MAKERS UK Cause Spotlight: Laura Bates
It began with a simple idea: Let's talk about sexism. To that end, Laura Bates founded the Everyday Sexism project, an online catalog of sexism experienced by women all over the world.
"In many ways sexism is an invisible problem — we're so used to it that we don’t even see it. I think that normalization is a major part of the problem because it prevents us from ever being able to talk about the problem in the first place, and you can’t solve a problem if people don't acknowledge that it exists," Bates told MAKERS UK.
The impetus for launching the project stemmed from Bates' personal experiences. Sexism had long infused her acting career, then during one week in 2012, a fateful series of events — a groping on the bus; another man following her home — led Bates to ponder the notion of everyday sexism. She began talking to other women, and found that each individual had "streams and streams of experiences," though many had never shared their stories, which ranged from minor workplace incidents to more serious episodes of domestic violence.
Even in those early conversations, Bates sensed something brewing — but resistance persisted. "I came up against a brick wall," she explains. The notion being, "You can't talk about sexism because women are equal." Yet her research led her to the facts: Even in the 21st century U.K., women are vastly underrepresented in fields from law, engineering and architecture to choreography, film and fine art. "The argument, 'don't make a fuss about it because women are equal,' really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny," Bates explains.
As a result, her growing forum — amassing 100,000 testimonies in three years — is a place to share stories, connect with a supportive community, and impact positive change, not only against sexism but related discrimination practices in racism, ageism, homophobia, and the like. Bates emphasizes, "It wasn't about women against men or vilifying men ever; it was about people standing up to prejudice."
Even with the immediate impact of Everyday Sexism, Bates says she did not expect it to be so viral. However, the cause resonates with the world at large. Bates’ mission has received international pickup in media outlets from France to India, and the Everyday Sexism initiative continues to expand from country to country.
"The main thing that keeps me going is that we receive a different kind of story now than we did when we first started out," Bates notes. While the earlier stories of harassment, abuse and discrimination continue to be shared, the site is also a beacon of hope. Women write in to say they realized they weren't alone — and as a result had the courage to report an assault, or spoke up about discrimination in the office previously believed to be the victim’s own fault.
The website also served as the basis for both U.K. and U.S. editions of Bates' book, aptly titled, "Everyday Sexism," which highlights the stories of prominent women and particularly egregious examples of sexism. Bates, who continues to travel to address women of all ages and empower them to speak out, was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2015 for her work — which remains an ongoing crusade for equality.
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