Two weeks ago, I shared a post about the #FBrape Campaign, a social media-driven protest against gender-based hate speech and sexually abusive material on Facebook. With Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism leading the charge, thousands of tweets and e-mails of protest entered cyberspace. You can read more about the campaign and its success here.
Last week, I shared a post highlighting the Everyday Sexism Project. For those who missed that particular post and are unfamiliar with this brilliant project, here’s its purpose statement:
The Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis.
They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest. Say as much or as little as you like, use your real name or a pseudonym – it’s up to you.
By sharing your story you’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss.
Tweets, e-mails, and posts from around the world bombard the sight daily as people share their experiences of sexism, harassment, assault, and abuse. You can read the countless stories, add your own voice, or donate to the cause here. You can also follow the project on Twitter at @everydaysexism.
Now I want to share with you a fantastic video from Everyday Sexism. The film (also linked above) was coordinated as an effort to raise awareness of the seriousness of sexism and allow women’s voices to be heard.
Laura Bates talks about what compelled her to start the project as well as the challenges and rewards she has experienced because of her work. With Laura, several other women share their own stories.
It is an empowering, courageous, and beautifully crafted film. At the same time, it is extremely sobering. Sexism is so commonplace in our world today, we often fail to even notice.
We’re told to just accept that men shout at us as we run or walk by. We assume it’s normal for the stranger on the bus to grope us, for society to blame the raped rather than the rapist.
Sexism is the accepted norm. But what is accepted and what is acceptable are two different things.
Harassment is unacceptable.
Assault is unacceptable.
The truth is sexual assault and harassment are everyday occurrences in most women’s lives. Whether it’s a group of men yelling at you while you’re running or a man putting his hands where they ought not to be, it can take years to overcome the pain, the shame, the confusion of what’s been done or said. What’s more, harassment starts young and is not limited to one gender.
Rape culture wants its victim to remain silent. It wants us to feel alone in our battle against sexism and abuse. Let this brief film encourage you. None of us are alone in this. Men, women, children; we have all experienced sexism in one form or another.
Sexism is not a male vs. female issue. Not all men contribute to sexism by harassing and assaulting women. Many are doing just the opposite. Many are standing up against the sexism they observe. In her piece The Men Who Help Fight Back Against Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates writes:
The fact is that battling gender inequality isn’t about men v women. It’s about people against prejudice. And we need everybody on our side. For some men, hearing feminist arguments from their male peers can be an incredibly powerful way of getting the message across – so we need those allies out there spreading the word. We are fighting for a cultural shift in our normalised attitudes and behaviours towards women, and that change can’t realistically be achieved without half the population on board. This is not a women’s issue, but a human rights issue.
Since starting the Everyday Sexism Project two years ago, I’ve heard from many men about their own unique, personal ways of standing up to sexism. One had written to the chairman of his football club to protest the violent misogyny inherent in the regular chants he heard at matches. Another, after reading the website and realising the serious impact street harassment has on many victims, chased after the next man he saw shouting at women in the street, tapped him on the shoulder, and asked him: “Why did you do that?”
One man wrote: “I am a 22-year-old male. I cannot stop reading this website … More and more I find myself calling out men when they make these comments. It isn’t easy, and one instance will not change their behaviour. However, I think it does make a difference … Will encourage other men to stop this behaviour when they see it.” Another said: “I have been ridiculed many times for speaking up about it, but now I know I am not alone I will be speaking up a lot more.” In that spirit of solidarity, this week on Twitter we asked our followers to share their stories of men standing up against sexism, to celebrate them, and more importantly to encourage others to do the same.
Some people suggested that it was wrong to celebrate instances of men standing up to sexism, when this should be the bare minimum of what we expect. But while I agree that simply not being sexist should absolutely be the norm, the act of taking a public stand against discrimination, of loudly calling it out, of challenging your peers, or stepping in when witnessing public harassment, is not always easy and deserves to be celebrated just as we celebrate women who stand up to discrimination. Yes, some of these actions are minor, but the whole point of Everyday Sexism is that much of what we are fighting is apparently “minor” – it is insidious and ingrained, and the smallest acts can start the vital shift we need to combat it. Just as the mosaic of Everyday Sexism is made up of tiny pinpricks, so too the solution can consist of joining the tiniest of dots. And though, as feminist activists, we think about these things all the time and it is easy to become frustrated when others are slower to react, for many people even the very act of becoming aware of gender inequality can be a major paradigm shift, let alone beginning to take steps towards combating it.
If we are to be pragmatic about creating the real change we want to see, we should encourage these actions. Take the high school teacher who spent a class explaining some of the vital facts underlying gender inequality to his students. Yes, this might seem a relatively simple act but if every teacher did the same thing, it would be an enormous step in the right direction.