Charting the Impact of Everyday Sexism Across the World

Laura Bates created the Everyday Sexism Project. Photo by Andrew Testa for the International Herald Tribune

Laura Bates created the Everyday Sexism Project. Photo by Andrew Testa for the International Herald Tribune

LONDON — When Laura Bates started a Twitter account asking women to share stories of sexist treatment, she expected a handful of replies, and hoped they would yield an article for Web or print consumption.

Just over a year later, the effort she now calls the Everyday Sexism Project has grown to more than 30,000 posts from around the world, with nearly 50,000 Twitter followers.

The project’s Web site and Twitter feed have ballooned into a compendium of firsthand testimonials that range from angry descriptions of patronizing remarks to heart-wrenching accounts of rape and other assault. Women post about crude come-ons in the workplace, lewd comments on the street, groping on crowded public transportation and much more. Most, but not all, of the comments come from developed countries.

“Yesterday guy on packed Tube took opportunity to rub his crotch against me and stroke my bum when I couldn’t move,” wrote Naomi Phillips, using the Twitter handle @nayphillips and referring to the London subway. “Worst thing about it was that I didn’t say anything out loud. Concerned about making a scene & what if I was wrong? I wasn’t.”

Working with supporters in other countries, Ms. Bates, who lives in north London, has created companion sites in 15 nations, including Brazil, France, Germany and the United States.

Her original impulse to tackle the issue came after a week in which a man grabbed her leg on a bus, a group shouted at her from a car and two men commented on her breasts as she walked by.

When the online posts started streaming in, she said, she began to see how common such incidents were, and how many women were eager to discuss experiences they had kept to themselves.

The rush of stories “feels like something that was waiting to happen,” said Ms. Bates, 26, an actress and writer. “We’re not sure that we’re allowed to talk about it, and as soon as we start talking to someone else about it, they go, ‘Oh, my God, me too!”’

Women, she says, have been taught not to make a fuss about crude treatment and have learned to just put up with it.

“But when there’s 25,000 other people saying, ‘Actually, I agree with that too,’ it’s no longer possible to shame you into silence,” she said. “Social media allows us to stand behind each other, and it’s so powerful.”

In May, Ms. Bates helped lead the introduction of a campaign urging Facebook to remove graphic images of violence against women, some of them with joking captions. Supporters bombarded advertisers with Twitter messages, demanding that they refuse to allow their ads to appear alongside such content. Facebook said that it does not allow content that is hateful, threatening or incites violence and that it responds as quickly as possible to reports of language or images that violate the site’s terms.

As galvanizing as the Internet may be, Ms. Bates is keenly aware of the need to grow offline, too.

The lawmaker Yvette Cooper, the opposition Labour Party’s top official on Britain’s domestic affairs, said she was using comments Ms. Bates compiled to push in Parliament for a sex and relationships curriculum in schools that includes teaching zero tolerance for violence.

The stories posted on Everyday Sexism include many that “we wouldn’t as politicians normally see, because it’s not the kind of thing that people will necessarily write to us about,” Ms. Cooper noted. “There was one from somebody who said, ‘Our lesson on violence was a police officer came to talk to the girls about what to wear and how to stay safe, and the boys went out and played football,”’ she said.

Ms. Bates said she had been speaking more frequently at schools and colleges around Britain, and she is advising on a project the police are starting to tackle unwanted sexual behavior on London subways and buses.

Most shocking, Ms. Bates said, is the number of posts she receives about or from young girls.

One woman wrote last month that her 8-year-old daughter had asked her the meaning of a lewd term for female genitals, then said a boy in her class had told her he planned to pound hers when she was older.

“Is this the culture that is infecting our schools now?” wrote the mother, who gave her name as Jules.

Other stories are more hopeful. One woman, who gave her name as Vicki, wrote that when a man she was giving directions to grabbed her breast, “the usual anger-but-not-quite-sure-what-to-do-about-it was replaced with something else. I’d read enough versions of same story just a few days previously.”

She noted his license plate number and called the police, who charged him criminally, she wrote.

A woman named Danielle Morgan got an apology, although not from her own harasser, after she wrote on Twitter about a group of men who shouted “sluts” at her from a passing car.

“I did this when I was a young stupid” man, wrote a poster using the Twitter handle @Hurp_durpa. “I’m ashamed every time I think about it. I am so sorry.”

Men contribute about 10 percent of posts, Ms. Bates said.

One, Richard Twyman, who manages a Manchester betting shop, said Everyday Sexism had helped him understand the impact of things he used to do unthinkingly, like questioning what a rape victim was wearing or rating the appearance of women on the street.

“As a young guy, if I was out with some girls and a girl that was too drunk to know what she was doing leaned on me, I’d grab a feel,” he said by phone. Now he confronts others he sees engaging in such behavior, he said.

However, in addition to encouraging feedback, Ms. Bates gets hundreds of violent threats, some vowing to rape or kill her. When the boyfriend she lives with was traveling, she stayed with friends rather than alone at home.

She runs the site herself with some help from volunteers. A trickle of money comes from publishing articles on harassment, but the project operates at a loss. Ms. Bates said she has put £2,000 to £3,000, or $3,000 to $4,500, into the site, not counting income lost in the unpaid hours she spends on it. She earns a small amount from publishing articles on the subject of sexism and is seeking grants from several organizations.

It is featured in a documentary made for the Gucci-backed Chime for Change concert for women and girls on Saturday in London, and Ms. Bates said she hopes some support may come from that.

The police plan to use the Everyday Sexism site to enhance their intelligence on where and when harassment happens, said Inspector Ricky Twyford of the British Transport Police, the project manager for the move to curb sexual harassment on London’s buses and trains.

They also want Ms. Bates to repeat what Inspector Twyford called a powerful talk she delivered to police officials, in which she read posts from women describing being harassed or assaulted. The police plan to record it to use in workshops for officers who patrol the transit network, he said.

Stella Creasy, a Labour Party lawmaker who exchanges Twitter postings with Everyday Sexism, said these stories demonstrated that women remained unequal.

“This is real life, this is happening every single day to women in our country,” Ms. Creasy said. “There is a resurgence of feminist activism, and I say bring it on. That is amazing, that is going to make Britain a better place for everyone.”

About the author: Beth Gardiner is a London-based freelance journalist with extensive experience covering politics and general news.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s