Updated: Nov 4, 2020
Misogynation is a collection of essays written by Laura Bates, all of which featured in The Guardian newspaper over the years 2014-2017. Bates created the Everyday Sexism project, which as you guessed it documented women's experiences of sexism in their daily lives from across the globe. The book is split into several different themes from Everyday and Insidious, Rape Is Not a Romp to Our Bodies, Our Battlegrounds and #NotAllMen.
Now, why did this book make me angry? Because of how normalised it is for women to be expected to live their lives with extra precautions, living in extra fear and the sheer number of sexual harassment, assault, and murders of women, just because they are women.
It had me reflecting on my own experiences with sexual harassment. Almost a year ago, I was assaulted in street, in broad daylight. I was walking from a lecture that had just finished and I was walking to the pub with a group of friends after class. I was behind the group with one of my friends and we were stopped by a homeless man and his dog asking for money. Like most people my age, I do not carry cash, and if I do end up having change I will give it because the likelihood of me actually using it is minimal. We both said, "I'm sorry, I don't have any change."
Most homeless people I have encountered usually thank you and wish you a good day, but this man as my friend and I walked off he grabbed my ass. I continued to walk on, not really registering what had happened. I told my friend straight away because it was so strange, like it was broad daylight, in the windiest and coldest time of year, so I was pretty covered up. I kind of brushed it off, like it did not happen.
Since then I never really talked about it, until I read Laura's book and her encounter with street harassment. It was then on a group call with a few friends, that I was talking about the book and I was so angry, angry that this stuff just happens and it's like everyone has a story like that or worse.
We then talked about safety on the streets, and I remember when I first moved to the city I currently lived in a year ago, when I was walking home from work I would walk with my keys in my fist. Laura describes this as one of the defence mechanisms that women have in place to feel safe. Dua Lipa even refers to this in her song Boys Will Be Boys, which talks about how girls have to be women, but boys are allowed to be boys.
"It's second nature to walk home before the sun goes down and put your keys between your knuckles when there's boys around. Isn't it funny how we laugh it off to hide our fear" - Dua Lipa, Boys Will Be Boys
Girls don't mature faster, they have to mature faster because the world is not safe for them. Too many of the stories of sexism and harassment Bates tells are of young girls, girls young as eleven.
Many women now walk with rape alarms, in the U.S. women, talk about carrying pepper spray and everyday items such as lipsticks disguised as tasers. Every month you see another story about how women need to be safe getting into their cars, kidnappings in parking lots, a woman murder traveling abroad by herself, a woman who is attacked for rejecting a man's advances to how to break out of zip ties. I could go on for longer, but you get the gist.
Countless times women are told to take this harassment as a compliment, or they are criticised for their "poor choices," being told why did you go out alone, why were you out at night without a man, why were you dressed like that, you were probably asking for it.
None of these things truly matter, because the person carrying out the act of harassment, assault and violence are doing it not because of any of these things. It is all a statement of power. It's used to intimidate and dehumanise women and girls, and members of the LGBT community, who suffer high levels of street harassment.
One of the articles that stood out to me the most was 'Why Do The Police Still Tell Women That They Should Avoid Getting Raped?' Now, this one really stuck with me because Laura discusses how messages about different crimes are framed by the police and in the press.
Whenever there is a case of rape, police and the press frame articles saying the likes of "Serial sex attacker strikes again as ninth victim is assaulted and police warn women to be on their guard," and "Fugitive rapist: women urged not to walk alone as chilling footage at Manchester airport is released."
These are both actual news article headlines, as a woman who hasn't been a victim of rape reading these scares me. Now, imagine someone having gone through that reading news articles like that. It is framed to cause fear, because its sensational and the title makes you want to read more.
However, what Laura points out is different in the coverage sex crimes against women and other crimes such as arson is that the article places sole responsibility on the victim to look after themselves.
For example, she points out that when a car is stolen, you don't see articles saying "Polic warn motorists not to drive after speeding drivers cause crashes in local areas." Similarly, you don't see "Police warn residents not to have garden sheds made out of wood after the spate of arson cases."
These are both actual news article headlines, as a woman who hasn't been a victim of rape reading these scares me. Now, imagine someone having gone through that reading news articles like that. It is framed to cause fear, because it's sensational, and the title makes you want to read more. But, all that brings is more fear.
To tell women that they should not walk to work or to their local bus stop or train station ignores the fact that some people can only afford to walk. To tell a woman not to travel at night just because its dark becomes a moot point in the winter months where the sun starts to go down at 4 pm.
It's also incredibly harmful to both women and men. It creates daily fear for women, you eventually learn to brush it aside but it still creeps back in when you are walking home from work in the dark. When you walk that little bit faster as you are within reach of your home. It is extra stress and anxiety women have to live with, simply because of their gender, and something most men will never really experience.
All of this creates an image that men are terrifying and are out to harm women. Now as Bates talks about in her #NotAllMen section not all men are but women cannot trust that men are not out to hurt them initially because the news and statistics creates an incredibly dark image of the world for them. It's hearing constant news stories of women being beaten, and even killed for rejecting advances. It is no wonder women have to be 'on guard.'
Bates starts off this section highlighting the importance of educating boys on how to treat women and changing male attitudes towards sexual violence. This article begins with several accounts of sexual harassment and borderline harassment of girls of the age of twelve.
One reads: "I can't type too much because I am starting to cry, bur suffice to say he put his hands in places I did not want him to." - This girl is 12 years old.
Another account comes from a teacher in a high school. They say that they have witnessed girls in their class being called everything from bitch, slag and whore. Girls have had their shirts forcibly undone, and skirts lifted up and held by groups of boys, and this is a daily occurrence the teacher emphasises.
Some will say 'oh this is boys being boys, it's harmless, they will grow out of it,' some will, others won't and they are your abusers and rapists. Regardless of whether 'they will grow out of it,' why should young girls experience it. If harsher attitudes aren't taken towards boys acting like this, telling them that it is wrong and ensuring girls know this is not supposed to happen, it's not supposed to be normal, the cycle of abuse is not going break. By brushing these acts off as childish boyish behavior, you are telling girls that is okay for those things to happen, and thus making it harder for girls and when they become women to spot signs and acts of abuse and harassment.
How do we change this? Bates proposes that children are taught about sexual relationships, violence and consent become compulsory in schools, with age-appropriate variations. This was rejected by the government, which makes little to no sense when young people are going through this, as a 2009 NSPCC report found that 1 in 3 girls aged 13-17 experienced unwanted sexual touching in school, and a 1/4 reported physical partner violence, and nearly 75% reported emotional partner violence. With these statistics, why are we letting young people, young girls figure this out on their own?
Charities and organisations have been working on this, with Care International leading projects to educate young men on gender equality, violence and sex. The aim is to make them part of the solution, rather than the problem.
The world is fighting against this more and more every day, but it cannot be stopped without changing male attitudes towards women, creating a space for women to talk about their experiences and actually have their abusers held accountable.
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