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The online Everyday Sexism Project is not just about the big crimes against women — it is also about the shock of being casually groped, verbally abused and humiliated in public spaces.
Crimes against women can be made to fit into neat rows and columns in police records. From Delhi to New York, you could find statistics on the number of women raped in a given year, or those that faced domestic violence. But how would you catalogue sexism - those everyday acts that cannot be neatly slotted into crime charts?
A young Cambridge graduate may have the answer. When you meet Laura Bates on the streets of London, she comes across as a soft-spoken woman with a quiet demeanor. But her battle against patriarchy is neither quiet nor soft.
Nearly a year ago, she began The Everyday Sexism Project, a website that invites women around the globe to post instances of sexism they encounter in their daily lives. She did not bargain for the sheer volume of posts she received - 20, 000 in 10 months. Enough to make the UK Parliament sit up and take notice. She's now looking to provoke parliamentarians elsewhere on the globe.
The Tahrir Square-like protest in India after the brutal gangrape of a young girl in a moving bus in Delhi last month has left its footprint on Bates' website. "My Dad jokes that the Indian version of 'Gangnam Style' is probably called 'Gangbang Style' after the recent Delhi rapes. Ashamed to be his daughter, " says a post from India. Another, talks of how impossible it is to walk the streets of India without a man trying to touch you.
Bates is now looking to translate posts from Hindi and other Indian languages, so that women can put out stories in their own language. While the posts come from across the globe, the stories are alarmingly similar. When Bates talks of street sexual abuse in London, she could well be talking of the streets of Mumbai, or Delhi.
She talks of a woman who tried getting off the London tube, only to have a man grab her breasts, push her back and say, "This isn't your stop, love". She recounts the case of a woman in a jam-packed train who experienced digital rape but couldn't catch the perpetrator in the crowd.
It was an accumulation of personal experiences that drove Bates to create the project. She recalls men at grocers' shops lining a road near her home, who would lick their lips every time a girl passed by. "I could figure they were referring to me, " she says. She recounts walking down a street where every car would crawl past, with men hurling sexually explicit words at her.
Her website calls for entries that are "serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don't even feel able to protest". The site has a range of stories from rape and violence to sexist comments in office. Bates sees a link between serious offences and those incidents dismissed as trivial.
While women often ignore wolf whistles and dirty comments on the road, Bates points to an incident in the UK, which began with street sexual harassment and ended with assault. "With a wolf whistle, a man shows he has the right to appraise you sexually on the streets, " she adds.
Many women said that website has helped them talk to the men in their lives about what they experienced. One woman said she could finally tell her family she had been raped. Another woman said project gave her the courage to fight back when a man in a car called her over for directions but squeezed her breasts instead. "Through the shock and the pain, she had the presence of mind to note down the car number. The man has now been convicted, " says Bates.
British MPs have contacted Bates and are keen to study her findings. She hopes her data will be used to influence policy.
While Bates may be getting through to the men in Parliament, men in cyberspace have reacted in altogether different ways. She has received both death and rape threats from men over the internet. She is surprised that simply creating a space for women to speak out against sexism could provoke men to such an extent. "I had to move out of my house for a few days when the threats grew too many. "
But as the number of women posting on her website increased, the threats from men declined. An army of 20, 000 women is rather difficult to silence.
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