We need to talk about sexism

Stella Creasy joins the debate

In the August issue, ELLE’s new columnist Victoria Coren addresses the topic of sexism.

We invited Stella Creasy – Labour and Co-operative MP for Walthamstow and supporter of #everydaysexism – to join the discussion.

Victoria Coren is right. Equality shouldn’t be about abolishing lust. Lust is not contradictory to feminism. But, the random bloke yelling his opinion about the breasts of a passing woman is not just full of desire and determined to express it. The fact that Random Bloke thinks this behaviour is normal reflects a world in which men all too often can – and do - get to determine what is acceptable.

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That’s why the #everydaysexism project is so important. In cataloguing such ‘banter’ it is not simply revealing a nation lusting after strangers. The stories are evidence that this kind of unsolicited commentary has nothing to do with attraction and everything to do with power. The power to define what about women is valuable.

In creating a space to hear these stories – of schoolgirls hassled in the street and women rated and ridiculed – #everydaysexism is not just making people angry: it is making them aware. Men react with surprise to the extent of passive sexism exposed. Women express relief it’s not just them who feel threatened. Both offer support and encourage those affected to challenge the situations they encounter.

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We need this fightback if we want to live hassle-free. These everyday manifestations of inequality are not minor, not least because by ignoring them the bigger problems become easier to accept too. Casual denigration of women in the street and the workplace makes pay gaps seem more inevitable. None of this is OK.

Wanting an end to this culture doesn’t mean the end of flirting or the end of lust. It’s about recognising that the sort of behavior documented @everdaysexism has nothing to do with the magical conversations that form such a unique part of the human experience.

So, whilst many of us have learnt to deal with catcallers, the way forward is not to suggest that women should just find a way of shrugging off these taunts. It is not for women to learn to ignore what Coren describes as “really terrible manners” but for all of us to challenge a culture that normalises this behaviour.

Inside the August issue

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