Actually that’s not all he said. I am as good as any men and better than most, is what he actually told myself and my two sisters. At 80, he continues to say it and I love him for it, as it reminds me that not all men believe that in some way, women are lesser beings. And he is not alone. My male relatives and friends think the same and sometimes it is hard to remember that there are many men out there, who are on our side. Many of them also want to see change for the better and challenge sexism and stereotyping. We should use these supporters more, as our allies.
When I look back now, I realise that I was lucky in my upbringing. My parents made no difference between us: in fact my brothers went straight to work from school, while the three girls in the family went on to further education (which my mother had to defend!). I was educated at an academic school where no differences were made between male and female and there was certainly no domestic science for the girls. My wake up call came when I was about 19. I was at a football match (not any old football match: the annual May grudge match (centuries old for us Scots) between England and Scotland) at Hampden Park in Glasgow, with my boyfriend. On the way out, pushing through the crowd, I was groped. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things certainly but my immediate reaction was one of complete shock and disbelief. Then the rage: how dare any man think that he can do this with impunity, was what I thought? I can still feel it today.
I have been thinking about it a lot since we decided to have this as a topic. I know that women have experienced and continue to experience much worse than I did but we have to establish the principle: sexism is wrong. That for me is an absolute. However the impact of it is very different depending on your experience and that is where it becomes harrowing.
This is what everyday sexism is for some women.
Lauren Mayberry of the band Chvrches says that the messages on her band’s Facebook page have brought her to tears. Apparently some men have decided that it was acceptable to make “lewd, offensive remarks.” Reading some of the remarks they sound depressingly familiar to those made by the trolls on Twitter on Caroline Criado-Perez’s twitter feed. All Caroline wanted was to have the face of a woman on our bank notes.
Then there is the experience of being a fresher this year. There were many stories including the one about male students preying on fresher girls: “fresher fishing.” A halls rep, who apparently is there to help new students settle in was heard to say: “Getting spiked is lucky, it means someone really wants to get with you.” The Everyday Sexism Project encouraged young women to share their experiences and such was the outcry that many universities took action by running zero tolerance campaigns on sexual harassment. Laura Bates who set up the project, encouraging women to share their stories, says: “Some days, it was very hard to keep reading.” The project has been successful but she tells of many of the first entries to the website which said: “You experience sexism because women are inferior in every single way to men. The only reason you have been put on this planet is so we can fuck you.” The message ended: “Please die.” However, unlike Caroline Criado-Perez who told of negative messages from some women, Laura tells the opposite, that she was in fact lucky to be well supported by women and men.
On the job front many women remain concentrated in lower-paid, traditionally female occupations such as care services and secretarial work, according to the Office for National Statistics. While the overall pay gap between men and women has narrowed (10% for full-time workers) some traditionally lower-paid occupations remain overwhelmingly dominated by women. The ONS says: “The persistence of gendered job roles leaves women at a relative disadvantage in the labour market.”
I listened to Women’s Hour last week and one of the reports left me despairing and in the end just a little hopeful. It was the story of Kim Worthy who is a Prosecutor for Wayne County in Michigan. She had been carrying out an audit and discovered an unused warehouse. It contained boxes and bins full of rape kits, over 11,000 of them, with forensic evidence gathered from rape cases. None of these cases were brought to court. Kim was given $1.5million grant to look at the cases. One of the women was interviewed. Audrey Pole had been raped 12 years ago by a man who broke into her house and raped her in front of her two children. Kim asked her if she wanted to have the case prosecuted and she said, “certainly, absolutely.” The man was convicted and faces up to 60 years in prison. She was asked how she felt and she said that it had made her feel “a little better.” She also said of those who had ignored the evidence: “shame on them all.” Audrey has lived with everyday sexism for all of those twelve years after and hopefully now ,with the pain dimmed just a little bit because of Kim Worthy. I took a little comfort from thinking that maybe, just maybe, things are improving in terms of getting convictions to court.
This is not what we want to hear about in western, so called democracies in the 21st century, but what if you live in India? Hazel Thompson is an award winning photographer who went to Mumbai after hearing about teenage girls being trafficked as sex slaves. She has been investigating for 11 years and tells the stories of girls who were taken from home, raped, caged and sold for sex. These girls live everyday sexism as part of their lives; there is no escape for them. I can come home, keep TV and radio turned off so that I do not have to hear about this. I can escape it, even just for a short time. They live it with no hope of escape. You can read more about Hazel’s work here
So, everyday sexism, what is your story and how do you handle it when faced with it? Do you talk to other people about it, do you take and give support when it happens to you and others?
I believe that it is getting a little better but it will only continue to get better if we keep challenging it when we are faced with it. It will only change if we support those who are experiencing it. It will only change if we support the teenagers and young people in our lives to have healthy attitudes about themselves and teach them about respect and compassion for one another.
Annie Casey is business manager and regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.