On International Women’s Day and everyday feminism

As you’ll probably know unless you live under a rock, yesterday was International Women’s Day. Yesterday, I also finished reading the book Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates for the second time (totally coincidental, I didn’t plan that timing). The book got me thinking about my own life and why I support IWD.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Everyday Sexism is based on the Everyday Sexism Project, started by British writer Laura Bates in 2012, which catalogues instances of sexist behaviour experienced everyday. On the website, this means that people can write in to submit an experience – from catcalling on the street to being sexually harrassed at work, being asked to make coffee at meetings, discrimination when pregnant and problems at university. The book is astonishingly well-structured given that the project has literally tens of thousands of uncategorised entries, with each chapter covering a particular topic: girls growing up, girls in education, women in the workplace, etc. While the majority of the content is submissions to the project, these are bound together by anecdotes from Bates’ own life and research for the project, as well as interviews from experts or workers in the field, and backed up by statistics from various authorities. It’s pretty tough reading – particularly towards the end where there are some horrific statistics and stories of sexual assault and rape – but does end on a positive note, highlighting the growing feminist movement which has gained new momentum through social media. That movement, of course, has only grown in three years since the book was published.

Anyway, reading this book, discussing the topic in Dutch class and generally reading the overwhelming amount of women-related stories which are published on March 8 got me thinking about how lucky I personally am to have been surrounded by positive images of women and relatively sheltered from sexism during my life. My brother and I grew up equal, and our parents expected us both to help around the house. I played sport from a young age as well as learning music (as did my brother). I went to a girls’ school where we were taught that girls could, and should, study anything they want to be, before studying languages in a female-dominated faculty. The women of my family are strong and passionate about what they believe in, and my friends are a diverse and supportive bunch of women. Being gay has probably helped, too – you can’t fall back into gendered stereotypes in a same-sex relationship, someone has to hang up the frames!

So I’ve avoided a lot of the everyday sexism – though through no virtue of my own. Of course I have also led a very privileged life, both socioeconomically and culturally (I’ve never faced serious discrimination or consequences for being gay, for example). But recognising that makes me even more grateful, and even more supportive of International Women’s Day (and feminism in general). To say that it’s only necessary for developing countries, for ‘other places’, overlooks the insidious everyday consequences of sexism on our whole society. And if you’re not convinced, check out the project above or its Twitter account. I promise, it’ll convert you.

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