Book review: Everyday Sexism By Laura Bates

 

Fiona Sturges
Wednesday 16 April 2014 12:37
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Two years ago, journalist Laura Bates set up a website to log the sexist abuse she received on an almost daily basis and invited others to do the same. In a climate in which many believe sexism no longer exists, she wanted to assess the scale of a problem about which the majority of women stay silent.

Eighteen months later, 50,000 entries had poured in from 19 countries and the project had gathered more than 130,000 Twitter followers. In giving a collective voice to women of all ages and backgrounds, Bates is now viewed as a leading light in feminism's fourth wave. Her book collates some of the stories while putting them into a broader social, cultural and political context.

Bates, whose research has led her to canvass the opinions of everyone from schoolgirls to politicians, paints a comprehensive picture of the prejudices faced by women in the workplace (1 in 8 women has left a job because of sexual harassment), in the media, education and public spaces. She looks at the ostracisation of women in government, offering up dismal figures of gender ratios while pointing to the casual humiliation of female MPs in Westminster by their male counterparts.

It's with bubbling fury that she highlights the horrors of double-discrimination where sexism intermingles with other prejudices such as racism, homophobia and ageism. Elsewhere, statistics relating to rape and sexual assault make for chilling reading. The testimonies of schoolgirls relating to body image, harassment and their early sexual experiences - many without their consent - actually made me sob.

Underpinning all of Bates's research is her conviction that all sexist behaviour, no matter how minor, is worthy of comment and, where possible, demands that the perpetrator(s) be called out. "Inequality is a continuum, with the minor and major incidents irrevocably related to one another as the attitudes and ideas that underlie one allow the other to flourish," she says.

This is an important book not only for the victims of sexism but for parents, siblings, partners and friends, allowing them to understand what today's women are up against. If Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman is the fun-filled manual for female survival in the 21st century, Everyday Sexism is its more politicised sister. The message is crucial: those who have been discriminated against, shamed and assaulted are not alone, and there is power in shouting back.

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