Women across the world will have a one in three chance of becoming the victim of rape or domestic violence. Rape and domestic violence are statistically more likely to occur to women aged fifteen to forty-four than cancer, car accidents, war, and malaria. A 2004 survey found that 87% of the girls asked were unhappy with their body shape.
Alarmingly, this is the world as we know it today. How could this be possible? I had been raised under the assumption that sexism was a thing of the past. And yet, the statistics tell a very different story. Something didn’t seem right. Or, as Laura Bates herself put it, “how, I wondered, was it possible for there to be so much evidence of the existence of sexism alongside so much protest to the contrary?” Had it not been for Laura Bates, I am doubtful that I would be aware of the levels of suffering endured by women. An ironic sentiment, considering that I myself am no stranger to some of the Everyday Sexism that Bates is bravely striving to eradicate.
For thousands of men and women all over the world, The Everyday Sexism Project has been an eye-opener. For men, it’s the realisation of what women face day-in and day-out. For women, it’s the relief that they are not alone in speaking out and telling their story, no matter how insignificant others have deemed it to be.
“The mass of tens of thousands of stories that we’ve collected does not represent a cluster of cowering victims,” said Bates of the project. “It is an outpouring of passion, borne of the frustration of being silenced for too long. And it is strong”. Her work not only reassures victims that they are by no means to blame for what has happened to them, but promotes sisterhood. There is a real beauty in watching other women reaching out to one another across the internet, though they may be total strangers, to show their support and to comfort. Yet, depressingly, I found that many of the stories shared by these women were vivid reflections of my own experiences as a young student.
I always feel like if I don’t look a certain way, if boys don’t think I’m ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ then I’ve failed and it doesn’t even matter if I am a doctor or writer, I still feel like nothing – Anonymous, 15 yrs.
There was a dawning realisation that I understood this fifteen-year-old girl’s plight exactly. Another woman spoke of being told that being groped/touched/having a man’s crotch rubbed against you unwantedly is a ‘normal part of university nightlife’. Again, something that I found disturbingly familiar. Each time I found an entry such as these, I was forcefully reminded of every instance where I had been the subject of sexualisation, grabbed and groped at, and catcalled and wolf-whistled at.
As if this wasn’t evidence enough to justify the existence of The Everyday Sexism Project, then the findings of a 1998 Zero Tolerance study puts the final nail in the coffin. It was found that one in two boys and one in three girls think that it is acceptable to hit a woman, or force her to have sex, underpinning the reason why Bates’ work has been so important. There are some who believe that the younger generation is more open-minded, and while this may be true in some respects, it appears to be a false assumption when it comes to sexism.
Bates notes that one seventeen-year-old claims that her male peers “have no proper understanding of what rape is. Some see it as a compliment. Some see it as just something they’re entitled to”.
In the book based on The Everyday Sexism Project, Bates slams society for the burden of objectification, a hefty weight on young women’s shoulders for too long, “When we introduce them to a world in which they’re seen as sexual prey and have a one in three chance of being raped or beaten, without stopping to question the status quo or trying to fix the culture that enables it to continue, we have already robbed them of their right to belong. And so we lose them”.
Had I not found The Everyday Sexism Project, I doubt that I would be the young woman that I am today. Never did it occur to me that I didn’t have to put up with catcalling and harassment. Never did I question that there might be something wrong with society and not something wrong with me.
References include The Everyday Sexism Project, TEDx, Chime for Change and The Guardian.
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