Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, ‘unlikely feminist’ and writer of ‘Girl Up!’ spoke to an audience of over 60 parents and staff as part of our PSHE for Parents programme. Her command of her material and facts, erudition and ability to answer each of the many questions put her way with care, precision and on-the-nail clarity made her talk riveting and powerful. She was persuasive about the often unexplored barrage of influences from advertising to children’s books to toys which shape our notions of masculinity and femininity, and of the roles of men and women from children’s earliest months. She looked at the ways in which young men, as well as young women, are hampered and limited by stereotypes, and she held up a critical mirror to ‘enlightened’ British society showing just how far we have to go in allowing individuals equality of opportunity, discourse and impact. Warm, incisive and funny, she also gave her audience some excellent tools in terms of helping their sons and daughters respond to and challenge stereotype and misogyny, particularly in negotiating the first weeks of university. Shining a light on this topic, admitting it into discourse and challenging a culture of silence and shame for those on the receiving end of harassment is of course something we are seeing in politics, in the film industry – and rightly in our schools. This was a strangely uplifting and hopeful talk, and it was excellent to go out from this and hear the conversation being continued by pupils across the weekend and in to the following week.
Erin W from the Lower Sixth Form commented: “Laura Bates gave a really insightful and clarifying talk about everyday sexism and how men and women should speak out against socially acceptable sexist acts, catcalling etc. Laura also addressed sexism targeted at males and the prevalent stereotypes in our society resulting, for example, in male suicide rates being three times higher than female. The most insightful area of her talk was about how female stigmas, such as being too emotional, are inevitable results of the stereotypes placed on men and boys; if a man shows his sensitivity he is often seen as effeminate because the social depiction is that men aren’t emotional. Women are then seen as overly sensitive because they are allowed to be as there aren’t so many social restrictions. I left the talk feeling inspired to know more about the gender injustices faced globally and to speak out against such seemingly normal occurrences that are currently unchallenged.“