LIFESTYLE

HuffPost 10: Laura Bates, Founder Of The Everyday Sexism Project

08/05/2015 09:23 BST | Updated 08/05/2015 12:59 BST

When the Everyday Sexism project was launched in 2012, Laura Bates was unknown to the world.

Fast-forward three years on and she is a force to be reckoned with. Aged just 28, Bates has created a global movement that highlights the casual sexism experienced by women around the world on a daily basis.

From documenting street harassment and sexual assault to calling out sexism on Twitter and beyond, the Everyday Sexism project campaign now operates in 18 countries (and counting) and has received media coverage around the world. It even has its own published book.

"What started as an awareness-raising activity has become a worldwide movement for equality," she told HuffPost UK.

In April, the project received its 100,000th entry on the website, showing not only the power of the campaign but that, regrettably, there is still very much a need for Bates' work.

LAURA BATES BLOGS ON HUFFPOST UK:

'Men and Women Live in Different Worlds'

Dear David... An Open Letter to the Editor of the Sun

The impact of the project has reached far beyond the internet and her tireless campaigning has proven to influence public policy, education and office culture.

"The entries have been used to work on policy with ministers and members of parliament in multiple countries, to start conversations about consent in schools and universities, to tackle sexual harassment in businesses and workplaces and to help police forces raise the reporting and detection rates on sexual offences," she says.

It's no surprise therefore that Bates is largely seen as a leading figure of the fourth wave feminist movement, alongside the likes of journalist and broadcaster Caitlin Moran and Caroline Criado-Perez, who successfully campaigned to have a woman on British bank notes.

Mature, eloquent and passionate, Bates is in many ways the voice of her generation. She is also incredibly resilient, and has dealt with abhorrent death and rape threats, because of the nature of her work, with admirable stoicism, although she admits it has caused her sleepless nights and anxiety.

She is a HuffPost UK blogger, Guardian columnist and regular contributor across broadcast media.

We caught up with her ahead of HuffPost's 10th birthday to find out more about her aspirations, motivations and concerns.

laura bates

Laura Bates

What is the cause or issue that you are most interested in seeing solved over the next 10 years?

This is an impossible question, because so many of the major issues I'm passionate about solving are so closely interconnected. I could say wartime rape, or female genital mutilation, or the gender pay gap, or domestic violence, or workplace discrimination, or the harassment of women in public spaces, or the under-representation of women in politics, or media sexism, but the truth is I really, truly believe they are all so tightly interwoven that it is not possible to solve one without tackling them all.

I think our attitudes and ideas towards women in one sphere have a huge knock-on impact in behaviour towards them in another sphere. I don't believe it's possible to tackle wartime rape if we don't also face the fact that it is partly the victim-blaming and stigma often associated with survivors that makes it such a powerful weapon. I don't believe we can resolve the under-representation of women in politics without also addressing the fact that when women are promoted to our cabinet it's reported as the 'Downing Street Catwalk' of 'Cameron's Cuties', with commentary on their hair and legs and clothes.

I don't believe we can fight violence against women without standing against the idea that it's acceptable for men to evaluate and verbally abuse women in public spaces. So I suppose I would say the issue I most want to see addressed is the fundamental second-class citizenship of women, structurally, socially, domestically, politically, economically and professionally.

What is it you most hope to personally achieve in the next 10 years?

Well I'd like to eradicate gender inequality! But realistically I think we're probably looking at a slightly longer timeframe for that, so in the next 10 years I'd settle for raising awareness of sexism internationally to the degree that it is no longer disputed, campaigning to see young people receive compulsory education on sex and relationships education in as many countries as possible, working with companies, politicians and police forces towards tangible improvements for women and shifting the stigma of blame away from victims of sexual violence and onto perpetrators where it belongs.

What is a story you wish the media would do a better job of covering?

Sexual violence. So often, rape or sexual assault is reported either in a titillating, inappropriate way, or in a way which implies that some blame lies with the victim. Violence against trans women and women of colour is often particularly irresponsibly reported. We shouldn't ever hear in a newspaper article about a victim's sexual history, what they were wearing, or whether they had been drinking.

What current trend do you think we'll look back on in ten years in disbelief?

The Sun's Page 3. I think we will look back on it in absolute astonishment that it lasted as long as it did and I think we will hail Lucy Anne Holmes and her incredible team of activists for a victory that has made a tangible and symbolic difference to the lives of women and girls across the country.

Finish this sentence: In the year 2025, we will…

...pay women the same wages as men for the same work, teach every child about consent and their right to control their own body, consider street harassment a social taboo, no longer treat female politicians as anomalies, have overhauled the criminal justice system to better deal with sexual violence, not even remember the word slut.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the past year?

Receiving graphic rape and death threats has been my biggest challenge - it's difficult to keep going when people are writing to you to detail their fantasy of which weapons they'd use to kill you with, or which serial killers they think you'd make a good target for. This has had quite a significant impact on my personal life because I've started having night terrors and struggling with anxiety.

Who has been the biggest role model in your adult life?

I've been incredibly lucky to benefit from some wonderful role models in my field - women who are quietly slogging away every day doing the coal-face work that makes life better for women and girls, step by painstaking step.

Women like Holly Dustin and Sarah Green at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Ikamara Larasi at Imkaan, Natasha Walter at Women for Refugee Women, Rowan Miller at SARSAS, Lauren Wolfe at Women Under Siege, Soraya Chemaly and many more. I've been lucky enough to have meetings or work on campaigns alongside these women and to see their passion and determination first hand, whether it's strategising to shift public attitudes towards rape or tackling politicians on policy issues.

I'm constantly trying to emulate the women I most admire - for example Jude Kelly and Stella Creasy, who are each living proof that you can do as many as a hundred impossible things before breakfast.

Which living person do you most admire?

Malala Yousafzai. Her courage and strength leave me awestruck and she has shown girls all over the world that they can stand up for what they believe in against all odds.

What advice would you give a young person trying to decide what to do with their life?

You don't need to have all the answers yet! I know very few people who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives as teenagers or even in their early twenties- it's the sort of thing that you find out by trial and error.

Before I found the path that was right for me I spent several years working intermittently as an actress, turning up at auditions where I was told to take my top off. Before that I had some fairly eye-opening moments working as PA to a sex therapist and agony aunt. If you want to know ten ways to use edible body paint to spice up your sex life, just drop me an email. (Please don't.)

I think if you just pursue the things you're passionate about and keep doing the things that make you feel happy and confident, you'll find your way.

Where do you get your news from?

Twitter! If something sexist is happening, the chances are somebody will tweet it to me. This is great because it means I end up reading stories from a really wide variety of news sources, from the Times of India to Australia's Saturday Paper. It's also terrible because it means that I am a sort of lighting rod for everything awful. Silly cat pictures every now and then are much appreciated.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I check my emails - the Everyday Sexism Project is international, so there will often be almost as many coming in overnight as during the daytime.

How many hours of sleep do you get each night? How important has sleep been in your life?

This varies wildly depending on where I am in the world, what's happening with the project and how much work I have to do! I'll regularly stay up until 2 or 3am writing an article and then be up to start the day at 6 or 7, but I sleep a lot on trains and planes. I visited 20 countries last year working with activists, governments and international bodies on gender inequality, so I've become really good at dealing with jetlag!

What do you do to de-stress, recharge and stay balanced?

I'm still working on that part! I find that sunshine and being outdoors helps a lot, but I find it hard to leave my phone behind. I've only managed to properly take a break for two weeks in the three years since I started the project, and that was for my honeymoon! So I think I need to get better at stepping away from work.

What are you most thankful for?

The incredible women who have gone before me and paved the way to make it possible for me to vote, to work, to go to university,and to campaign. The incredible strength and courage, wit and wisdom of the people who have raised their voices and shared their stories through the Everyday Sexism Project. And the tireless volunteers who have devoted so much time and energy to helping me keep it running.

What do you value the most?

Friends and family. It might sound like a cliche, but it's true. I never could have anticipated the emotional toll that the last three years would take on me and there is absolutely no way I'd still be doing what I'm doing without the support of the people who love me and look after me and cheer me on. My closest friends help me to unwind with everything from board games to life drawing; my Mum has spent hours on the phone with me when I have been too scared to come home to my flat alone; and my husband has stood with me and supported me through an emotional rollercoaster of a journey I didn't even realise I was setting out on. I don't think I could begin to tell them how grateful I am.