This afternoon, I went for a walk. There’s some trees by my house with a path that runs through them to the main road. The road is paved but the trees are quite thick and its quite dark. I automatically went to high alert, put my phone away and put my keys in my balled up fist, just in case.
As I walked around my local area, three separate van drivers beeped their horns at me. The first time was a man laughing at me. The second time was three men making jeering noises. The third was a man staring intently.
On my way back to my house, I walked past a carpet shop. Three men were outside loading the van. They all stopped what they were doing to stare at me. One of them made a comment (I’m not sure what he said); the others laughed.
This was all in the space of an hour. It is absolutely typical of what happens to me every time I leave the house.
I know a lot of people don’t think that street harassment is a serious issue. I’m continually told that a wolf whistle or someone beeping their horn at me is a compliment. I’m told that men telling me to “cheer up love” are just being friendly. I’m told that men grabbing my bum, slapping me on the arse or just having a quick grope on a night out is “just a joke” or that its OK because the person doing it was drunk. If I complain, I’m told to lighten up, to stop being a feminazi, to understand that it was done as a bit of a laugh.
Frankly, I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of being expected to play along. I’m tired of being intimidated. I’m tired of people making excuses to shift the blame to me – I’m wearing makeup, I’m wearing a skirt, men can’t help themselves. I’m tired of policing my own behaviour – I can’t walk through those trees, I can’t go into a pub on my own, I can’t talk to a man without it seeming like I was flirting, like I was leading him on, so what did I expect when he pinned me against the wall and tried to ram his tongue down my throat?
Until fairly recently, I’d felt completely powerless to stop men from treating me like this (I know it’s not all men, but a woman has never harassed or sexually assaulted me – despite being friends with lots of gay and bisexual women and often going to gay clubs when I was a student). The problem is partly that harassment of women is so commonplace that an isolated incident is never going to seem that serious. But that’s the thing – it’s never just one isolated incident. Its the repeated comments, the constant judgement, the myriad ways in which society tells us, over and over, that women are to blame for their treatment by men.
So thank god for Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism project. By asking people (not just women) to tell her about their experiences with low level harassment, sexism and intimidation she’s managed to shine a light on what many of us have struggled to put into words – how persistent, low level sexism not only affects every single woman I know (and a decent proportion of men) but how the frequency and scale of the issue forms a foundation for sexism to pervade every echelon of our society.
Misogynation is a collection of Bates’ Guardian articles that were based on the thousands of personal testimonials received by the Everyday Sexism Project website. Bates has taken some of the main themes (street harassment, stereotyping, being patronised, gender pay etc.) and investigated further, pulling in some extrodinary facts and figures to back up her claims. Despite the seriousness of her work, she’s made the book really lighthearted, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek comments and ironic metaphors. I thought that this worked really well to get the message across whilst remaining engaging and accessible.
I’m not sure how Bates/her editor/the publishers decided on the order of the essays but I did feel that they were a bit all over the place. It would have been nice to see them grouped by topic (although I did find there was quite a lot of repetition) – perhaps the book would have worked better if the essays had been amalgamated or summarised by topic into individual chapters? Although this would have involved actually writing a book and not just re-publishing articles that have already been put into print (something that always feels to me like a bit of a cop out).
I did like the fact that because the essays were short you could dip in and out of the book – it’s an easy one to read if you’ve got another book on the go. I found that despite how hilarious it was, the facts and figures (along with some of the comments which showed the general attitude to what she was writing) could quickly get depressing so it’s great that you can read it in tiny chunks without losing your way. Some of the best parts were the clapbacks to sexist behaviour that people had sent in on twitter – one girl loudly narrated how a man was trying to feel her up on the tube, one girl, when asked if she was on her period replied that if she had to bleed every time she found someone annoying she’d be anaemic by now, and my favourite -a woman who was loudly harassed by builders from a rooftop who, after asking them to stop and receiving a barrage of nasty threats simply took their ladder away.
I also loved the element of hive mind support – there were many examples of other people offering practical solutions to problems that others had written in about. I personally felt far less alone in my experiences and more supported in speaking out against misogyny.
Overall, I thought that Misogynation was a good, empowering read that really opens your eyes to all of the low level, unreported behaviour which goes on every day. The fact that every story is real and is backed up by hundreds of others all saying the same thing really adds weight to all of Bates’ arguments. The content of the book could have been better defined but I loved the humour, ingenuity and resilience shown by the contributors. I thought it was a great way to showcase an issue that’s so often brushed off or minimised by society.
Rating: 3.75 burnt bras out of five (incidentally, did you know that feminists burning their bras is a myth? Thanks, patriarchy!)
Empowering, eye opening and often hilarious but with a serious message that comes across beautifully.
Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!