Site charts impact of everyday sexism
WHEN Ms Laura Bates started a Twitter account asking women to share stories of sexist treatment, she expected a handful of replies, and hoped they would yield an article for Web or print consumption.
Just over a year later, the effort she now calls the Everyday Sexism Project has grown to more than 30,000 posts from around the world, with nearly 50,000 Twitter followers.
The project's website and Twitter feed have ballooned into a compendium of first-hand testimonials that range from angry descriptions of patronising remarks to heartrending accounts of rape and other types of assault.
Women post about crude come-ons in the workplace, lewd comments on the street, groping on crowded public transport and much more. Most, but not all, of the comments come from developed countries.
Working with supporters in other countries, Ms Bates, who lives in North London, has created companion sites in 15 nations, including Brazil, France, Germany and the United States.
Her original impulse to tackle the issue came after a week in which a man grabbed her leg on a bus, a group shouted at her from a car and two men commented on her breasts as she walked by.
She said that when the online posts started streaming in, she began to see how common such incidents were.
"We're not sure that we're allowed to talk about it, and as soon as we start talking to someone else about it, they go, 'Oh, my God, me too!'," said Ms Bates, 26, an actress and a writer.
Women, she said, have been taught not to make a fuss about crude treatment and have learnt to just put up with it.
"But when there's 25,000 other people saying, 'Actually, I agree with that too', it's no longer possible to shame you into silence," she said. "Social media allows us to stand behind each other and it's so powerful."
Last month, Ms Bates helped lead the introduction of a campaign urging Facebook to remove graphic images of violence against women, some of them with derisive captions.
Supporters bombarded advertisers with Twitter messages, demanding that they refuse to allow their ads to appear alongside such content.
As galvanising as the Internet may be, Ms Bates is keenly aware of the need to grow offline, too.
Lawmaker Yvette Cooper, the opposition Labour Party's top official on Britain's domestic affairs, said she was using comments Ms Bates compiled to push through Parliament a sex-and-relationships curriculum in schools that includes teaching zero tolerance for violence.
Ms Cooper said that the stories posted on Everyday Sexism include many that "we wouldn't as politicians normally see, because it's not the kind of thing that people will write to us about".
Ms Bates said she had been speaking more frequently at schools and colleges around Britain, and she is advising on a project in which police are starting to tackle unwanted sexual behaviour on London subways and buses. Men contribute about 10 per cent of posts, she said.
One, Mr Richard Twyman, who manages a Manchester betting shop, said Everyday Sexism had helped him understand the impact of things he used to do unthinkingly, like questioning what a rape victim was wearing or rating the appearance of women on the street.
He said: "As a young guy, if I was out with some girls and a girl that was too drunk to know what she was doing leaned on me, I'd grab a feel."
Now, he confronts others he sees engaging in such behaviour.
The police plan to use the Everyday Sexism site to enhance their intelligence on where and when harassment happens, said Inspector Ricky Twyford of the British Transport Police, the project manager for the move to curb sexual harassment on London's buses and trains.
They also want Ms Bates to share again what Inspector Twyford called "a powerful talk" she delivered to police officials, in which Ms Bates read posts from women describing being harassed or assaulted. The police plan to record it for use in workshops for officers who patrol the transit network, the inspector said.