Everyday Sexism took me a while to read. I had to keep pausing every few pages to take in what I was reading. The sexism is ordered by chapter (e.g. ‘Women in Politics’ and ‘Young Women Learning’) and a lot of information is provided in short sequence. Tweets and longer personal accounts are interspersed with dissections of women’s representation in the media. Each chapter begins with a page of disconcerting statistics about its subject matter. So many voices with similar stories, and the percentages that back them up, read in such a short sequence is difficult to process.
This book angered me. Yet it also made me see the ridiculousness of some incredibly stupid, incredibly loud men. Bates has bought together women’s stories, women’s voices, and she has been vilified for it by some people. It’s interesting to note how much hate women get for drawing attention to the hatred they receive for being women, especially on the internet.
The ‘Woman in Public Spheres’ chapter had a big effect on me. I’ve often not wanted to go to the shop around the corner by myself because some taxi drivers who wait there have said various things to me before. When my boyfriend is there they say nothing, seemingly able to respect him more. I very much empathised with Bates’ inner dialogue about basing her outfit for the day on what is least likely to get comments or stares. I had never seen that articulated before, and it’s not a mind-set that your average man experiences.
I saw a documentary a couple of weeks ago called Blurred Lines, and it argued that sexism is difficult to define now. In a world where women have the right to vote, the right to birth control, the right to choose a career, many people question whether sexism exists in the 21st century. Some people seem to be screaming ‘you have the vote; there is nothing more to whine about.’ I hope that this book opens some peoples’ eyes if they are open-minded enough to read it. The sexism women face today seems postmodern, some arguing that it doesn’t exist, with many people (including a lot of women) saying that these infantile attitudes towards women are ironic. From David Cameron’s dated use of ‘calm down, dear’, to the nag-gag things. All of it is supposed to be taken in good humour. For instance, female politicians are essentially told to lump it if they find the embarrassing boys-boarding-school vibe of Westminster not to their tastes. But all of it feels so one-sided.
Bound up together in one volume, Everyday Sexism could have been an infinitely depressing read. And it was. However, the final chapter of it offered hope. I appreciated that it didn’t claim to define feminism, or denigrate women who aren’t seen as “real” feminists. It has opened a real dialogue. Laura Bates has received a lot of abuse about it, but she will not be shut up, and neither will the hundreds of women who have lent their voices to the book. Now other people will listen.