15 Tweets That Reveal the ‘Everyday Sexism’ Women Face, From Cradle to Grave

In her new book, Laura Bates documents sexism that women all over the world face all the time.
(Photo: YouTube; inset: courtesy Laura Bates)
Apr 4, 2016· 4 MIN READ
Laura Bates is the author of Everyday Sexism and the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. She writes regularly for Time, The Guardian, the International Business Times, and other media outlets.

Back in 2012, I started a simple website, hoping that maybe 50 or 60 people would share their personal experiences with gender inequality. Instead, more than 100,000 stories have been shared since I launched the Everyday Sexism Project, revealing how gender inequality is a problem at every single stage of life.

People from around the world revealed just how widespread sexism and sexual violence are and how women face discrimination at every turn—so many that there are now 25 versions of the site in various languages, in countries from Brazil to South Africa, Denmark to China.

The collective process of sharing stories has created an immense sense of solidarity. For example, a woman in Peru who tweets us about street harassment might receive immediate support, solace, and advice from women in India or Germany who have been through the same thing. Many have described how seeing other women’s stories has enabled them, for the first time, to complain about workplace discrimination or report a sexual assault. It is so important to know that you are not alone, to blame, or “just imagining things.”

The project has also become a book, Everyday Sexism, which hits shelves April 5. It includes examples from project entries to demonstrate common themes alongside analysis of the current situation for women in politics, public spaces, the media, at home, and elsewhere. The stories we have received through our website and Twitter feed prove that sexism is still very real, and women are facing it from the cradle to the grave.

It starts young—really young.

From the inescapable pink and blue baby cards to the tiny onesies that declare boys strong or clever while girls are apparently looks-obsessed, we push gender stereotypes onto children before they can even walk or talk. One parent whose toddler picked up a stethoscope during a playdate described how adults immediately cooed, “Ooh, you’re going to be a nurse!” Nursing is wonderful, of course, but what might they have said if she’d been a boy?

One of the most shocking things about the Everyday Sexism Project has been the age at which most girls report first experiencing street harassment—often before the age of 14. A recent national study by Washington, D.C.–based organization Stop Street Harassment found that 50 percent of people who experience such harassment find that it starts before the age of 17. For women of color and nonbinary people, the harassment is often heightened and may be mixed with racism, homophobia, and transphobia. For every story of harassment, there is a description of being told to keep quiet, to enjoy it, to “take it as a compliment.” We teach girls that this is their lot...and we tell them they should be grateful.

No sooner have girls reached their early teens than they begin to face an onslaught of online pressure, from sexting and nudes to slut-shaming and online abuse. While young people are regularly exposed to online pornography, which can be extremely misogynistic and confusing, they rarely receive the support and information they need at school to help them learn about sexual consent and healthy relationships.

As girls progress to college, they describe being dissuaded from certain subjects by career counselors, accused of “doing an MRS degree” (looking for a husband), and even facing huge amounts of harassment and sexual assault on campus. One in five female students in the U.S. faces some form of sexual assault.

When they first apply for jobs, even women straight out of college regularly describe inappropriate or downright illegal interview questions about spouses, child care, and personal arrangements. Are men being asked at interviews how they plan to juggle their families and their careers? Not so much.

Once a woman does find a job, she’ll experience the double discrimination of being paid less per hour than her male counterparts and being charged more for “female” versions of male products when she goes shopping. These usually consist of pink versions of the original product—often flimsier and usually several dollars more expensive.

Next, there’s dating, with many women discovering the joys of men behaving as if women “owe” them attention in public spaces.

As if this weren’t enough to contend with in real life, online tools now provide the capacity for men to pursue women aggressively and unapologetically in the digital world as well. Ah, the joy of the unsolicited dick pic.

As time goes on, public spaces remain hostile, with women finding that regardless of their attire or behavior, men consider their bodies fair game for public comment and criticism. Women have described being followed home or intimidated, changing their route to avoid regular harassment, or even giving up outdoor exercise altogether.

As they progress in their careers, women begin to notice how differently they are treated in the workplace compared with their male colleagues. Their ideas and abilities might be devalued, they might be constantly asked to provide refreshments or take notes at meetings, or they may even face sexual harassment or assault at work.

Throughout all this, women are constantly bombarded with messages and images from media and advertising that dehumanize and objectify them, using their bodies to sell products and perpetuating sexist and racist stereotypes.

Oh, and they get told to smile—over and over and over again.

While men who choose to have children often benefit their career by doing so, women who make the same choice often face enormous maternity discrimination, from losing their jobs to being accused of “baby brain” or “leaky boobs.” With no statutory paid maternity leave in the U.S., the process of having a child may be stressful and difficult to manage.

As women get older, they begin to describe a combination of sexism and ageism, being written off as “batty” or forgetful, their sexuality ignored and their intellect dismissed.

Even in death, women are not able to escape everyday sexism, either in the way they are described in obituaries or whether their obituaries are written at all.

While the stories are bleak, they are having a widespread and positive impact. Hundreds of them have been used to work with [members of Parliament] and bodies such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations to tackle issues from the gender pay gap to the portrayal of women in the media. Thousands were used to retrain transport police to better tackle sexual offenses on buses and trains. They’ve been used to start conversations with young people at schools and universities about sexual consent and healthy relationships. Also, we hear on a regular basis from men who say that reading the project has shocked them and opened their eyes to a problem they hadn’t previously been aware of.

Progress is slow, and the problem is huge, but we can’t begin to tackle it until everybody becomes aware that it exists. Every single person who shares her story brings us closer to achieving that goal.