When a legal definition of sexism was established in the UK 40 years ago it was also understood that, in the interest of fairness, a court or tribunal could be called upon if different parties disputed wether or not any specific act or practice could reasonably be considered to deserve the extremely emotive label of ‘sexist’.
A sadly substantial and significant amount ‘sexism’ has been established by caselaw over the subsequent decades, caselaw that continues to be written. For the men and women tasked with establishing what may or may not be considered ‘sexism’, and most particularly sexual harassment, in the eyes of the law there is one essential concept that they will return to time and time again, that is a concept called reasonableness…
On occasion, individual perceptions of behaviour may differ – perhaps due to differences in attitude, experience or culture – and what one person would consider acceptable behaviour may be unacceptable to another. The defining factor in determining if behaviour amounts to Harassment is that the behaviour is unacceptable to the recipient and could ‘reasonably be considered’ to amount to Harassment. The intention of the person engaging in the behaviour – whether or not they meant to harass – is not a primary factor in determining if Harassment has taken place. Typical workplace guidelines
One of the interesting but also challenging aspects of a recent initiative introduced by women’s rights activist Laura Bates is that, unlike the respondents to Ellen Passo’s recently unsuccessful $16m discrimination law suit that Bates championed, participants of The Everyday Sexism Project are allowed to circumvent the reasonableness test altogether.
Victims are instead offered the simple, safe, and relatively anonymous opportunity to voice their own particular personal perception of sexism. There is no specific remedy on offer other than an outlet to voice frustrations and the understanding that your experience will be heard and documented without fear of being judged on exactly how ‘sexist’ the example might be perceived by the average ‘man on the Clapham omnibus‘.
This extremely individualistic approach has been central to the initiative’s remarkable success in documenting ‘over 100,000 examples of sexism’. Examples which span an extremely broad spectrum of scenarios that the average bus passenger, of either gender, may or may not agree could be reasonably be defined as ‘sexist’.
Which is why in the week that the project celebrates it’s third anniversary you will see examples ranging from:
Launched in 2012, the Everyday Sexism Project has been described as “one of the biggest social media success stories on the internet“, giving thousands of women an outlet to voice their experiences of everyday sexism ranging from minor wolf whistles to major assaults.
These personal, individual and isolating experiences are collected, collated and then projected back out into the world and into newspaper stories promoting just how prevalent sexism generally, and harassment of women particularly, still is in 21st century Britain and beyond.
Most instantly, the project’s twitter feed acts as the lightening rod for a relatively diverse range of campaigners seeking to challenge unacceptable behavior that might otherwise go unchallenged, be ignored or worse laughed off and as a consequence become a societal norm.
It’s creator has been catapulted into a leadership role at the vanguard of what’s been described as the fourth wave of feminism and, every week in the Guardian, she shines light on manifestations of sexism lurking in practically every corner of society.
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 necessarily write to us about,” Yvette Cooper MP
The project has been replicated throughout the western world and already wields significant influence. By way of example, after an intervention from the project the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association recently issued an apology for promoting a poster exhibition with a tweet featuring the iconic anthena ‘Tennis Girl’ poster from the 1970’s.
(A homage to the ‘offensive’ poster)
They also quickly removed the offending tweet although, despite requests for clarification from the project, would not confirm if the ‘iconic’ image would actually be withdrawn from the exhibition.
I suspect that it wasn’t and that the Association may even secretly be grateful for all the free publicity that followed, nonetheless the example goes to show how the @everydaysexismproject has the potential to be a powerful tool for dedicated champions of equality. Especially if you are seeking to challenge sexism in society by holding up a mirror to the many and extremely diverse modern manifestations of a phenomenon that I think most decent 21st century dwellers would be quite happy to see the back of.
Then again, consensus on the best way to solve a problem can be difficult if not everyone is in total agreement about how exactly that problem should be defined. And in my humble subjective opinion, I believe that arguably the project’s greatest strength also helps to very clearly define it’s greatest failure.
On the occasion of it’s third birthday, the project has reported that the popular #EverydaySexism hastag garnered over 45,000 tweets citing sexism in one day. Hundreds of these were subsequently retweeted by the project’s twitter feed which is currently followed by over 200,000 people.
Obviously the can’t retweet every single one and obviously not everyone will agree that every example they do feature should be championed as a prima facie case of serious sexism but combined, Bates’s team do present a compelling narrative of how sexism is still very much alive and well in the UK.
Personally, I wasn’t remotely offended by the Tennis association’s tweet but I understand and respect the fact that a small minority of people were.
The fact is that had many, many, many column inches not been generated by the act of one simple but very influential retweet (all obviously including the eye catching, iconic but ‘offensive’ image), then I wouldn’t have even become aware of it in the first place.
Which speaking as a champion of equality, is something that I personally find extremely offensive and is why I want to talk about the difference that makes the difference between @everydaysexism and #everydaysexism.
The main reason I started eyeisbloke was to hold a mirror up to a type of behaviour I describe as Glass Blind Spotism, which is essentially: when someone purporting to champion equality, either consciously or unconsciously ignores information clearly relevant to a discussion because it would undermine or distract from their preferred narrative or agenda.
A classic example of this can be seen in the relatively ‘cut and paste’ nature of the recent media coverage of a similar trending hash tag called #questionsformen. You can read about this case study in more detail here but I’ll succinctly summarize it as follows.
The #questionsformen hashtag was championed by various media outlets as another online space for women to come together and highlight examples of #everydaysexism. Which was fair enough, as far as it was fair enough but what practically all of the (female) journalists who wrote about it failed to notice was that for every tweet that supported their narrative, there were many, many more talking about inequalities impacting on men, the anti-male tone of the initial tweets or the bare faced double standard apparent in the behaviour of many self identifying ‘fourth wave feminists.
This not insignificant aspect of the story was completely ignored, as was the fact that the feminist journalist who created the hashtag, and succeeded in getting it trending in the first place, personally revels in describing herself as a ‘card carrying misandrist’.
Around the same time I was conducting a little project of my own to test my conspiracy theory that Laura Bates may be experiencing a touch of blindspotism herself, given the very narrow range of examples of sexism experienced by men that are championed by the project.
EYEisBloke’s brief everydaysexismproject everydaysexism?project involved attempting to engage the everydaysexism team in the area of male inequalities by hoping they might retweet some pretty obvious examples sitting at the more extreme end of that ‘sexist’ spectrum they are so keen to document.
Perhaps unsurprisingly they completely ignored all of my tweets, preferring to feature comparatively low level incidents over the same period. Low level incidents such as the human rights lawyer and recent bride to one of the most famous men on the planet experiencing the horror of being described as ‘George Clooney’s wife’ in a newspaper…how they other half live eh…
The team even just completely ignored my emails asking them why is it that they ignore this not insignificant area on the sexism spectrum. Obviously it’s hard not to hypothosie that they decided to ignore me personally cos EyeisBloke but by the time I had written up my experiment, it was clear to me that the main reason they ignored me was probably even more simple and childish. To put in plain playground parlance, they ignored me because they could.
And that dear reader is the difference that defines the difference between #everydaysexism and @everydaysexism. The latter has become a popular and (relatively) non judgemental online space where people can share experiences and discuss their views about perceived inequalities. Perceived inequalities like these…
Meanwhile @everydaysexism becomes an increasingly powerful tool for a woman’s rights activist called Laura Bates to cherry pick the type of sexism that she wants to acknowledge and talk about.
Laura Bates may claim ownership of 45,000 comments about ‘sexism’ in one day to help amplify evidence of the sort of sexism that she consciously or unconsciously chooses to see but that doesn’t reflect the whole story being told at #everydaysexism.
When you compare the diverse content captured in the hashtag to the filtered and much narrower narrative picked up and promoted by Laura Bates’ twitter feed it becomes extremely hard not to argue that you are witnessing an incredibly blatant example of #everydaysexism from someone who really should know better.
I don’t mean to undermine the positive aspects of the project by pointing out this jarring double standard. That said, in an increasingly surreal world where the same newspaper that recently won the Pulitzer prize for stories on NSA surveillance censors criticism of Bates’ narrative from their ‘comment is free’ section, I think it’s important that some does find a way to point it out.
I’ll conclude with my message to Bates and her team. A message apparently too controversial for the moderation team, that you would like to think have received some form of equal opportunity training before being allowed to put their censoring boots on…
Happy birthday #EverydaySexism – is it time to come of age and start acknowledging inequalities experienced during the lifetime of men & boys also? EiB