Everyday Sexism: It isn’t restricted to adults – even young girls in school uniform share their experiences
Today I received a message on Twitter. It read “Problem with @EverydaySexism is that for me to add to it would take all day. Could do a timeline from birth – now!” It reminded me of many similar entries posted to our website, and of an email I recently received, which started “I’m 58 so I have too much to say in a small box. Here are some highlights arranged in decades.”
There is a common misconception that sexism is something that only affects young women, or pretty women, women with large breasts or blondes. I’ve often heard these stereotypes mentioned by those who dismiss sexist experiences as ‘a compliment’ and the misconception is also used to blame victims: ‘she must have been wearing a short skirt’, or ‘she was probably asking for it’. But the experiences hundreds of women post to our site every day prove beyond doubt that sexism is endemic; that it affects women old and young, able bodied and disabled, regardless of race, sexuality, profession, and appearance.
Take, for example, the teenager who wrote this week to tell us that everyday sexism is when your dad tells your eight year old sister that “women aren’t important”, or the woman who wrote that “as a female wheelchair user, I’ve been getting “jokes” about women drivers since I was seven or so.”
The myth that only women who are in their twenties, beautiful or ‘asking for it’ experience sexism was well and truly shattered a few weeks ago when I received a post saying “The most harassment I ever got was while wearing my school uniform. I was 13.” Shocked, I posted a tweet asking whether harassment of schoolgirls was a common problem. Within minutes I was inundated with responses, both via Twitter and on the project website. The stories poured in, so numerous they began to blur into one.
“Flashed at by an old man masturbating, when I walked past and ignored him he shouted ‘Do you fucking want it’. I was eleven and in school uniform. Ran away, very frightening”.
““I was 10, walking home from school, two older boys said ’show us your tits’. I went home, cried, and thought of all the things I should have said…I changed my route home for the rest of school”.
“I am only just a teenager and it’s horrifying, especially when it involves grown men honking at me in the street…even when I’m in my school uniform things like that happen. It’s utterly embarrassing, and makes me fearful of things such as rape.”
That last entry really hit home; this girl was still a child, barely 13 and already society was teaching her that as a woman, she should be afraid. It showed so clearly that the message sent by the normalised, prevalent street harassment in our society is that women are there for men to treat as they wish, without fear of repercussions; that it is the victims who should be afraid.
The overwhelming evidence from our project is that the victims of sexism are far, far more diverse than people might realise. Like ‘Reverend Anon’, the Church of England priest who wrote in despair that “All year I’ve had to endure discussions about whether women can be bishops. I’ve even heard the question of whether a bishop who has ordained a woman is tainted as a result, and can never minister to those souls who don’t approve of women priests. My ministry is called into question on a daily basis…It breaks my heart”. One lady wrote to describe how “Soon after being widowed some of my late husband’s friends demanded sex, saying I must be desperate for it with my man gone”, whilst another reported “so so many comments about women drivers” whilst “driving my mobility scooter”.
A woman who wrote to tell us that whilst having a cervical scan during pregnancy, the male gynaecologist commented “ooh you’re very tight aren’t you”, then winked and laughed.
We also receive hundreds of reports from situations where you might not expect sexism to rear its ugly head, like the anonymous report we received of a “Global leader saying to a female colleague who was doing some filing that ‘he liked a woman on her knees’”, the woman who wrote that “as a student nurse my mentor used to grope my leg when we were in his car on placements, said if I complained he’d fail me”, or the woman who wrote to tell us that whilst having a cervical scan during pregnancy “the male gynaecologist commented ‘ooh you’re very tight aren’t you’…then winked and laughed.” Or even the multiple stories we’ve received of teachers experiencing sexism from their own students: one reported how a girl in her secondary school class told her “male teachers automatically have my respect but female teachers have to earn it.”
If the collective voice created by these stories teaches us anything it must surely be the realisation that it is not a young voice or an attractive voice, not provocatively dressed or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is the voice of a woman – every woman – old and young, married and single; anywhere, anytime. For as long as we continue to perpetuate the assumption that sexism affects a particular ‘type’ of woman, we will continue to focus on the victims rather than the problem. And the sheer range of women who have testified through our project proves that sexism is far too ubiquitous to be ‘asked for’ or ‘attracted’ by some women and not others. Sexism is neither selective, nor deserved. It affects us all.Tagged in: children, Everyday Sexism, feminism, School uniform, sexism, stereotype, street harassment, women
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