Last Thursday saw the publication of Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism book. You can read our Q&A with Laura here. Today, Feminist Times Founder Member Lee Chalmers shares her review of the book.
I’m sure I was not alone in waiting for Laura’s book to come out, being a massive fan of the project online. In some ways Everyday Sexism is what you would expect – a thorough examination of the themes that have arisen from the project’s entries over the last 2 years, split down into societal areas, fully researched and rich. There have been a rash of informative books recently focusing on themed gender stats, which I’ve started with great hope only to finish with a slightly deflated sense of impotence. Was Laura’s book going to be the same?
In my optimistic feminist youth I believed that once people became aware of the numbers – the horrifying truth of the rape rate, the pay gap, the crushing lack of female representation – things would change as we pulled together to achieve the equality that was so obviously morally required. Now I’m in my 40s and I hold a different story to be true: stats alone will not lead to equality. What seems a self-evident truth to me, from my perspective as a woman suffering from the effects of gender inequality, barely interests someone who does not suffer from it.
These people (most men) frankly don’t care about the pain of gender inequality and really can’t be bothered changing their behaviour in any way. Let’s face it, it’s the same with race equality for (most) white people, or class inequality for wealthy people, and so on. People are broadly motivated by what matters to them and them alone.
What I found in Laura’s book though was something more powerful and ultimately more useful to those of us pushing for a societal shift in how women are treated. Laura calmly and clearly draws the links between the myriad experiences of sexism women have reported to her. She answers the interlocutor’s persistent refrain: “can you show me the link between page 3 and assault?” or “prove to me that porn is linked with rape?” or “but what about the Diet Coke advert?!”
She does this by stepping back, by illuminating the systemic sexism that runs through society, providing us with the ammunition we need – one consistent argument that draws the picture for all to see. You can’t get to the end of this book and not be fully aware of the negative impact a society structured around increasingly narrow gender roles has on women AND men. And that is what I love so much about the Everyday Sexism Project and this book; this is not solely a ‘make the men wrong’ approach (though there needs to be some of that!) It’s an argument that points out the damage to all of us whilst leaving room for people to change and to become allies. That is crucial. Gender is a system that involves men and if we want change for women it means change for men too. I think we are seeing what happens when they start to realise that and fight back.
It’s once Laura gets to Chapter 11 that the power builds and her calm tone starts to give way to a fully justified anger: “Women are being raped, assaulted and murdered every day, but for heavens sake let’s not upset anybody by worrying too much about what might be contributing to it in an ‘indirect’ way…. We don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable.” Right on sister. More of this please. “Enough is enough”. Yes, it is enough, it really is.
On the recent rise of feminism she says that the storm is just starting, that we haven’t seen the peak of what internet feminism has to offer, that the links drawn between instances of sexism are like the links being drawn between women all around the world through online participation. We are forming a movement here, make no mistake, and we are pissed off. This angry Laura Bates is powerful and inspiring and, though I’m sure she wouldn’t want the role, could lead feminists into the future.
Read this book. Buy this book for your family, your partner, your work mates, your children. Post about it on every social network you belong to. This is an important work and if I had my way would be compulsory school reading across the globe.
Lee Chalmers is a gender campaigner and freelance leadership consultant/trainer. She works on Executive Education faculty at London Business School, is finishing an MSc in Gender at the LSE and is Vice-Chair of The Fawcett Society. She is also a Founder Member of Feminist Times. Follow her @LeeChalmers
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