In the second instalment of our interview with Guardian Columnist and Everyday Sexism Founder Laura Bates, we discuss the importance of working with men and boys in raising awareness of, and tackling gender based violence.
ZT: What do you think the key messages are in addressing gender based violence for men and boys?
LB: For me, the two key messages would be speaking out against sexism and talking about feminism. It is important to hear is that feminism is not about vilifying men, or not about suggesting that all men are perpetrators. It is not about men against women nor a battle of sexes, it is about people standing up to prejudice. Everyone will cross its path at some point – you will have an opportunity to decide whether to be the person that looks away, laughs a lot, or the person that steps in. It is about saying that everyone has the opportunity to be part of this change, and we need everybody on-board.
ZT: What are the best ways of engaging men and boys in discussions around gender based violence?
LB: There are a variety of ways. I have found using social media very successful as you can reach out to people who wouldn’t necessarily reach out and engage with these conversations. Real experiences start coming up in News Feeds who wouldn’t have been aware of the Project before and this penetrates people’s consciousness. So people like Simon Pegg, James Corden have become male role models to show that it is important to stand up against gender based violence. There is also a negative impact of gender stereotypes on men and boys too that often gets overlooked. As an example, I hear from men who are denied parental leave and ridiculed for asking for it in the office. We need to start working on outdated gender stereotypes about men and womens’ roles.
ZT: What are the issues that women face in talking to men about gender based violence?
LB: It can be very difficult, as there has historically been a risk of blame, disbelief, dismissal. People shouldn’t feel pressured to talk about things they are unable or don’t want to talk about, but when we are able to have open conversations, common misconceptions can be start being dispelled.
ZT: What do you think is the biggest myth around rape culture that needs to be dispelled?
LB: This is difficult to pinpoint as there are unfortunately so many. The one that I come across very frequently is idea that rapist is a stranger down a dark alleyway – this is far removed from a rapist that could be your partner. This myth also plays into other myths, like a short skirt is somehow putting women in danger – rather than deliberate act perpetrated by someone they know.
ZT: What are the issues around gender based violence that you see the most in Everyday Sexism Project?
LB: What I find the most apparent is how wide the spectrum is, there is no single issue that comes up more than others and shows how widespread the problem is, how many people experience it, how connected it is. You can’t just say this is the issue of rape over here and this harassment issue is over here, and the under-representation of women in politics and in the media is way over here …. Inevitably, they all feed into each other. How can we address representation of women in politics if we don’t tackle the media that talks about the ‘catwalk’ of Downing Street when women are promoted to the Cabinet.
ZT: What backlash has Everyday Sexism received?
LB: I get a lot of rape and death threats as owner of project, but I’m lucky to have a good support system – I worry about others that don’t, particularly younger women who don’t necessarily have this in place, as their voices could be silenced.
ZT: So what is next for Everyday Sexism?
LB: We now have a great opportunity to move to next step – concrete action and change. We have been looking at the stories that we have collected to create change.
Ones about young people are being used by a theatre company to create people’s theatre on consent that tours around schools in the UK. Ones about women in the workplace are being put in front of politicians. And then ones on women and harassment on public transport are being used by the Transport Police to help them with their campaigns and awareness. We have seen that reporting has increased by 30% on London Underground thanks to this collaboration so it’s a work in progress!