I was so ridiculously excited to see Laura Bates speak at the university (in conjunction with Waterstones as part of her tour for her new book Girl Up) on Friday evening, I was bordering on being hysterical. Laura Bates holds particular resonance for myself personally (as I am sure every person who has read her books or heard her speak, will think). I read Everyday Sexism, (her first book) when it was first published two years ago and I was living in London.
I think I bought it on a whim at Tottenham Court Road Waterstones in a fit of angst at being catcalled walking down Oxford Street, a man kissing my hand on the tube as he got off, and the night before when a man followed me all the way home down some deserted terraces in Hackney. Yet, that impulse buy was the most perfect, eye opening, refreshingly-reassuring, and inspiring book. A couple of months later I quit art school, quit London and I blame you, Laura Bates, you beautiful human being.
The talk was essentially a quick insight into different issues Laura Bates tackles in her new book Girl Up. From negotiating social media as a young woman, how to deal with unwanted ‘dick pics’. She worked with a phenomenal illustrator, and include in the book drawings you can take a photo of and send back to the intrusive male with wonderfully deadpan slogans like: ‘CONGRATULATIONS, YOU HAVE A PENIS’.
She also covers consent, mental health, body image, confidence and ambitions, vulvas and a wonderful section named ‘THAT’S NOT YOUR VAGINA’. I bought a copy of Girl Up on the night (which she SIGNED as I word vomited at her whilst I had heart palpitations) and I’m already 189 pages through it, and to be honest I’m trying to write this article as quickly as I can so I can go back to reading it.
She barely drew a breath as she knocked out all these facts, figures, statistics, stories and anecdotes so eloquently, fluently, and articulately there was no way anyone would be able to say ‘but you’re equal now’. It reaffirmed that we aren’t making this up, it’s not all in our heads, and (more than anything) there was the sense of solidarity that we are not alone in our fight for equality.
That it is okay to challenge this - it is not just you. Bates highlighted how there are so many connections between these micro aggressions, the small things we’re told to take as a joke, that are just ‘banter’, all contribute to the bigger picture. Bates discussed lad culture, pornography, Facebook rape and domestic abuse pages, and the confusion for many young people as they try to negotiate and understand these issues. She also highlighted how universities often want to bury their heads in the sand, than to accept responsibility or initiate change. (Newcastle University, I’m looking at you: SORT IT OUT).
Bates ended the event, when a man in the back row asked if she defined herself as a particular kind of feminist, with how feminism is pretty basic: “you are either a feminist or a douchebag.” Bates is the nicest person I have ever met, and I am not saying that with any bias at all. (Obviously). She speaks about intersectional feminism, women’s right and equality with intelligence, humour; with kindness and inclusion.