Shouting back: Laura Bates on Everyday Sexism

“I’m sorry to anyone who received a flyer on their way in” Laura Bates, author of Everyday Sexism began. Bates was referring to the attempted boycott on her talk at Waterstones by pamphlet wielding member of the “Justice for Men and Boys (and the women who love them)” party, who dished out vitriolic leaflets reading “feminists lie about rape” to attendees of the Hampstead event.

This comes just days after feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel her speech on video games at Utah State University after staff received an anonymous threat of a “Montreal Massacre-style attack” against all present. Bates has also received multiple, anonymous threats of death and rape since starting the Everyday Sexism project – but two and a half years on and 80,000 women’s testimonies later, Laura is still shouting back against sexism.

The Everyday Sexism project has been acknowledged as one of the most succesful social media campaigns of all time, but for Laura Bates, this was initially just a blog born out of her sheer frustration. Being shouted at out of car windows, followed home, groped on public transport and objectified by builders (“look at the tits on THAT!”) all within one week pushed the author to start a website where she and other women could document and share their stories. Of the thousands of accounts that came flooding in from women all over the world – those that took place on public transport were taken to the British Transport Police who took action by re-training their officers, consequently raising the detection of sexual assault and harrassment by 30%.

And yet whilst society feels comfortable with discussing rape and domestic violence, street harrassment is brushed off as a trivial concept on the opposite end of the spectrum. But the two are closely interlinked. Earlier this month, 27 year old Mary Spears was shot and killed in Detroit for refusing to give a man her phone number. A week before this incident, a 26 year old woman had her throat slashed in Queens by a man who she had refused to go on a date with. And these instances aren’t uncommon – in a 2,000 person survey by Stop Street Harrassment, over 20% of those who responded had experienced “cat calling” which escalated into unwanted sexual touching or being stalked. Contrary to popular belief, cat calling is not a compliment – it is more often a threat to a woman’s safety.

So, what should we do about it? “We have a choice,” Laura says. “We can either stand up, or look out of the window…we need to step in and speak up when we see everyday sexism around us. It is so much easier to intervene as a witness rather than a victim.” Speaking out does and is leading to gradual change. Laura notes that Oxford and Cambridge University are now running compulsory sexual consent classes for first years after studies were released detailing widespread harrassment and assaults.

One audience member asked Bates how she coped with reading the thousands of harrowing testimonies of sexual assault and harrasment that women were facing every day. The answer was simple – by holding on to the good stories. The stories from men who wrote to her saying they had changed their behaviour after reading the Everyday Sexism tweets, stories from twelve year old girls who had started feminist societies at school and accounts from women who had plucked up the courage to report a rape for the first time.

The Everyday Sexism project is more than a Twitter account for women to shout back, it is an instrument for positive social change and a community for every woman and girl who has been a victim of sexual abuse, harrassment and assault – a virtual place where your experience of sexism is acknowledged, and you no longer have to face it alone.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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