When Laura Bates taught Nick Clegg a few things…

If I had known, 30 years ago, that there would be an annual Book Festival in Edinburgh in the last half of August, I’d have put my wedding back a week or two. My lack of foresight means that I’ll be away on a celebratory holiday when both Jo Swinson and Chelsea Clinton are speaking there. Jo is on 22nd August at 18:45 (buy tickets here) and her book, Equal Power, was on sale in the bookshop yesterday.

The tents in Charlotte Square have been my spiritual home in August for some time so yesterday it was great to be there on the first day, especially as Edinburgh Gin seemed to be taking their responsibilities as sponsors very seriously with several new gin bars around the place. For the record, their seaside gin is ok, but not as good as Isle of Harris, which has definitely cornered the market in things that taste like the sea.

I saw Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, talk about her new book, Misogynation, which aims to join the dots to highlight the systemic nature of sexism throughout our society. She told some shocking stories – highlighting, for example, evidence that there is the equivalent of one rape every day of term in a UK school.

A lot of the conversation centred around harassment of women in school, online and on the street. She talked about innovative ways of dealing with it. One man, for example, who had recently come to realise the effect of persistent street harassment on his female friends who were having to deal with it, couldn’t work out how to intervene when he saw a woman being crudely catcalled by men on a building site. When they called “Get your t**s out, love” he had a brainwave – and lifted up his t-shirt to make the point that they would never say that sort of thing to him so it wasn’t alright to say it to her.

She also told of a visit to a school where the girls got wind of a plot by the boys to be disruptive and generally unpleasant during her talk. So they left class a few minutes’ early and arranged themselves in every second seat in the hall. So every boy was sitting between two girls so it wasn’t so comfortable for them to heckle. In fact, they actually engaged with the talk.

One of the consequences of the Everyday Sexism project and the hundreds of thousands of examples it has collected over the years is that it has helped to shope policy. The examples of sexual harassment in schools has, finally, forced a change to more inclusive sex education in England – although the devils that will inevitably be in the detail of that are not yet apparent.

Politicians have learned a thing or two as well. Back in those relatively happy days when we had a functional-ish government and Nick Clegg was Deputy Prime Minister, Laura went to see him to talk about the gender pay gap. Now, Nick was pretty good on gender issues. Well, at least when it wasn’t about, you know, actually putting a woman in the Cabinet, or acknowledging women’s contributions when he left office.

Anyway, Laura told him about employment contracts which forbade discussion of pay between colleagues, so if a woman found out that a man in the same job was being paid more, there was nothing that she could do about it. Nick couldn’t believe that that existed as he thought it was illegal. The evidence Laura was able to present to him showed him otherwise. It’s another example of ministers thinking that something is the case because the law says so when the experience of people dealing with it is very different.

I was also particularly pleased and relieved at her inclusivity. Four of five times, she highlighted the specific bullying and harassment suffered by transgender women. When she was asked a question about sex workers and the effect of any ban in their work, she replied that all their voices needed to be heard.

I left Charlotte Square feeling inspired by Laura’s articulate and engaging presentation and hopeful of change in the future as the next generation of women gets into a position of power.

You can buy Misogynation here and in many other places on the internet.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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2 Comments

  • Thank you for the article. I will buy this book for my summer holiday reading

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