Book Review: Everyday Sexism

Monday 17 November 2014 by

Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates, Book, Simon & SchusterEveryday Sexism by Laura Bates

Published by Simon & Schuster

Are you #ShoutingBack?

After experiencing a series of escalating sexist incidents, Laura Bates, a young journalist, started a project called ‘everyday sexism’ to raise the profile of these previously untold stories.

Astounded by the response she received and the wide range of stories that came pouring in from all over the world, she quickly realised that the situation was far worse that she’d initially thought. Enough was enough. From being harassed and wolf-whistled at on the street, to discrimination in the workplace and serious sexual assault, it was clear that sexism has become normalised. Bates decided it was time for women to lead a real change.

Bold, jaunty but always intelligent, everyday sexism is a protest against inequality that provides a unique window into the vibrant movement sparked by this juggernaut of stories – often shocking, sometimes amusing and always poignant.

Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism.


Let’s be honest from the outset – this is not comfortable reading. It was never going to be. If you have ever followed @everydaysexism some of these stories will come as no surprise. What could be a surprise are the statistics. At the beginning of each chapter, there are two pages of statistics based on that chapter’s theme.

Everyday Sexism is a blend of facts, stories from the website, and statements about each theme  – how it affects culture and society, how it can be changed, what implications this all has. Bates makes some stark observations that should really be more widely acknowledged.

It’s an eye-opening read – the comparisons between how it is and how it should be are unnerving when you see them written down in black and white. There is nothing angry about the writing – this is not a vitriol against the patriarchy or somesuch – this is an insistent call to arms, a call to start to stand up and stop accepting what has become a normalised part of society.

Bates is a compelling writer, and the stories are compelling reading. You will be shocked, horrified and every now and then amused. The stories are almost too much to be true (and that’s what makes it worse) and yet the stories of those shouting back, those sharp retorts and small actions, make all the difference when you are constantly barraged with the abuse and humiliation that happens daily around the world.

But what is most interesting is the themes that Bates picks for her chapters. Politics, education, double discrimination, the workplace, motherhood and the role (and victimisation) of men. Bates approaches each one with an equal amount of criticism and impartiality, using the facts to speak for themselves. What is interesting, and different from other books on the same subject, is her emphasis on several angles and not just one. There are several layers and aspects to sexism, misogyny and feminism, and Bates does not have a particular flag to wave, but rather all of them, and preferably all at once. It’s refreshing to see someone acknowledge that this isn’t a solo issue, that there isn’t just one story or one argument or one problem.

It doesn’t matter whether you have been on the receiving end of sexist abuse, bore witness to someone else’s experience, or even been guilty of it yourself, there is a story for everyone; you will find a story, a chapter, whole themes, startlingly familiar. It should be required reading for everyone, so that they may understand the implications of the tiniest detail that seems so innocuous but can affect whole generations of women (case in point: the infamous “thigh gap”), and so that they can understand what actions they choose to take can have dramatic influence.

It took me a while to read this book though; on occasion it read like an overlong essay (there was the odd moment when I felt that footnotes wouldn’t be out of the question), which can lean towards the “dry” side of reading (it’s not all anecdotes), and I found that I was far too emotionally involved and would get too angry or saddened and have to take a break. As I said, it’s not an easy read.

This is a brilliant addition to the Waterstones Book of the Year shortlist, and I’m pleased to see it getting the attention it well deserves.

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