"It began with a bad week for Laura Bates. First she was grabbed by the hand in a cafe by a man who refused to let go. Then she was followed off the bus by another and propositioned all the way home. A few days later another man in a car shouted, ‘I’m looking for a wife’ and accompanied it with a gesture that suggested his main priorities were slightly baser than building a harmonious partnership of equals thereafter.
‘The usual pinpricks,’ as Bates terms these all-too-common ‘niggling and normalised’ experiences – too small, too difficult to react against in any meaningful (and non-selfendangering) way, too frequent to be able to afford the energy required to express anger or define quite what it is that makes such occasions so upsetting.
How, she wondered – as probably we all have at some time – had we learned to put up with this? Why? Partly because of the complicated forces at play that frustrate easy comprehension. I remember being at 14 or 15, (round about the time we girls at school were being told to stay away from the sports field fences) baffled by my reaction at having, ‘Alright, darling?’ bellowed at me – the words were, technically, a compliment, so why was I afraid? In my years of temping, I lost count of the number of times my bum got patted or rubbed against in passing. Although it never became less discomfiting it never seemed enough to object to. How, Bates asked herself, could we join the dots? How do you give a presence to an intangible, unspoken, invisible problem?
A screenshot of the Everyday Sexism Project homepage
She set up a website where women could post accounts of their experiences of what she named ‘everyday sexism’ (everydaysexism.com). And women started posting. And posting and posting and posting, about everything from crappy comments to sexual harassment at work to terrible stories of rape and abuse and perpetrators going unpunished. There are well over 50,000 entries now, many of which are included in Everyday Sexism, the book that Bates has just published about her experience, modern feminism and the power of social media to fertilise grassroots activism.
It is a wonderful book, a distillation of all that is best about the site – the feeling of unity, the support offered explicitly by posters and implicitly by the sight of those dots being joined; proof that these tiny and not-so-tiny things add up to a real curtailment of women’s personal and collective freedom and limitation on their opportunities and actions. It’s a thrilling, intelligent, accessible, uplifting and empowering look at our current situation, the success of the site and the evidence it offers of the potential for change.
Laura Bates founder of Everyday Sexism
And of course it doesn’t exist in isolation. The No More Page 3 campaign founded online by Lucy-Anne Holmes gave a voice to thousands who previously thought that their discomfort was nothing compared to men’s right to see boobs over breakfast. International outcry and a mass protest after the rape-murder of Jyoti Singh Pandy in India was mobilised via digital means and the power of the internet helped give strength to Eve Ensler’s call to arms via her One Billion Rising campaign to end the violence against women.
Bates’ bad week gave her a brilliantly simple and simply brilliant idea that embodies the new wave of digital feminism. It’s a form that raises consciousness among women (especially, given Twitter et al’s demographic skew, younger women) in a way that second- and third-wave feminists could only dream of. A few clicks and you can be sure that you are not alone. This is vitally important for the success of any socio-political movement, but especially for one that seeks to persuade a set of people to abandon their cultural training and to speak out instead. There are a few courageous souls who can do this alone, but most of us need to know that we are in good, plentiful and clamorous company. Now we have a means of gathering and it feels like we are on the cusp of something truly revolutionary. Now we can begin to claim the private and public space to which we are entitled – not as women but as fellow members of the human race – and to trust our instincts and attach importance to the things that society tells us to dismiss.