Laura Bates started the Everyday Sexism Project last year as a forum to allow women to speak about the sadly quotidian experience of sexism. Her hope was to give a few hundred women — if she was lucky — a safe space to share their experiences, free from marginalization or any social pressure to remain silent. A year later, the project has attracted 25,000 entries, garnered significant media attention, and spread to 15 countries; it's also received some particularly distressing hate mail. This is a testament both to the necessity of movements like the Everyday Sexism Project and to how much feminists have yet to achieve.
In a piece published today in The Guardian, Bates recounts some of the more haunting stories she's shared in the past year:
A girl in Pakistan described hiding sexual abuse for the sake of "family honour". A woman in Brazil was harassed by three men who tried to drag her into their car when she ignored them. In Germany, a woman had her crotch and bottom groped so frequently she described it as "the norm". In Mexico, a university student was told by her professor: "Calladita te ves mas bonita" (you look prettier when you shut up). In Israel, a teacher with a master's degree who speaks six languages was told she "wasn't a good enough homemaker for my future husband". In France, a man exposed himself to 12- and 16-year-old sisters as they tried to picnic in a public park. On a bus in India, a woman was too afraid to report the man pressing his erect penis into her back.
As soul-crushing as all of these accounts are, the growth of the Everyday Sexism Project is inspiring — the project has grown so successful because of the support and dedication of women from all over the world who recognize the importance of empowering others to share their experiences. According to Bates, "every time the project was featured in the foreign press, I would receive emails from women in those countries asking if they could start a version of the project there because it was desperately needed." As a result, it has spread to the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Austria, and France, and each branch has local volunteers who moderate their own content.
However, as in accordance with (probably) one of the rules of the internet, nothing nice is allowed to exist without attracting a pack of anonymous maniacs hell-bent on destruction. As the project became more well known, Bates began to receive an influx of threats and vitriolic messages. One of the first read, "You experience sexism because women are inferior in every single way to men. The only reason you have been put on this planet is so we can fuck you... Please die." From there, the threats worsened. Some included graphic descriptions of torture, rape, and murder. The Everyday Sexism project doesn't have a radical political agenda, nor does it ever condemn men in general. It's simply a collection of true accounts written by women who have been harassed, abused, violated, or made to feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and unworthy by male-dominated society. In what fucked-up world does someone sharing an experience in which she felt victimized constitute an affront to anyone?
The everyday experience of sexism is just that: an everyday experience. Granting women a space to share their fears, frustrations, and traumas that result from misogynistic aggressions and micro-aggressions is immensely important because it helps to prevent them from internalizing sexism as part of their daily experience. The results of the project so far vindicate this line of thinking completely. In Bates' words:
Anyone who describes feminism as an in-fighting, back-biting movement has clearly never been as lucky as I was, at those lowest moments, to discover in it the strength and kindness, advice and support of so many other women and men.
Women and men alike gained the confidence to fight back from reading others' stories as well. Bates recounts the stories of a runner who, sick of catcalls, made her own "honk if you love feminism" shirt, of a football fan who wrote to the chairman of his club demanding a stop to misogynistic chants, and of countless women who found the strength to report harassment, stalking, and sexual assault to the police.
"The Everyday Sexism Project: a year of shouting back" [The Guardian]