Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The #WhenIWas Hashtag Is A Stark Reminder That We Still Need The Everyday Sexism Project

The #WhenIWas Hashtag Is A Stark Reminder That We Still Need The Everyday Sexism Project

The Debrief: Here's why we still need the Everyday Sexism Project Women Are Tweeting About The First Time They Experienced Sexual Harassment With The Hashtag #WhenIWas

Hands up if you've ever been followed down the street? If a stranger has ever commented on your appearance while you were minding your business in a public space? If you've ever been groped in a club by somebody you didn't know and didn't want to touch you? Told to 'cheer up love' by a random guy? How old were you the first time something like this happened to you?

It’s been a few years since Laura Bates started the Everyday Sexism Project which highlighted just how ingrained and commonplace sexism was in our society. Yesterday Everyday Sexism started a new hashtag which allowed women to share their experience of sexism, sexual harassment, sexual violence and discrimination that they encountered early on in their lives – as children and teenagers. By calling on women to discuss how young they were when they experienced sexism or sexual harassment for the first time the hashtag #WhenIWas demonstrates how far we’ve come, on a positive note, but, equally, reminds us of the distance yet to go in order to ensure that such sexism becomes a thing of the past once and for all. 

Some women have reported via the hashtag that they experienced sexism from ages as young as six or eight, with stories ranging from being physically groped or assaulted to being woolfwhistled and catcalled in the street or told to cover up.

What #WhenIWas demonstrates, sadly, is this: women, as girls, are often shockingly young when they are first exposed to sexism, harassment and gender inequality. For many young women, feeling threatened as you walk down the street aged 13, 14 or, perhaps, younger by somebody following you and commenting on your appearance is not an uncommon; it’s something we grew up with, got on with and had no choice to put up with. The insidiousness of such purportedly harmless ‘cheer up love’ style public harassment is why we need hashtags like #EverdaySexism and #WhenIwas to highlight the problem, keep the pressure on, remind women that they are not alone, that they don’t have to suffer in silence and, perhaps most importantly of all, continue to push things forward. All of this has come after the government (yes, the very same government who won’t do anything to make sex education in schools compulsory) have announced an enquiry into sexual violence and harassment in schools via the Women and Equalities Committee.  

Last year research done by Hollaback and Cornell University found that 84% of women are harassed in public by the time they turn 17, with that figure rising to 90% in the UK. Make no mistake, public harassment is part of growing up as a woman in this country. Indeed, in 2014, a survey conducted by Girlguiding UK found that up to 60% of girls and young women aged 13 to 21 had experienced sexual harassment at school or college.  

‘Lad culture’, ‘rape culture’ and ‘cheer up love’ dismissals of women who report harassment or assault are, sadly, ubiquitous, we must continue to call all of the above out and push for the government to take concrete action on the issue of sexual and verbal assault and harassment as experienced by women of all ages.

You might also be interested in:

Why Is The Issue Of Consent At University So Difficult To Grasp?

Why Is Sexual Harassment Not Illegal In The Uk?

Government Calls For Crackdown On Lad Culture In Universities

Tags: Everyday Sexism