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 Everyday Sexism is a website which collects and publishes accounts of day-to-day brushes with sexism.  In their own words:

The Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest.  By sharing your story you’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss.

They gather stories via emails, but also through Twitter and a box on the website where people can simply type a quick note.  The posts range widely across situations, from the threatening to the irritating, and from “the most bizarre thing just happened” to “don’t you hate it every time…?”  Recent stories on the site include a woman whose airline won’t let her book a ticket as “Dr.” as that’s a male title in their system, a school student incensed that she gets smaller helpings at lunch than the boys despite having paid the same price, and a bundle of street harassment.

These accounts provide a glimpse into a world which many men don’t usually see, either because harassment is more likely to happen when women are alone or because they mentally tune out the sexism without wondering what it feels like from a female perspective[1].  Or indeed because women are so used to the constant stream of small slights that they don’t think to mention it.  A couple of years after leaving college I discovered that my female friends who cycled around the city regularly got catcalled, jeered or harassed whilst on their bikes.  For them it was so much “the way things were” that none of them had ever referred to it during the few years we’d spent living and working next to each other.  They found it unpleasant and frustrating, but it wasn’t the sort of thing that was worth telling a story about when they arrived at their destination.

One of the things that The Everyday Sexism Project might help shift is precisely that: what merits being made into a story.  Reading the entries I was struck by how very few of these accounts have a dramatic climax: there’s very little “So then I took a swing at him”, or “I told him where to stick it” or “my friend called the manager over and demanded a letter of apology”.  A lot of them are the sort of narrative which, if told in a pub might get the response “Ooh, then what happened?  Oh, nothing?  Right, good story…!”  I don’t know the various reasons why individual women might choose not to talk about their experiences of sexism  – whether they might be worried about sounding like victims, or need to shrug it off to feel in control of their lives, or simply aware that if they chronicled each and every time they were treated slightingly because of their gender they wouldn’t have time to live their lives at all.  But I wonder whether part of it might sometimes be connected to the requirements we impose on a story and the need for our narratives to fit into pre-existing genres.

If a set of events can’t be moulded into a beginning, development and climax, if they can’t be understood by the teller and the listeners as A Hilarious Misunderstanding or A Learning Experience or A Lesson About Revenge, those events risk fading away without being retold.  Without a genre to articulate them through, experiences can remain fragmentary, unconnected and nebulous.   The Everyday Sexism Project seems to offer its own genre, one which allows stories to be told without insisting that they provide a punchline or a heroic reversal in the last sentence.  Indeed, the genre of “Everyday Sexism stories” often valorises the undramatic anecdote, the protagonist whose voice is drowned out by another character, or the woman who is stuck because she neither wants to make a scene nor to  accept it all as “same shit, different day”.  By offering a site for women to create new genres, this project may help to render audible some experiences which couldn’t be heard before because they didn’t sound enough like a proper story.  Stories which we all need to hear more clearly.

[1] I realize that this is not the main point of the site!  (One can imagine the headline at The Onion: “Feminist Website Achieves Resounding Success, Validation By Providing Man With Worthwhile Reading Material”.)  But it seems like a helpful side-effect of allowing women to share their stories with each other and with the world.