Two years after starting the Everyday Sexism Project, Laura Bates has finally published a book designed to provide a “ground-breaking, anecdotal examination of sexism in modern day society”. We asked the multi-talented author and campaigner about some of the issues that Everyday Sexism covers, plus what we can expect next from the project itself…
Sexism in schools seems to be becoming normalised. How can we educate children about equality?
I think the first absolutely vital thing is to get issues like consent, healthy relationships and porn on the curriculum. Yes it’s really distressing to hear about the extent and severity of the issues young people are facing, but it’s also something that could be very pragmatically offset with thorough and comprehensive support in the classroom to help them navigate this territory. We hear from SO many young people who write in to the project about their fears and confusion around these issues and at the moment there just isn’t information there to help them process and understand. For example, one 13-year old girl wrote that she is so scared to have sex she cries nearly every night… because boys at school have shown her videos of porn on mobile phones and she says she didn’t realize that when you have sex the woman has to be crying and hurting. If they see that kind of content online and don’t have somebody in the classroom explaining the difference between porn and sex, and talking about healthy relationships and consent, you can understand how young people are coming away with some very confused and worrying ideas about sex and gender roles.
How do you think social media has changed modern feminism and attitudes towards it?
I think it has been a double-edged sword! On the one hand, social media has been really vital to projects like ours and it has allowed the feminist movement to gather pace and attention in recent years, enabling us to stand alongside women in different countries in advocating for gender equality, and letting people around the world find and join the movement, where previously they may have been isolated. For example, we hear from young girls at schools where they are told to ‘get back in the kitchen’ when they raise their hand in class – and they had no idea they had the right to fight back, until they found us online. Knowing that you’re not alone gives you so much strength and support. On the other hand, vitriolic attitudes towards modern feminism (and feminists) are able to find their targets much more easily thanks to social media and the internet, which means that I have to contend with hundreds of incredibly explicit and abusive messages about how people would like to rape or kill me, with what weapons, and in what order.
What’s the next step for Everyday Sexism?
We have already expanded into 20 countries worldwide but there are many more in the pipeline, so that will be a major focus. We also want to continue our work with schools and universities, as we passionately believe that supporting and encouraging the next generation to tackle gender inequality is a vital route to change. And in the near future we will be launching a major new campaign focussing on sexual abuse experienced by teenagers and young people.