When it comes to reading, I’m not known for my perseverance. Case in point – I opened up Stuart Laycock’s “All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded” with great intentions of bettering myself (and lessening my ignorance) and didn’t make it past the introduction.I like to think the problem was more to do with Laycock’s bizarre need to apologise for the book he’d written, rather than my lack of commitment…
Everyday Sexism was no different, my first attempt lasted the first chapter and a half – but not for the usual reason. It was because the words were making my heart heavy. After the second try, I realised that’s what this book is supposed to do – make our hearts heavy in sharing the experiences of millions of women across the globe.
The magic in Laura Bates’ work is that it’s not really hers. Bates acts as the curator, custodian and commentator, but it’s the testimonials that make the book live and breathe. Every page is peppered with tweets and entries to the project website; and while the repetitiveness of some of Bates’ commentary was often unnecessary, the repetitiveness of the entries only served to hammer home the message – this is every day.
My sticking point came in one of the later chapters – ‘What About Men?’. In it, Bates stresses the amount of men who have been supportive of the Everyday Sexism Project, and the many messages of alarm that she received from men who had been genuinely unaware and horrified upon discovery of the entries. So far, so good.
Bates then moves on to discuss the impact of sexism on men – a light touch, followed up by an extensive comparison of why sexism against women is worse than that experienced by men. It was this section that made my heart heavier still, throwing my hands up in frustration – why make the comparison?
There is a strand of feminism that believes that sexism against men doesn’t really exist. That acts we would consider as sexist if a woman was the victim are either not sexist at all if committed against a man, or are in fact justified – hey if we have to put up with it, why shouldn’t you?
Therein lies the problem – isn’t that justifying hypocrisy? To be fair to Bates, she emphasises that sexism against men is no less awful in the impact on the victim, but the sheer length of text she then dedicates to the comparison suggests otherwise. Just because there are statistically less occurences, can we conclude that therefore it’s less of a problem? That we can put this on pause until the odds are more evenly stacked? We see that 1 in 3 women will be victims of domestic or sexual abuse in their lifetime because of these insidious, latent beliefs that women are inferior; but then suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35, because stereotypes of masculinity dictate that dealing openly with mental illness is synonymous with weakness – so I ask again, why compare?
Consider, a lot of the sexist female stereotypes come with a male equivalent. While I should be labouring in the kitchen over a hot stove, my boyfriend should be down the pub with his equally lout-ish friends slurping beer and bemoaning the trials and tribulations of the ‘ball and chain’.
Reality check – Boyf is slaving away over a casserole while listening to a football podcast while I catch up on Grey’s Anatomy over a cider. The stereotypes are both inaccurate, and insulting to both of us.
The Everyday Sexism Project is an incredible piece of work that I urge everyone to read, regardless of your gender. It is a horrifying, torturously true picture of how bad the situation is. It also shows that feminism is finally evolving, finally recognising that men can be our allies as often as our oppressors – but there’s so much more to do. We all need to be shaken out of our blissful illusion that feminism is no longer required, but let’s not pull a new wool over our eyes in thinking that sexism towards men isn’t an issue. If equality is the goal, let’s not step on our brothers to get there.