Gender equality

Everyday Sexism website a global hit, much to British founder Laura Bates' surprise

British woman takes her story online and finds many others with similar experiences

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 9:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 11:43am

When Laura Bates was followed home one night by a man from her bus, she didn't think much of it. Such incidents seemed to be part of living in London.

But the writer said several similar situations followed within a few days.

A stranger shouted obscenities at her out of a car window and another propositioned her forcefully in a cafe. A third groped her on a bus, and commuters looked away when she spoke up.

She was startled not so much by the incidents, but how accustomed she had become to brushing such behaviour aside and not taking action.

"I started talking to other women, and I couldn't believe how many stories they had. I think many of us just think 'maybe I'm unlucky'," Bates, 27, said. "Just like me, so many of them said 'until you asked me, I've never talked to anyone about this'."

Those conversations triggered the birth of the Everyday Sexism project, a website that Bates set up for women to share their experiences of sexism and harassment in their daily lives.

Two years on, what started as a simple idea has become a movement that is gaining momentum and winning support from politicians, police and thousands of women and men from Britain and beyond.

The project has collected 70,000 posts from some 20 countries, describing a wide range of unwelcome behaviour and offences, from a colleague's casual comment to unreported rapes.

Many tell of assault, threats of violence and verbal abuse in public places. Others report seemingly innocuous behaviour and comments. One woman tells how a sales assistant handed back her change to her male friend, after she had paid for goods.

Bates said she was surprised that despite perceived equality in the workplace, sexism in the office remained the most commonly voiced concern on her website. She said the online community had encouraged women to speak out against sexism.

"The social media age has enabled a sort of collective action and made people feel courageous," she said.