The Everyday Sexism Project is a website that catalogues incidences of harassment and sexism. It gives women a space in which to talk about how sexism affects them in their everyday lives and it gives other women reading a sense of solidarity – to see that they are not imagining things, that it’s not just them, that it’s not their fault.
Stories shared on the site range from women experiencing catcalling in the street, to outright physical abuse and the stories come from across the world, though the project has a UK focus. In their own words, the aims of the project are
… to take a step towards gender equality, by proving wrong those who tell women that they can’t complain because we are equal. It is a place to record stories of sexism faced on a daily basis, by ordinary women, in ordinary places. To show that sexism exists in abundance in the UK workplace and that it is very far from being a problem we no longer need to discuss. To provoke responses so numerous and wide-ranging that the problem becomes impossible to ignore. To report the way you have been treated, even if it has not been taken seriously elsewhere. To stand up and say ‘this isn’t right’, even if it isn’t big or outrageous or shocking. Even if you’ve got used to thinking that it is ‘just the way things are’.
The project also signposts users to sources of help and support, both in the UK and internationally.
Despite having received over 50,000 entries since the project began however, it has also met with some opposition. Many of the criticisms fall into similar categories.
“Why are they making such a fuss, it’s only a joke?”
Critics point out that the 50,000 entries cover stories as diverse as ill-judged “jokes” to illegal, violent acts. This ignores the purpose of the site. It was not designed to be a log of serious misdemeanours of a level that could be passed to outside authorities. It’s not called “The Everyday Serious Sexual Assault Project.” It exists to allow women to share examples of sexism, which is something that can take many forms. And protesting that “those women can’t take a joke” ignores that:
a) people don’t always understand that something is intended to be a joke – you only have to look at the number of flame wars in email and forums to know that
b) even if you personally find something funny, does that give you the right to impose your humour on others to the point that they feel threatened or unsafe?
“If you complain about these insignificant things, how can you expect us to believe you/pay attention about the big things?”
This objection has surfaced a lot in the past few weeks due to a number of celebrities who have recently undergone trial for offences. Some people have claimed that those who make a complaint about things like a hand on the knee or a “friendly pat” are making a mountain out of a molehill and discrediting those who have experienced “genuine” assaults in the process.
Who gets to decide what a “genuine” assault is? Does it work on some kind of points system, like means testing or Work Capability Assessments and that you have to suffer a certain level of distress before you’re permitted to mention that, actually, that’s not acceptable behaviour? Wouldn’t it just be simpler to keep your hands to yourself and avoid touching other people unless you have permission?
I also believe these kinds of arguments put women in an impossible position. On the one hand we’re portrayed as harridans and humourless feminazis if we complain about a pat on the back that lands a bit too low. We’re told to just deal with it if we occasionally feel hands wandering where they shouldn’t on public transport. But then if a woman is seriously assaulted or raped and the case goes to court, the woman is challenged on whether she permitted any sort of contact. In the case of the majority of attacks, where the attacker is known to the victim, she will be asked why she let him do this or why did she put up with that and not speak up at the time. Whichever option we choose, we’re in the wrong, apparently.
“Yeah, but how can we believe them anyway?”
There are 2 issues with this. Firstly, when someone tells you something, do you always automatically distrust them? If you get to the bus stop and someone says they had a text from their friend further up the stops saying the bus is late, do you demand to see the text and then question the bus driver when he arrives about the veracity of the bus passenger’s statement? We don’t know if all the stories are true, but neither should we approach the project from the point of view that everyone is lying until it is proven otherwise.
Secondly, isn’t it kind of arrogant to assume that the women posting their stories need you personally to believe them? The purpose of the site is to give women a safe space to share their experiences, not to undertake trial by random internet passerby. Is it really that important to you to deny any solidarity they might gain by knowing that they are not alone?
However much people might like to try to convince themselves that Everyday Sexism is entirely made up of feminazi tin-hatted conspiracy theorists on a secret mission to replace modern life with a hormone-fuelled matriarchy, the truth is that we already know that sexism and violence against women exists and is under reported. Shouldn’t we be celebrating something that helps give women the confidence to speak up about their experiences?