If you’re on Twitter, @EverydaySexism is an account you should be familiar with. With an accompanying hashtag, nearing one quarter of a million subscribers, an eponymous publication with endorsements from an array of feminist celebrities (hello, Emma Watson), Laura Bates is the face behind what is now a globally renowned campaign fighting gender inequality.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Everyday Sexism Project aims to shed light on the microcosmic battles being fought against sexism on a daily basis. The account retweets experiences from thousands of users across the globe, most of which are shockingly familiar. Most women, myself included, know what it’s like to be cat-called on the street, or groped in a busy bar or nightclub. It’s this level of sexism, the kind women are taught is “normal”, Laura Bates set out to tackle with the Everyday Sexism Project.
Stood in the Waterstones Sauchiehall Street bookstore, Bates shared her journey. From what was anticipated to be a small project with very little response, had instead turned into an overnight success leading to active campaigning within schools, to book deals, to signings in bookstores across the country.
Bates shared with the crowd some tidbits from ‘Girl Up’: a list of useful and humourous responses to give in response to a dick pic, and a colour-by-numbers picture of genitalia. She also shared with attendees tales of how she entered schools to teach gender equality and healthy sex and relationship education only to be met with wolf-whistling from a group of young boys. Stories were shared of young women who wrote to Bates from across the globe about the expectations laid upon them in their local communities. Girls had wrote to Bates about how peers would rank them out of 10 in the classroom, and how even teachers would be complacent in the ridiculing of young girls.
Stories were told of young girls who would state, matter-of-fact, ‘my uncle says girls can’t do maths because we make too many mistakes’. Bates recounted how one group of young girls had invited her to their school, and she had met them, arms linked, wearing T-shirts they had designed just for her.
And it’s this group of young girls that ‘Girl Up’ is really a testament to. It’s a book I wish I had when I was ‘a moody teenager’, and one I could have really used for the times I shut my mouth or dimmed my own light for fear of being too bold. It’s a book I think any parent should read: lighthearted, funny, it gives an honest insight into what it’s like growing up female in the 21st Century, dick-pics and all.
Unfortunately, the book is not without its limitations. One chapter discusses the unrealistic portrayal of women’s bodies only to use the same white, skinny, and abled body within an illustration. Although chosen at random, a thoughtfully chosen and intersectional illustration would have been more appropriate given the content of the chapter.
In the same chapter Bates also tells readers that bodies are healthiest if ‘we eat sensibly and do a good amount of exercise’: a statement which risks alienating less- or disabled youths reading the book, as well as the financially disadvantaged who perhaps cannot afford a change of diet. The book also has a tendency to fall back on the same binaried thinking it sets out to quash: its colour by number vulva and talk of menstruation and masturbation may put off intersex, transgender and/or asexual readers. One paragraph discussing safe methods to masturbate using electric shavers and vegetables may seem ill-advised to some.
However, with its own Sexist Klaxon, the book is one that seems aware of its limitations. And when asked, Bates told attendees that there were so many things she wishes she could add to the book but simply could not, joking that “a whole load about anal fisting had to come out”.
So if you’re looking for a book with intense feminist discourse, this isn’t the book for you. What the book offers instead, is an alternative. It’s a book about feminism without the inaccessible and pretentious language. It’s funny, familiar and a bit rude (who doesn’t want a book emblazoned with dancing vaginas? ). It empowers young girls by giving them resources and ideas about how to tackle the every day sexism they encounter, and for that, you can’t really fault it.
So whether you’re looking to learn about feminism, have a teenage girl in your life, or are the teenage girl in your life: this book is definitely one for you.