June 2, 2022
Writer, activist, and founder of The Everyday Sexism Project Laura Bates joins Jameela this week to discuss what has changed since she started Everyday Sexism 10 years ago, the ways that all the authorities/systems are failing women, how rape is practically decriminalized in the UK, how men’s issues are important to feminism as well, the importance of sharing stories, and more.
Check out Laura Bates’ most recent book – Fix The System, Not the Women
You can follow Everyday Sexism on Twitter @everydaysexism
You can find transcripts for this episode here: https://www.earwolf.com/show/i-weigh-with-jameela-jamil/
I Weigh has amazing merch – check it out at podswag.com
113 — Fixing The System, Not the Women with Laura Bates
Jameela [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, a podcast that has absolutely no time for shame. I hope you’re well. I’ve been a bit fucked up lately, listening to the news, looking online. I’ve kind of had to actually get offline entirely. Because of the amount that people are enjoying the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial. Regardless of whatever you think of either of them. I don’t think they should have become a laughing matter, even if it was made public. I don’t think people should have memed this and become tik-tok famous from impersonating moments from this incredibly sad trial about two very unstable people in a very unstable and deeply upsetting and scary relationship. And I don’t think people really understand yet how much damage they’ve done by trivializing it like this. I don’t think they understand the knock on effect of making this a punch line of making the name Amber Heard a punchline. And I’m not going to get into the specifics. I didn’t even really follow the trial in any great detail because I found the whole thing so depressing and inappropriate to be so public. I do think it’s good that, you know, we have more conversations now about abuse that men can face in domestic violence situations and. I think that’s progressive, but I wish we could have just left it there at that progress rather than turn this into cutting someone’s head off in front of a crowd. It’s just too vitriolic and too focused only on, of course, the women’s actions, rather than also focusing on the man and all the scary text messages he sent and all the things we heard him say in recordings. And the fact that, you know, both people have been found guilty by juries. In the UK. Johnny Depp was not successful. In the U.S. he was. And essentially what I’m trying to say is just that it’s a little bit dark and predictable that only the woman’s aggressions and microaggressions and slip ups and fuck ups are turned into popular comedy content and a witch hunt but we all seem to have such a sympathetic reason behind a man’s terrible behavior. He’s always just passionate or he was unstable and and sad and an addict and which is so much of a more sympathetic tone for men, we should just look at that. We should look at. If we enjoyed the trial, why we enjoyed the trial, we should look at if we enjoyed making fun of Amber Heard. Why is that so? Neither of them seem okay. I don’t think any of this should have been a laughing matter. But anyway, speaking of sexism, today, I have such an extraordinary person on the podcast. I’ve been a fan of hers for well over a decade. I think all of her books have been incredible. I think the movement she has started has been incredible. Her name is Laura Bates. She’s an English gender equality activist and an author, and you might know her from the Everyday Sexism Project. She started it back in April 2012 and has gone on to make a whole movement out of it and published several books pertaining to feminism and gender activism. She’s so intelligent. She is so honest. She is so open and she’s so unjudgmental. I think my favorite thing about her is that she’s looking for change. She’s not just here to explain what the problem is. She’s actively spending her own time, her own money in researching a practical and efficient way out of the mess that is misogyny and sexism in the world in which we live today. We discuss the whole movement. We discuss how we met. We discuss how the system is failing women. We discuss how institutional misogyny is. We do. I just want to offer you a trigger warning. We do talk about rape in this episode and sexual assault. And so we don’t talk about it in any particularly graphic way, but it does come up. And so if that’s something that you are not ready to listen to right now, especially given everything that’s been in the news lately, I completely understand. And maybe this isn’t the moment, but we talk about it more in a general institutional way regarding the way that the courts see it, the way that police fail us. How much scary misogyny and and endangerment to women lies among the police. And we talk about how important it is to share our stories. We talk about the roles that men need to play in overturning misogyny and patriarchy. It’s a really fascinating episode, and she is a fascinating person. And I really, really, really can’t wait to hear what you think about this episode and if it encourages you, if it inspires you, she inspires me. She makes me want to do more hands on work to really understand the system so that I can expose it and break it alongside her. She’s an exceptional human being. She’s very, very charming, and she comes ready with facts in this episode. It’s really just so impressive the way that she speaks, the way that she is, and the way that she carries herself. So this is the excellent Laura Bates. Laura Bates, welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
Laura [00:06:01] I’m good. Thank you so much for having me.
Jameela [00:06:03] It’s so good to see you again. It’s been like ten years. 11 years.
Laura [00:06:08] Yeah, you too. It has, it’s been a really long time here.
Jameela [00:06:10] Here we are still in the trenches dealing with an unimaginable amount of bullshit. But for the bigger and better cause. How are you? How you been?
Laura [00:06:19] All right, thanks. Yeah. Up and down, like everybody. Sad that it wasn’t fixed after a few years. But no I’m good.
Jameela [00:06:30] I think I met you during the kind of launch of Everyday Sexism and the success of that project and that book. All of that has been so inspiring to watch and I’ve been such a big fan of yours for such a long time and it’s so thrilling to get to talk to you today, but also in what feels like a kind of it feels like then the next step sounds stupid, but it kind of feels like an amalgamation of a lot of your work where we’re at now with Fix the System, Not the Women. This is your new book and I’m dying to talk to you about it because it’s about the systemic oppression and and how this runs so deep. And rather than fixing the symptoms, we’re now going to as one attack the cause together. Does it feel like that for you? Like this is where everything has been leading all of this time?
Laura [00:07:19] Yes, I think so. I think I was really naive when I started Everyday Sexism a decade ago. I think.
Jameela [00:07:24] In what way.
Laura [00:07:25] I think, I thought that if enough of us spoke out about our experiences and how horrendous what’s happening is that something would have to change. And I think after seeing hundreds of thousands of people do just that through Everyday Sexism and millions of people do that with MeToo and tens of thousands of schoolgirls in the UK do that with Everyone’s Invited. I think I’ve come to realize that while those voices are so important and the function that they have played is immeasurably powerful in changing the conversation and raising awareness, I think that we have to demand structural and systemic responses, and I think I hadn’t recognized how deeply institutionalized the problem was and how the the solution therefore needs to be systemic.
Jameela [00:08:09] Do you feel like maybe ten years ago you thought that a lot of men just didn’t know what our experience was? I just wonder that because I personally thought that, you know, because I know a lot of very good, decent men who don’t go around constantly harassing women. And I thought maybe they just don’t know what it is that we’re experiencing. And so if they hear enough of my stories and our stories and everyone’s stories, they’ll wake up to it and step up to the fight, step up to the plate, rather. And I was stunned to watch over the last decade or so, as I imagine older feminists have been since the seventies and the sixties and fifties and beyond, I have been stunned to watch them hear it. And then just because it’s been so hyper normalized to them their entire lives, for most of them kind of shrug and go, yeah that sounds really hard. And then they just move on. There’s no like fire in them to change with us.
Laura [00:09:02] Yes, I think I think partly that’s that I think I’d hoped that there would be more of a sense of outrage when people learned what was happening. But also, I think really specifically that there are people in positions of power. So it’s it’s not even just about kind of ordinary men. It’s about men who are in positions where they actually actively could change things dramatically and who are choosing either to completely ignore the problem or to blame women. I think that’s what that’s what lit the fire of this book in me. It was my absolute fury that at every turn, when sexual violence had finally come into the spotlight, they were telling us how women could fix it. People with the power to do systemic things. So literally, Sarah Everard was murdered. The police told women in Clapham not to go out on their own. Sabina Nassar was murdered. They handed out 200 attack alarms to local women. Bobbi-Ann McLeod was murdered. The leader of her city council said women shouldn’t be putting themselves in compromising positions. We had a police and crime commissioner saying that Sarah Everard shouldn’t have submitted to the false arrest that was used to imprison her and that women needed to be more streetwise. And so I think it was just this sense of fury that with the months that they had to plan for Wayne Couzens Sarah Everard’s murderer being convicted, the response that the police came out with on that day was to tell women that they could think about flagging down busses, that we are still seeing leading police units in charge of the crisis of spiking, for example, telling us while women should think about taking spiking kits on nights out anti spiking kits to test their drinks, or that the home secretary is saying it seems like a really good idea that women should be downloading a new app that can track their movements. And I just can’t believe that in the face of what is so overwhelmingly an epidemic, a. Public health catastrophe that’s killing one woman every three days. The response from all of these people in positions of power is still to go ah what’s she done wrong there and what could other women do to avoid it. That just makes me absolutely furious.
Jameela [00:11:08] I remember reading about a case in Australia where a young woman was murdered and the police response was to tell women to not use headphones when they walk home at night.
Laura [00:11:18] Yeah I mean, we think this is really acceptable. And and if you try and fight back against these ideas, those kind of well-meaning people that we’ve kind of touched on will go oh but it’s just common sense, isn’t it? Like we have this incredibly high tolerance as a society for women’s lives being disrupted en masse because of male violence. But we have a completely low tolerance for the same notion being extended towards men. So, for example, if the police had said that men in Clapham couldn’t go out on their own because one of them was killing people, everyone would have said, That’s outrageous. You know, that’s that’s an extraordinary assault on men’s civil liberties. But the idea that women shouldn’t go out on their own because they’re not safe is seen as a completely acceptable burden that women should have to bear. And we do that with with everything. And I don’t know a woman who doesn’t carry her keys between her fingers crossed the street if she sees groups of men, text each other when we’re home safely, don’t wear a short skirt, don’t wear headphones, don’t have your hair in a ponytail because someone could grab it, go to the bathroom in groups, get the right kind of minicab home. And when that’s our starting point, it means that even when women die, our grief is kind of modulated by how much or how little we think they deserved it. So when Sarah Everard died, the thing that trended around the world was she was just walking home and she did all the right things. When Aisling Murphy was murdered in Ireland, the thing that trended was she was just going for a run. And I get where that comes from and I know no one does that from a place of intending it to be like this. But really what we are saying when that’s our public response is it was tragic because she didn’t ask for it. She was the right kind of victim. It wouldn’t have been such a tragedy if she’d been wearing a short skirt and drunk at two in the morning and meeting someone who was going to pay her for sex or whatever it was. Like, we accept this level of kind of violence against women being inevitable in certain circumstances. And that’s mad.
Jameela [00:13:02] It absolutely is. I think we’re kind of I think we’re kind of on the same page. I 100% agree with you that when it comes to these institutions, they are run by rather a small group of men, really, if we think about it, and I think that where I feel the next step after that is is now holding the good guys, quote unquote, accountable to pressure those men, because these men can’t get away with this without the complicity and the complacency of all voters everywhere. And that shouldn’t just be women. I’m so sick of seeing almost no men at the Women’s March. I’m sick of how many of my own friends who know so much from me and from my peers and all that news and how how much we have been able to access information about this. How many of the some of the best men I know still don’t get involved in the fight. It breaks my heart and drives me mad. And I don’t I don’t really know what it’s going to take for them to get involved. And so I agree with you. And I’m I’m dying to get more into the work that you’ve been doing with this project. So what was the kind of what was the kind of step that led you to create this work now?
Laura [00:14:24] I think it was suddenly realizing how interconnected it was because it started with thinking about the police, thinking about the fact that we were being fobbed off by this story, that Wayne Couzens who murdered Sarah Everard was a bad apple, that he was a bad’n. But the reality was that he was literally nicknamed the rapist by his colleagues. He’d been reported for indecent exposure repeatedly, but it had never been taken seriously enough by the police for him to be taken off duty. His colleagues had taken photographs of the dead bodies of two murdered black women, Biba Henry and Nicole Smallman, a year earlier and shared them in a WhatsApp group with 41 other officers. And when you look into it, the further you look, you find that 2000 met officers have been reported for sexual misconduct in the last few years alone. You realize that half of met officers found guilty of sexual misconduct keep their jobs and only one in 80.
Jameela [00:15:17] Wow.
Laura [00:15:17] Met officers accused of sexual assault ever face formal action. So the more I looked into it, the more I thought, this is completely insane that we are being told that this is one bad apple. No one could have seen this coming when clearly this is a system that is institutionally and of course, institutionally racist. Right. It’s also a system where black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. You can’t separate institutional racism in the police from institutional misogyny. But I felt I think that perhaps when you think of one kind of an institution, you turn to another institution to kind of try and fix it. And I think we’re taught that there should be this failsafes, right? So then you turn to politics and you think, well, politicians are the ones you can force root and branch change reform in the police. So let’s let’s depend on our politicians. Right. And you turn to politics and you realize that 56 of our MPs are currently under investigation for sexual misconduct themselves, which is about a 10th of all our MPs. And if we assume that they’re all men, then it’s about 13% of male MPs. And you realize that, you know, this is a system that is completely suffused with a very tiny group of extremely privileged white men. You know, we’ve got hereditary peers sitting in the House of Lords who are just there because they’ve inherited a title. We’ve got only six of our 23 cabinet ministers who are women and so on and so on. So you think, okay, politicians are not necessarily going to fix this off their own bat because the problem is in politics as well. And so you think how do we try to put pressure on politicians to take action, use the media right? So you turn to the media, you turn to the media and you realize that actually it’s the media who is attacking women in politics by telling us in massive stories that women in their chamber are crossing and uncrossing their legs to use their vulvas to distract the prime minister. And you realize that actually women only write a quarter of our front page newspaper articles and 84% of them are about men. So you think what if the media isn’t an institution that’s free of this in any way, we can’t use the media. So you think maybe we need to go backwards instead go back to education, stop this from happening before it starts? Let’s turn to education. Maybe that’s the institution that can save us here. And you turn to education and you realize that a third of girls are sexually assaulted at school. You realize that 80% of girls say sexual assault is just normal in their peer groups. You realize that a rape every day of the school term on average is being reported to police as happening inside UK schools. And you think that system is utterly suffused with institutional misogyny as well. So all of these systems that you kind of need to fix, the other systems, they’re all toppling like dominoes. And I think for some of us, particularly if you’re a privileged person, you’ve grown up in a world that kind of teaches you it’s okay because the justice systems there as this kind of this kind of bedrock, this safety net. Right. And, you know, it’s totally true that a lot of people grow up knowing that that’s not true from the very beginning. But I think that’s something that people try to portray to us. Right, it’s okay, the justice system will sort things out. So you finally turn to the justice system and you realize that it’s in that system, that 1.4% of rapes reported to the police result in a charge or a summons. So you realize it’s literally not hysterical to say that rape has been decriminalized in the UK and you realize that only seven out of our 38 no justice of appeal are women, only 18 out of 108 High Court judges. So I think at that point you stop and you realize there is no way to tackle this around the edges, there’s no way to tamper with one system or to throw in a few extra CCTV cameras or hand out some attack alarms. It literally has to be this root and branch reform that goes to the institutional inequality in every one of these kind of pillars of our society. And that’s what made me want to write the book to try and lay out in ways that we could see. Because I’ve always felt that if you can’t see a problem, you can’t enthuse other people to get involved in tackling it. That’s what Everyday Sexism was. People were telling me sexism didn’t exist. I didn’t think I could fix sexism, but I thought if I could force people to see it, then that would be the first step to changing it. And I feel like what I’m trying to do now is the same. But for systems, for institutional misogyny and inequality, if people can’t see it because they’ve always been taught that there’s nothing wrong with the system, it’s the women at fault, then we won’t be able to fight it. So I’m trying to make that clear what the system failings are.
Jameela [00:19:40] And is that something you’re trying to make clear mostly for other women to be able to see? Or also, are you hoping that maybe people of other genders will also see this in a clear light of day to actually join the fight?
Laura [00:19:54] Yeah, absolutely. Because as in any one of the struggles that people with privilege in that situation are the ones whose voices we may need to be brought to the fight. And inevitably, it’s usually the people most effective who end up fighting anyway. And, you know, for some people, these things are easier to fight than others. And we have to recognize that, because even when they kind of give us these crumbs, they encourage us to kind of jump on it and say, woohoo, this is a win like the the domestic abuse bill, for example, which did really good things for some women, but left migrant women completely out in the cold and of course
Jameela [00:20:28] Why?
Laura [00:20:28] So migrant women have no recourse to public funds, which means that when they experience abuse, they often turn to state agencies or even to frontline services. And because they don’t have recourse to public funds, they’re turned away, essentially. What that means is that abuses of migrant women literally use their immigration status against them. So, for example, one organization I talk to about this, they said that there was a man who had abused his partner so violently he left her covered in bruises and bleeding, and he literally drove her to a police station and said, What are you going to do? You’re going to go in there, or are you going to stay with me. And she knew that if she went in there because of the hostile environment policy, she risked having her immigration status investigated. She was terrified of the police and she went home with her abuser. So you literally end up with the state colluding with abusers. And so, yeah, I think that’s why it’s really important that when we’re fighting this stuff, there are some of us whose voices should be louder than others, because change is being made in a way that they would like us to kind of say, Oh, brilliant, fantastic. And we have to speak up for the people who aren’t included in that change.
Jameela [00:21:40] It is so, so depressing on top of that, to see women sometimes don’t believe each other and women participate in not just shaming one another, but also shaming themselves. Do you have any thoughts on this and how we can go about investigating it in ourselves and changing it?
Laura [00:22:02] Yeah, I think it’s heartbreaking. I think it is evidence of how deeply ingrained misogyny is in all of us and in our society from birth. I think that internalized misogyny is very real. And I also think that it is sort of inevitable because we know we have the stats. We know that girls are five when they first start to worry about the size and shape of their bodies. We know that a quarter of seven year old girls have dieted to lose weight. We know that number goes up to 80% by the time you reach the age of ten. We know that the number one magic wish of American teenage girls is to be thinner with all the other things that girls could wish for. And I think what that tells us is that way before we are old enough to be able to engage critically with these messages, we are receiving incredibly powerful messages about who and what we are and how society values us. We grow up knowing from childhood that the gap between our thighs or the number on the scales is the most important thing about us to society, no matter what we do or believe or achieve. And I think that within that system, which is so powerful, we learn early that internalized misogyny, weaponizing misogyny against other women is a survival mechanism it’s a it’s a coping mechanism. It’s I saw Judy dancing with the devil because it saves you, you know, if you accuse another woman, if you throw another woman under the bus, if you’re the cool girl who laughs along with sexism, then it protects you from that witch hunt, whatever it is. So I feel like a kind of double standard.
Jameela [00:23:30] Like protect you until it doesn’t.
Laura [00:23:31] Well, yeah, of course. But yeah, I think it’s a kind of detoxification process. And again, I think seeing it is the first step to addressing it.
Jameela [00:23:43] 100%. And also I just want to say, which is no criticism of you whatsoever, but I had Dr. Jackson Katz, I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work, but I had him on his podcast and he feels very passionately about us not using the terminology violence against women, because it’s a passive, passive language that means that we’re not actually saying who’s done it. It’s as if, you know, I don’t know, ghost or a raccoon could possibly be responsible. And so I’m trying to learn to make sure that I say specifically men’s violence against women so that they can stop being excluded from the motherfucking narrative.
Laura [00:24:18] Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.
Jameela [00:24:20] I wonder if. Yeah, I was going to say, I wonder if you if you feel as passionately about that, because I do think it is a pretty good and pretty potent point that and it’s just it’s so wild to me when men say, well, you know, well, actually more men are victims of violence on a night out or out in the street. And it’s like, yes, at the hands of other men.
Laura [00:24:40] Yeah, exactly.
Jameela [00:24:41] So, take care of that in-house. You know what I mean? Like what we’re seeing, the common denominator here is that this violence is all coming from men towards other men, but also towards other women.
Laura [00:24:54] Yeah. That we are talking about male violence and that the way that we can ignore that is actually kind of mind blowing when you look at the fact that that America is reeling from yet another mass shooting in a school, and that when we talk about these men and these acts, we don’t see anybody talking about the fact that they are all men. It’s as if that’s kind of invisible.
Jameela [00:25:18] Or a given.
Laura [00:25:19] That, yeah, that this is connected. And of course the link to domestic abuse and the fact that as in this case, so very often that shooter kills a female family member first and has a history of alleged harassment and abuse of women. As long as we continue to just ignore that, we can’t recognize the links. If we see violence against women as just so normal that we cannot as a society get our head around the idea of it being an indicator of something extreme. Women are basically the canaries just slowly dying in the coal mines over and over and over again. And we just never seem to learn to listen.
Jameela [00:25:55] Well, it’s it’s weirdly unflattering, isn’t it? It’s it’s as if we have just sort of written men off as not being as sort of beyond help. Beyond control.
Laura [00:26:04] Yeah.
Jameela [00:26:04] And so we’re placing it all on the much more responsible women. We’re kind of dismissing men, like, as en masse. We’re saying they are incapable of fundamental emotional, social, institutional change. And I actually personally have a lot more faith in men than that. And I feel very invested and have done for years in in including men in as much of my feminism as possible, not just to ask them to join the fight, but also to look into where the rot starts and the things that happen to them to create this, this pattern and to to poison them are all the different places that poison comes from to indoctrinate these these young boys, sometimes so young into these false ideals and false beliefs that only lead to a relatively miserable life. It might not be as miserable as the women who have this patriarchy inflicted upon them. But it is we we see it in the suicide rates of men, younger and younger and younger and growing and growing. And there is something not I don’t mean sad in a sympathetic way, but there is something horrifying and devastating that someone who was once a little happy, innocent baby grew up to become a fucking school shooter and a maniac and a murderer. But these are all men. What is what is happening to men? And I, I sometimes get criticized as some sort of a sympathizer or something like that for even daring to ask this question. But as you know, as I said at the beginning of this, you are always invested in the cause and not just the symptoms. And I wonder if this is something you would like to discuss with me? How do we stop it at the at the genesis?
Laura [00:27:53] Yeah, I totally agree with you. I mean, it’s so incredibly insulting to the vast majority of men to say that male violence is inevitable and unstoppable, which is exactly what we’re saying when we say that women need to learn not to wear short skirts, that we should have women only train carriages. What we’re saying is we’re never going to stop men raping women. So the women need to look out and protect themselves. And it does completely assume that all men are like that, which isn’t the case. And it also completely ignores male survivors of sexual violence in particular. I think one of the issues which I’ve researched particularly kind of deeply around all of this is what’s happening to boys online from a very young age. So there is a concerted and deliberate effort to radicalize and to groom boys into extremism online that nobody is really talking about. And yes, that includes extremist groups like Incels and men going their own way and pick up artists and men’s rights activists. But it’s also leaky. So this doesn’t just mean that we’re only talking about men and boys who access these groups directly. We’re also talking about those who come into contact with their ideologies, kind of downstream on viral YouTube videos and on viral Instagram memes and on bodybuilding forums and over their headsets while they’re gaming online. And it is a form of extremism. It’s extremely closely tied up with white supremacy in the far right. They’re not really two separate problems so much as part of the same issue. But it is a form of terrorism that we just aren’t acknowledging as terrorism and its reach is enormous. So we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of men actively being members of these communities, but millions of men coming into contact with their output. And you can see it if you look at kind of, for example, a recent poll that found that 27% over a quarter of American men now say that they won’t have a 1 to 1 meeting with a woman in the workplace because of this sense of kind of panic that’s been spread by this deliberate misinformation online that women are making up false rape allegations to ruin men’s lives and careers, and that is become so entrenched that when I go into schools now, it is so common for teenage boys, for young boys who, as you say, have not been born hating women, but by the age of 11 or 12 to say to me that women lie about rape. So why should I listen to anything that you’re saying? And the truth the reality is so far from it. The reality is that one of those boys growing up in the UK, he’s 230 times more likely to be raped himself than to be falsely accused of rape. That’s how far it is from the truth. And yet it’s so powerful, that narrative, that backlash, what we’re seeing in terms of the kind of tsunami of responses to the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial, that narrative is really powerful. And I think it’s getting men I think it’s getting to men who consider themselves good guys. I think it’s incredibly infectious. And unless we stop and say, this is terrorism, it ticks every box, it’s hatred of a specific demographic group is being deliberately targeted at boys online. It’s being used to incite real life violence against that group. And again and again, whether it’s from Elliot Rodger to Elliot Minassian, we see men coming off line and massacring women offline in the name of that hate filled ideology. That is terrorism. That’s what it is that fits every international definition. Until we see that and we can recognize that. What we’re seeing in terms of online misogyny and its overlap with online abuse is extremism. But we can’t recognize it because it’s often young, educated white boys. And when they carry out terror attacks, we call them lone wolves instead of terrorists, and we call it banter instead of grooming and online extremism. Until we make that step of recognizing that for what it is, I think it would be really hard to answer that question of how is this happening and how are so many men feeling and believing in these things?
Jameela [00:32:01] I think it’s on all parents to also be more vigilant as to what it is that your kids are listening to, what they’re hearing, what they’re playing, what they’re looking at online, and to make sure that you from as young as they can understand, in the same way that we do with girls about safety, we start to explain to boys not only about their own safety, about how to be safe to be around, how to tolerate rejection, how to understand the basic fundamentals of consent. I still see little girls being forced to give a little boy a hug because he’s asked for one. These things start right there in that exact moment, a fundamental understanding of your power in the world and that others should submit to you. And so I do think it starts at home. I think teachers have a responsibility to drum all of this into boys heads, considering they are the main protagonists by a country mile. And I think the media has so, so much to answer for the way that the media will zoom in on individual women. I know you talk about this a lot on individual women and then use that to smear the entire group. I mean, they do the same, by the way. They’ll be like one immigrant who does one bad thing and they will use that to smear all immigrants, but they do the same thing with women. One woman maybe gets found out about something, and we use her as the example, in spite of the fact that the statistics clearly state that she does not represent the majority.
Laura [00:33:26] Absolutely. I mean, we’re seeing that right now in real time with what’s happening with Amber Heard before the results of this trial have even come in. People have recognized that they can use Amber Heard as that as they perceive it as a kind of proxy that they are ripping her to shreds. But what they are really trying to do is ripped to shreds any kind of progress in credibility that’s been made through MeToo and the kind of feminist movement of the last decade, that they see it as a kind of wedge issue and they’re using it in the same way that they use it whenever there is any kind of nuance or any kind of complexity about any case. You know, whenever there’s a case that involves someone who has wolf whistled or done something that they can hold up as trivial or in the same way that you beg them to let you come on and talk about period poverty or the detention of refugee women, and you get nothing. And then you have media outlets bombarding you with requests to come on and debate whether Kleenex, man sized tissues are sexist or whether men working overhead signs are sexist or man flu, fact or fiction? Because they want to use any opportunity they can to tear apart feminism. And they will use any one woman to do that if they think that they can portray her to the general public as somehow representing qualities that they would like us to attribute to the wider movement, particularly deceitfulness or.
Jameela [00:34:54] Misandry.
Laura [00:34:54] Yeah, of course.
Jameela [00:34:57] And there’s such such an obsession with the idea of a woman’s deceit. And it goes all the way back to Eve. And whenever we trace this back, it’s always the Garden of Eden.
Laura [00:35:09] Yeah it’s so old school, we have the same thing with the Angela Rayner case. One of the things that really struck me about that was that there was another case that happened in almost it was in 1965 there was another female politician who came to Parliament and her male colleague said All she has to do is wobble that bottom of hers and she gets all her own way with the Prime Minister, literally the same exact story 80 years ago. And if you look at the stories of the girls I meet in schools today who have been coerced by a boy into sending a photograph of themselves, and then he circulates it without their consent and she is handed out of the school and bullied to the point that she ends up leaving, or in some cases self-harming, or worse. She becomes the slut and the slag and the whore. And he’s the stud and the player. It’s literally a witch hunt. 400 years has gone by and nothing has changed. And yet we have this this bizarre kind of opposite theory online where men are able to use the term witch hunt non ironically to describe metoo, in saying it’s a witch hunt against men. There’s this kind of extraordinary level of misinformation out there, which is so frustrating.
Jameela [00:36:20] Well it’s also because there’s very little education about the plight of women. I don’t remember learning very much beyond a little bit about the suffragettes, and then we moved on to learning about the royal fucking family. You know what I mean?
Laura [00:36:34] Yeah we learned nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Jameela [00:36:34] We learned nothing. We we don’t learn. And so, you know, if you don’t I can’t remember exactly what the quote is, it’s much cleverer than I am. But it’s you know, if we do not examine our history and our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.
Laura [00:36:48] Yeah. Yeah. In the same way that we learn nothing about colonialism or, you know, there is.
Jameela [00:36:52] Exactly.
Laura [00:36:54] Just so much.
Jameela [00:36:54] And also and also I do want to say that if anyone’s listening to this and hearing, you know, the terminology around white supremacy and of course, there’s such a huge and pervasive issue, but also there are men from other cultures who are not white, who also participate en masse in violence, in men’s violence against women. And they can also be parts parts of the incel culture. I mean, I had I had an expert on Incels. Her name is Contra Points, Natalie Wynn. And she was talking to me about the fact that there are actually different names for different races of Incels, which are hugely offensive, like currycels or ricecels, which is pretty fucking extraordinary. But I, I do just want to acknowledge that it’s not just the stuff that is not just the ideologies that are linked to white supremacy, that bleed misogyny and deep, deep, deep fear of women all over men from as soon as they can understand. I mean, I’m a South Asian and I. I can’t even believe what I see back home. And I hate that I look at the mess that we are in here and think, well, at least we’re allowed to drive. At least we’re allowed to be educated, at least we’re allowed to wear T-shirts or choose who we love. It’s such a fucking low bar.
Laura [00:38:18] Yeah. And it’s just so, so widespread, which I think can make it feel very overwhelming and all pervasive.
Jameela [00:38:25] So what do we do beyond recognizing it? What are the steps that we take? How do we give people there are people who are listening to this. I mean, I have a and a wonderfully large father base in my listenership. But how do we how do we go about really, really dealing with this once and for all? Because clearly exposing all of the facts isn’t enough.
Laura [00:38:48] Yeah. So I think the important thing is that in the same way that the problem is complex and interconnected, so is the solution. So we need political solutions. And that means voting in politicians who are prepared to take those steps, so I’m talking about things like the Istanbul convention, for example. Obviously, things like legislation around a woman’s right to actually choose her own reproductive health care and so on.
Jameela [00:39:11] Talk to me about the Istanbul. Sorry, I don’t know about this.
Laura [00:39:14] So the Istanbul convention is a really brilliant piece of kind of gold standard legislation that kind of takes a quite sort of holistic approach to male violence and tackling it. So it looks at things like the media, it looks at things like frontline sexual violence services. The UK government signed it almost a decade ago and it’s never ratified it, so it’s literally sitting there ready to be used. So there are really clear political tools that we could actually use. It’s partly about collective action, I think, to put pressure for these systems to be reformed in a really meaningful way. Root and branch reform. And the first step to that, I think, is pushing hard for public acknowledgment of the problem. So the Center for Women’s Justice, for example, at the moment is campaigning in the UK for a systemic inquiry into a statutory inquiry into misogyny and policing. That’s wide ranging and meaningful and that’s a really good campaign to support. That’s a kind of concrete thing listeners can do. So there are those things, I think, where it’s about kind of high level political collective action. But I also think at an individual level there is so much that all of us can do. I think every one of those dads listening can speak to their sons, just as we said, about really simple issues like their own rights and their responsibilities in a relationship like sexual consent and what healthy relationships and respect look like. I would like to replace every girl who we have ever taught not to go out in a short skirt or given a rape alarm to with a boy who’s been taught about consent or given a copy of a feminist book. You know, there are things like that in our own relationships. And then there are a lot of men who say, I’m an ally, I’m an ally. I want to help like tell me what to do. And I am often quite asked how we make space for these men in the feminist movement. And an answer which was given by a brilliant activist called Kelly Temple, who I once worked with, was that what we really need is not to make space for those men in the feminist movement. It’s for those men to take the spaces they have in the world and make them feminist. So talk about this stuff in your five side football league or in the locker rooms or in your WhatsApp group with your mates. And I know it’s uncomfortable and I know it’s a bit awkward and it’s not always easy, but you know, if it feels uncomfortable to talk about it, then imagine what it’s like for us to live it. You know, men can start these conversations and they can disrupt that normalization that sees the sexist joke going unchallenged on WhatsApp or whatever it is. And every time they object, every time they disrupt something that other men consider normal, they put a little chip in that kind of facade of this just being the way things are, and there’s nothing we can do about it. And I think that those little cracks together are really important. The truth is that if you look at something like the male suicide rate, if you look at these issues that are crippling and devastating men, those are the things feminists are fighting because the male suicide rate isn’t some issue in isolation and opposition to what feminists are fighting for. As much as that’s what men’s rights activists will tell you online, how dare you bang on about women’s rights and sexism and the male suicide rate is so high as if you’ve got to pick a team and you choose one or the other and feminists want to ignore that. The truth is that what that is is the result of the fact that men are dramatically less likely to get support and interventions when they experience mental health crisis. You know, it really is as simple as that by the time we get to university. Already, fewer than a third of university provided counseling services are accessed by male students. And we know why that happens. There’s loads of brilliant research, it’s because we bring up kids in a world where we teach them, Boys don’t cry. Men are tough and manly. And what that is, simplistically speaking, obviously, is a gender stereotype, which is never in a vacuum. It’s always two sides of a coin. The other side of that coin is the idea that women are overemotional, hormonal, and can’t stop going on about their feelings. And that is what leads to women being told you can’t be in a science lab because we’ll cry or fall in love with you. Or Hillary Clinton being told we can’t put you in the Oval Office because you’re menopausal and there’ll be hormones around the nuclear button. So we’re talking about dealing with the same outdated, toxic, basic restrictive stereotypes that are devastating men’s lives as well. If you care about all of that stuff affecting men. You are literally a feminist. You are on our side. This is all of our fight and we can change things in a way that would help and be so positive for people of all genders. It’s such a myth that this is just about women trampling men.
Jameela [00:43:53] I had a really interesting experience the last couple of months I’ve been living in Berlin and I feel like it’s the first I don’t know if you’ve ever been, but is feels like the first time I’ve ever lived in civilization. I honestly, no, I swear to God, you know, I’ve come back to the UK where I am now and then I’m going to go on to the US and it they all just feel like fucking they feel like being out in the wild after having lived in Berlin where, you know, I think they have made an extraordinary effort to make sure that they go above and beyond, to now be a leading example of how to treat other people. And I have never felt ever so safe anywhere. I have never seen like a a beautiful woman sitting alone outside a pub, eating a pizza on her own. And not only is she not being bothered by anyone, unimaginable in England, but she doesn’t look like she’s about to be bothered. She has no concern on her face. She’s got one of her headphones in and she’s just eating her pizza, looking off into the distance, daydreaming. No keys between her hands, not stressed, just at ease. And I would see things like that. Everywhere I go, I see little boys being very careful and respectful around girls. I would walk past a group of men and my instinct would be that my I can almost feel my cortisol rise and then I walk past them and they do not in any way behave in an intimidating fashion. Obviously, I am not saying that there is no crime against men’s violence against women in Berlin or anything like that. I’m just saying that I felt a complete change in my entire personality and sense of self. Having been felt safe and free for just two and a half months of my life. It has completely altered my state of being and I didn’t realize that I felt like I am fighting for my life since I could understand. And it was really sad to get to 36 and finally learn what it’s like to feel truly calm because you don’t feel safe even in your own house. I almost feel the least safe when I’m in my house on my own. Because then I feel like a sitting duck. It’s just such an unacceptable way to live. This is a mental health podcast and it would feel ridiculous to not talk about the tremendous impact on our mental health to feel like this all the time. I had no idea that I could ever actually feel safe anywhere.
Laura [00:46:22] It’s massive, isn’t it? Because we are living in a constant state of hypervigilance. And that isn’t a coincidence. It’s because we have been literally taught that that is what will be expected of us since childhood.
Jameela [00:46:32] I literally have like countless tactics, countless ridiculous tactics I think I was talking about to Dr. Jackson Katz. That, you know, I run home and I look behind me as if I’m already being chased so that another man will think someone’s already got that one and he’ll leave me alone. But that’s so bonkers when you actually zoom out and think about it. And then I, I one time and this is, this is probably a bit too far, and I admit that. But I one time was running down my road. It was like 11:30 p.m. at night. And I see a group of men standing around a car which could just could not be more terrifying because they could bundle you into the car. They could harass you, scare you, drive you into the road. So I ran up to them looking terrified and said, and I quote, It’s coming! And then ran off. And without them even stopping to wonder what was coming. They all dispersed in different directions. You know, I think especially it being America and Hollywood, you know, they’ve seen that it could be like legit Cloverfield or King Kong.
Laura [00:47:40] That is a good one. I’m going to remember that.
Jameela [00:47:41] It’s a really strong tactic. You know, they were more afraid for their own safety than fucking with mine. And it was it was glorious then the street was I had the street to myself and I was able to just calmly walk the rest of the way. Having scared the fucking shit out of these men.
Laura [00:47:58] That just like really does bring home to you how extreme things are.
Jameela [00:48:04] They are so creative. And also, by the way, we talk about this online. I’m always met with like doubt and people saying, Oh, you’re lying or you’re full of yourself or you just think everyone wants to hit on you all the time and you just can’t. I mean, that’s what I loved about Everyday Sexism is that you showed that this is not these are not isolated experiences. This is not my own personal experience. This is reflective of every woman I know pretty much. And it doesn’t even stop. As you get older, it maybe becomes perhaps less frequent, but you don’t become safe. We hear of people being assaulted in old people’s homes.
Laura [00:48:39] Yeah. And I think part of it is it’s two things. It’s the hypervigilance and the constant threat of of violence. But it’s also and this is the real killer. It’s the kind of gaslighting on a mass scale that none of that’s really happening, which we literally get from childhood. Whilst we are going through that experience of knowing that we are never really safe, we’re also constantly being told, You’re imagining it, you’re overreacting. There’s no such thing as sexism anymore. Women are equal now. Actually, women are really lucky. I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that. I’m sure you just got the wrong end of the stick. He probably meant it as a compliment. You should lighten up. You should get a sense of humor, you know? Well, what were you doing? You’re probably asking for it it was probably you’re fault wasn’t it? What were you wearing? Were you leading him on. So it’s it’s those two things together. I think for me, it’s partly that we have had these this litany of experiences of oppression. But it’s also the rea kicker is that we have been systematically trained not to see them as oppression, because we are so forced to doubt and disbelieve ourselves that even so many of the survivors I meet with past experience of domestic or sexual abuse are still looking for someone else to confirm for them that they have the right to use those words to describe or wouldn’t dream of using those words to describe it at all, because we’ve all been taught that wasn’t really it. That’s not really what was going on.
Jameela [00:50:00] Also why the fuck would anyone make this up? Whenever I talk about the fact that people have masturbated at me or on me or in front of me on the underground which I know you’ve also spoken about that this happened to you multiple times, and so many of the people listening to this people think I am making that up for attention. Like surely there are other things I would like to have attention for rather than being jizzed on by a lonely stranger.
Laura [00:50:23] Yeah. And it’s so common.
Jameela [00:50:24] How could you think this is what I would like to be known for? Remembered for. This is the legacy. No one wants wanking in their legacy. No one. And so this idea that I would use that to be the thing that people notice me for rather than my mind or my talent or my passion or whatever, even my tits still all of it above wanking someone else’s wanking, not even my own. My good God.
Laura [00:50:55] It is completely wild really isn’t it?
Jameela [00:50:56] It’s completely it’s clown like, honestly, to accuse women of making this stuff up for atten- it’s mind boggling.
Laura [00:51:04] Yeah, it is. And I think it’s because people just have no idea in the same way that I mean, we have tens of thousands of stories of women who’ve had men expose themselves to them or masturbate in front of them. You know, it’s it’s completely-
Jameela [00:51:19] They’re all clearly attention seeking liars who think a lot of themselves. Is what I’m hearing.
Laura [00:51:24] Yeah that’s the response. Or in the same way that when you talk about online abuse, people go, oh, for goodness sake, little girl, just switch off if you can’t deal with someone disagreeing with you. And I just think people don’t recognize the impact of 200 times a day on some days, getting a long, detailed email from a stranger saying what seven weapons he’ll use to disembowel you with and what order he’ll use them in. There’s just people have no concept of the reality of what we’re even talking about. And I think that makes it really hard to tackle.
Jameela [00:51:52] It is really hard to tackle, but it’s not impossible. We are seeing improvements and we are seeing changes and I am seeing not enough men, but some men step up and feel passionately about this. And I mean, the Doctor Jackson Katz’s of this world do exist. We just need more people. And and this comes from not just, like a plea and an urge for a safer world for us and for generations that follow us. But it also really does come from a deep sense of belief in men and a deep sense of care for men to also not live in this constant state of violence and fear of women. There’s such a fear of women at the base of this, fear of what they might do, fear that they might leave you, fear that they might reject you. Fear that they might hurt you and embarrass you. All these different things. So afraid. I would love for them to not walk through this world so afraid of us.
Laura [00:52:42] Yeah, absolutely.
Jameela [00:52:43] And so fearful of our impact upon them. And I would like for that to not bleed out onto their violence against each other. I care for all genders, and I would love for us to live in a more peaceful, safe environment. And honestly, while I’m sure it’s not fucking perfect, everyone looked really happy and well in Berlin while I was there. It was really nice to see old people treated with respect. People of different races coexisting calmly and peacefully, at least where I was. And and such an astounding level of and I think this is very important to to remind people of a constant accountability everywhere you turn in Berlin is a reminder of the crimes of the past. And that is something that we really seem to fear in other countries. You know, that terror around critical race theory, terror of really examining feminism and the history of the suffragettes and the history of women’s plights in schools. We really just want to put our fingers in our ears and be like la la, la, la, la. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s not dwell on the past. Let’s think to the future. And yet the accountability has to be a massive part of the reason why these people feel constantly daily reminded to be better than whatever has happened in the past. To strive to be better. To do better. To be kinder. And so I think that it’s really important that the media stop shying away from this. That parents stop shying away from this. That schools stop shying away from this because the discomfort of the minor conversations are nothing compared to the lifelong trauma of of not dealing with these issues on a fundamental level. And that doesn’t just mean what can be done to women by men, but also what men can end up doing to themselves.
Laura [00:54:32] Absolutely.
Jameela [00:54:33] So accountability. I do think it’s possible. I do think it is something that women shouldn’t have to continue to take on by ourselves and then be gaslit about. And I really do thank you for what is now going on, like 15 years of your work to try to raise awareness on this. And so everyone should go out and buy this book, Fix the System, Not the Women. And, and please follow Laura and, and be confident that she has the actual facts and statistics as displayed seamlessly in this episode for you to be able to utilize to, I’m sorry, you even have to, but argue this case with others. Is there anything else you would like to leave my listeners with?
Laura [00:55:20] I think just knowing that you’re not alone and that it’s not your fault. One of the things that I come all the way back to time and again is that I started Everyday Sexism after being sexually assaulted on a bus. And when it happened, I said what was happening out loud because I was on the phone to my mom, I blurted it out, and everyone on the bus heard and everyone looked out the window and I got off the bus at the next stop, feeling completely ashamed and embarrassed and like it was my fault. I ran the rest of the way home and never told anyone what had happened. I look back on that. I think part of the reason is because at that stage I never would have dreamed of using the word sexual assault to describe what had happened to me. No one had ever told me what the legal definition of sexual assault is. And we see it again now with so many thousands of the young people I work with who have been sexually assaulted and would never use the word sexual assault to describe it. So I think the thing I want to it’s really simple but so often want to tell and sort of press upon people as this little piece of power and this knowledge that that legal definition of sexual assault in the UK is that if somebody touches another person and the touching can be anywhere on their body and they don’t consent and the person doesn’t believe that they consent it. It is as simple as that. It doesn’t have to be rape. People conflate the two, but sexual assault might be grabbing or pressing your breast or your thighs, your legs, or your bumb. A pinch or a grab or stroke unwanted in a school corridor. It is so common that we’ve kind of utterly, utterly neutralized it by never using the right terminology to describe it. But I think, yeah, just knowing that that is what that was for me was very empowering. And I think that I want other people to have that little tiny piece of power as well.
Jameela [00:57:04] Laura, before you carry on, to do your extraordinary work for so many people worldwide, will you please tell me, what do you weigh?
Laura [00:57:14] I weigh my family and friends whose love of me is not defined by the size of the gap between my thighs. I weigh my nerdy ability to recite Pi to 100 digits and remember a ridiculous amount of statistics to use as weapons against misogynists. I weigh my determination to change the things I cannot accept. My decision to fight on in the face of threats and abuse. The support of the incredible women who fight alongside me on the frontline of sexual violence activism. I weigh the courage of the hundreds of thousands of women and girls who shared their stories with me and the weight of responsibility to do their stories justice.
Jameela [00:57:47] Thank you. Well, I weigh my love for you, and the great honor it has been to be able to talk to you about all of this. Please come back a thousand times and bring your wonderful, spooky memory for statistics with you. I hope everyone follows you and and finds your work. And I can’t wait to talk to you again. Thank you, Laura.
Laura [00:58:08] Thank you for having me. And I really know because of the work I do, I know the difference it makes when somebody chooses to talk about it. And I also know the cost it comes at which is so, so high. So I really want to say thank you to you, Jameela, because you don’t have to do this and you’re doing it. And I, I just I know it means a huge amount to so many people. It makes a real difference. Thank you.
Jameela [00:58:33] Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnegan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music you are hearing now is made by my boyfriend James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jameela Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month of Stitcher Premium by going Stitcher.com/premium and using the promo code I Weigh. Lastly over at I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 18186605543. Or email us what you weigh at Iweighpodcast@gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners. Here is an I Weigh from one of our listeners. I weigh my two dogs who are the loves of my life. I weigh my love for books, which let me travel to magical places and experience life in so many different ways. I weigh battling depression on a daily basis and sometimes emerging as the victor. I weigh my softness despite having been hurt so often. I weigh my compassion and my kindness. I weigh still being here, although it gets really dark and lonely. Beautiful.
September 21, 2023
Jameela is joined by campaigner and writer Gina Martin, and in this optimistic conversation about creating change for equal rights around the world, they discuss how anyone can show up and support activism (especially offline in real spaces) and what this activism work can look like.