The UN needs reform. Madeleine Albright

These things just happen

Why Laura Bates should have been “Person of the Year” 2014.

The Everyday Sexism project garnered over 50,000 contributions within 18 months of going live. Now in its second year it has chapters in 18 countries and another for displaced persons. The twitter feed has over 186,000 followers and its founder was named in the top 10 “Game changers” by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour earlier this year.

My person of the year is Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.

Sexism seemed a thing of the past

Set up in April 2012, the project collects contributions from women around the world cataloguing sexist behaviour ranging from cat calling to sexual assault. Women can post their stories either through the website or via the Twitter feed (anonymously if they prefer).

Bates started the project after a particularly sexist week. It occurred to her that had these instances not happened so close to each other she would have shrugged them off. Because these things just happen, right? Unfortunately, yes. All of the time.

Which is why the Everyday Sexism project is both so successful and needed.

“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.”

The quote above gets to the heart of why I think this project is so important and why Laura Bates deserves our gratitude. As a white, middle class, male metropolitan liberal, sexism seemed a thing of the past. The battle had been won. Yes, there was a generational lag but once the old duffers at the top retired or died off then my generation could sweep into equal pay and boardrooms safe in the knowledge that things were now as they should be.

After spending only a short amount of time on the website you realise how pervasive sexist behaviour still is in our society. Taken as a whole the project lays bare a pattern of behaviour that is unequivocal. The weight of evidence is undeniable. This isn’t one person who had had too much to drink, or any of the other myriad of excuses given by people who find it easier to blame the victim than tackle the problem.

Mass participation activism at its finest

The first step in Alcohol Anonymous’ programme is to admit you have a problem. This is exactly what this project can help achieve, recognition that as a society we are still sexist.

“You can’t dismiss 50,000 people who are all experiencing the same thing,” Bates told the “Daily Telegraph”.

The project is mass participation activism at its finest. There is no agenda, no bra burning or man hating, it gives a voice to those who suffer and gives them the power of mass participation. Neither is it a tool for accusations, there are no names or dates or named locations on the feed. The goal isn’t vigilantism, it’s about solidarity. It’s a safe place for women, but it’s also a safe place for men. When looking at the website, I don’t feel like an intruder, like I’m part of the problem. Actually the opposite, I feel like I can be part of the solution. Because when you read the entries you begin spotting your own. In advertising, in figures of speech, or in the domination of male characters in fiction (see the Bechdel test). And you can begin calling them out for what they are.

When she first started the project, Bates has said she expected to gather the stories of maybe 100 women. As the project has expanded she has admitted she has been taken aback by the amount of hate directed at her. Her recent wedding –alongside the usual ushers, champagne and cake – featured a heavy security presence.

Yet she has continued, and the project has thrived. In her various articles and radio appearances, Bates has tackled fresher’s week, Christmas drinking, and the media. She has done so without descending into academic or abstract notions. She talks simply, drawing on the extensive database of a real life experiences posted to her daily. Nor has she fallen foul of becoming a celebrity campaigner for whom too often the ego becomes bigger than the project.

Jeremy Wales once said of his own mass participation project that when historians look back on the early days of the internet Wikipedia can be something of which our generation can be proud.

In my opinion Everyday Sexism deserves a similar accolade.

Helping move feminism forward

Laura Bates didn’t start feminism, nor has the need for it ended. But she has played her part in its illustrious history and helped move it forward, using the tools of the day to reach a truly impressive number of women, and men, around the world.

So here’s to Laura Bates. Hopefully by the time we invent the next global communication medium, there won’t be a need to start such a project.

Read more in this debate: Carolin Dylla, Julia Korbik.

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