Title: “Everyday Sexism”
Author: Laura Bates
Pages (paperback): 416 pages
Original Publishing Date: 1 May 2014
Synopsis (from the hardcover’s Goodreads page):
“Women are standing up and #shoutingback. In a culture that’s driven by social media, for the first time women are using this online space (@EverydaySexism http://www.everydaysexism.com) to come together, share their stories and encourage a new generation to recognise the problems that women face. This book is a call to arms in a new wave of feminism and it proves sexism is endemic – socially, politically and economically. But women won’t stand for it. The Everyday Sexism Project is grounded in reality; packed with substance, validity and integrity it shows that women will no longer tolerate a society that ignores the dangers and endless effects of sexism.
“In 2012 after being sexually harassed on London public transport Laura Bates, a young journalist, started a project called Everyday Sexism to collect stories for a piece she was writing on the issue. Astounded by the response she received and the wide range of stories that came pouring in from all over the world, she quickly realised that the situation was far worse than she’d initially thought. Enough was enough. From being leered at and wolf-whistled on the street, to aggravation in the work place and serious sexual assault, it was clear that sexism had been normalised. Bates decided it was time for change.
“This bold, jaunty and ultimately intelligent book is the first to give a collective online voice to the protest against sexism. This game changing book is a juggernaut of stories, often shocking, sometimes amusing and always poignant – it is a must read for every inquisitive, no-nonsense modern woman.”
Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:
- sexual harassment and assault
- domestic violence
- eating disorders
Representation in the novel:
Ultimately, I expected more from this book, even though, looking back, I probably shouldn’t have.
Most of the book is actually pretty good in regards to the basics of sexism and feminism. There was the basics of how media and society’s culture overall have an effect on individuals’ perceptions and behaviors. Then, of course, the overly simplistic definitions of sexism (“treating someone differently or discriminating against them because of their sex”) and feminism (“equality for all regardless of sex”). If you’re looking for a deep analysis on the complexities of feminism, sexism, and the different axises of oppression, this book probably isn’t for you.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. Bates did spend time talking about how sexism is different for all women depending on what other identities they have. She even talked about the different models of disability (medical and social). I definitely wasn’t expecting that. And I will give credit: I enjoyed both (most of) Bates’ commentary and the different tweets and submissions that were directed toward the Everyday Sexism project, along with the quotes from interviews.
But, overall, the book fell short with me. I have three main reasons for that.
The first: throughout the book, there is a huge amount of cissexism and cisnormativity. There is an entire chapter on motherhood, and while I understand that cis women go through shit when they’re pregnant or have children or want an abortion, nothing is said about any other person that has the ability to become pregnant. Nothing is said about how not all women are able to get pregnant (outside of infertile women, who are assumingly still cis). Nope, it’s all just “women” this and “women” that. Bates also says something about how the notion that women are only good for child rearing is biological essentialist, which is ironic considering assuming all women can become pregnant and that no one else that experience is also biological essentialist. And, to me (as a cis woman, so take this with a grain of salt), it wouldn’t be so bad if Bates made a note of this. If instead of just “woman” it was “cis woman,” or if half the chapter was dedicated to other people who weren’t women that could get pregnant and the oppression they face from being pregnant. But nope.
My second reason is a bit connected to the first. It has to deal with how Bates writes about women of differing marginalized identities. There’s one chapter devoted to them, “Double Discrimination.” It makes me laugh because within the first few pages, Bates states that this chapter isn’t supposed to be meant as a way to “other” non-allocishet, non-white, disabled, non-middle-class women, but instead it’s supposed to highlight the added oppression they/we face. That throughout the book, it’s supposed to be assumed that women of all identities are represented. But…I don’t really buy it. Sure, she might mention black women a couple times, queer women a time or two, but multiple times, the book has been a bit dismissive. When talking about the wage gap, the 22% statistic (meaning women make 78 cents to men’s every dollar) is used, but nothing else. That statistic is for white women and white men only. And I already mentioned the chapter on pregnant women and the biological essentialism.
And outside of the “double discrimination” chapter, there really wasn’t anything substantial that made me think, “Yeah, other marginalized women were kept in mind throughout this book.”
The last issue I had with this book was how the “men” chapter was dealt with. To keep it short, it was pretty much a #NotAllMen chapter, saying that there are men that are trying to help and support women, not all men realize what they’re saying or doing is harmful, and that people can also be sexist against men. Now, a lot of this chapter goes into the struggles that men face, and a lot of these are genuine concerns, such as the fact that in society, men are taught to show the “right” emotions, that they’re entitled to women, that to be feminine is to be the worst thing. But, instead of this being about how patriarchy harms men as well as women by perpetuating toxic masculinity (which the prior list is an example of), Bates frames it as “sexism against men.”
Which…no. Sexism, similar to racism, is systemic. It’s built on power imbalances. To say that something is sexist against men is simply not true. Now, can something be due to the effects that toxic masculinity has on society (such as a parent scolding their son if they try to play with a Barbie doll)? You bet! But does that mean it’s, then, inherently sexist against men? Not really.
In all, that chapter felt like it was trying to pander specifically towards men, saying that sometimes, men who make sexist remarks don’t realize they’re sexist. Which, okay, yeah, that can be true sometimes. But that still isn’t an excuse. The remark was still sexist or misogynistic, and people still have a right to be angry towards those men. Also, it seemed like Bates wanted us to congratulate some men for not being total assholes and supporting women. Which, okay, thanks for supporting us or stating you support us, but if that’s our “applauding” moment, the bar is literally below the Earth’s surface. I have a feeling Bates probably wouldn’t like the “men are trash” idea that’s been going around, either, because “not all men.” Maybe I’m being too snarky, but I really don’t care. Just the way that chapter was written didn’t sit well with me, even if some of what Bates said was accurate.
So yeah, this book is alright for someone who is curious about basic white feminism with splashes of okay analysis, but I found it to be exclusionary, and kinda “meh” at times.