Everyday Sexism: What’s the big deal?
Since starting the Everyday Sexism Project to document women’s day-to-day experiences of niggling, normalised sexism, I’ve heard questions like ‘what’s the big deal’? What does it matter if a guy makes a comment on your looks in the street? Is it really such a huge issue if somebody assumes your male colleague is your boss? Why are you making such a fuss about a billboard?
It’s understandable that these things might seem minor. But they are just part of the inestimable weight of other ‘minor’ incidents which build up day by day, little by little, creating an overwhelming and frustrating sense of prejudice and powerlessness. And for women around the world, they are also inseparable from wider gender imbalance, which affects women professionally, politically, socially and economically. These incidents are often invisible to those who don’t experience them, making it difficult adequately to convey the sheer scale of the problem.
One account posted to our website reads: “I had my skirt pulled up numerous times in high school, I was flashed twice on my route home, I was groped between my legs in a club, and had a man masturbate whilst telling me he wanted to suck on my tits in the street in broad daylight…I consider myself lucky, relatively.”
If I could answer all the people who ask why it matters – what the big deal is, I’d ask them to remember a time when they asked a woman that question – perhaps at the end of the day, when she told them she’d been shouted at in the street on the way home. Maybe they made light of it with a joke; told her to take it as a compliment, not to overreact. Then I’d tell them the story of her day.
“Walking to work this morning I had one white van honk their horn, another car of young men shout that I would ‘get it’, whistled at by the building site next to my work and… asked if I was gay. Oh and all of this was before 09:15am.” At work, “International visitors from company’s head office came for a meeting at which I, the only female in management, had to report. I walked in with my report and they asked for coffee, white with two sugars.” “I put forth an idea that was shot down. 10 minutes later the same idea was presented by a male colleague and accepted.” Later, “I spoke at a board meeting and was told to run along and powder my nose.” “I went out to get my lunch and a homeless guy screamed “NICE TITTIES” at me from across the street.” In the afternoon, I had a “meeting with male boss in [a] very small office. [He] repeatedly called me an “attractive asset” whilst looking at my (covered) chest.” I was hoping for a promotion, but “was told…that I would never make a brilliant originator…because I could never take my clients to strip clubs.” “Leaving work, I feel awkward about going for a drink because when in a bar, I am always too conscious of men looking at my breasts.” “On the sides of the buses that pass me and on billboards I see constant and inescapable evidence of what society wants me to be – a thin, flawless beauty with perfect makeup and long, slender legs, not wearing very much”. A “man in [a] passing car shouted ‘hey sexy’ and blew kisses at me.” When I protested, “’You alright dahlin?” quickly turned to “You’re a bitch. Why do you gotta be like that? Come on.’”
These experiences, all taken from our site, are genuine, real-life examples of what women put up with on a daily basis. Eleven women will recognise their own words in this account. But thousands will recognise their experiences. It is little exaggeration to string them together like this; as one entry explains “I don’t experience street harassment everyday. Some days I don’t leave the house.”
And suddenly, in context, that joke doesn’t seem quite so funny anymore; her ‘overreaction’ seems pretty restrained. Maybe it’s becoming clear why it didn’t feel like much of a compliment.
Now put it into the wider context – zoom out one step more. Because when those men in the street become so publically aggressive and threatening, maybe she’s reminded of the 80,000 or more women who are raped every year in the UK, or that on average two women per week die as a result of domestic violence. When she’s overlooked at work, perhaps she remembers that women hold less than a third of top jobs in the UK, and earn around 10% less for equivalent positions, or that they’re not expected to achieve wage parity for another 97 years. When she hopes for legal advances to support her when she is harassed in the street, she might remind herself that men outnumber women by four to one in the UK Parliament, or that only 13.2% of our most senior judges are women.
And that’s why it matters. Because these ‘tiny’ incidents don’t only build to a numbing, oppressive, overwhelming statement of how society views and values you as a woman. They are also a daily reminder of the inequality women around the world face and will continue to face on a daily basis, until we begin to tackle the large issues and the small. And that is why it’s such a big deal.Tagged in: Everyday Sexism Project, feminism, gender, sexism, women's rights
Recent Posts on Notebook
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter