomfortable about going back there to study.

* I know at least one woman from the circle of my female friends who was raped. When we talked about it, it became evident that every woman knows at least one of her friends who was either raped or managed to escape a rape attempt. I find the quantity extremely scary.

* Had to wait in for a plumber to fix my boiler once. Offered him the usual cup of tea etc, but when he finished, he just hung around, sat next to me on the sofa, put his hand on my knee and asked me how I was going to say thank you to him for his hard work.

I said: “What do you mean?” and he said: “Come on, Emma, you know what I mean” and ran his hand up my leg towards my crotch.

I pretended to remember I had to pick my son up. I ran to the front door and stood with it open while he got his stuff to go. I still worry that I never reported him, as this was when I was a single mother in council accommodation; how many other vulnerable women has he been in contact with since then?

* Went into a branch of a big high-street bank with my boyfriend to apply for a mortgage. I had called the day before and made the appointment. The branch manager approaches us – I smile at him but he is walking towards my boyfriend with his hand stretched out. He avoids eye contact with me, shakes my boyfriend’s hand and says: “So you’re here to apply for a mortgage?” He then gestures towards a seat and asks him to sit down, still having not acknowledged my presence.

* My professor at university in London tried to convince me to sleep with him, as he had not had sex with his wife for three years. He started kissing me and tried to prevent me from leaving the room. I complained and I was told that it must have been a misunderstanding, that men in his position would not do such a thing.

* I started a new job a few weeks before Christmas, and at the office Christmas party a senior staff member approached my supervisor, whom I was talking to, and told him approvingly what “a little sweetie” he had found for his department.

* My old boss made a phone call to recommend me to a friend who’d just opened a bar, to help me get a new job. The guy asked him one question about me: “Does she give good blow jobs?”

* I was at an academic conference for young professionals, wearing a (knee-length) classy dress. Two men who got on the elevator after me, riding down several floors: “I see we get to take the scenic route!” NOT appreciated.

AND THE 50,000th:

* I was walking back from college when a car with two men in their mid-twenties stopped next to me, threw a bottle of water at me, then drove off. As the car drove away I heard laughter in the distance and “That’s what you get for being a fat slag.” I had to walk the rest of the way home soaking wet and ashamed.