Four years ago Laura Bates founded the Everyday Sexism project to raise awareness of casual sexism, before long it had become a global movement asking the world to take a long hard look at the way women are treated.
Now, the 29-year-old has set her sights closer to home, writing a survival guide for a younger generation of feminists with her new book, ‘Girl Up’.
Aimed at girls aged 14 through to women in their early 20s, the book offers practical (and often hilarious) advice to help young women navigate those turbulent years.
From a 10 step guide to how to start a protest, to open advice on sex and relationships, the book is informed and inspired by Laura’s conversations with female students while touring schools and universities across the country.
“There is a massive gap between the things young girls are dealing with and the tools that they are being given to cope with it. I wanted to address that in a practical way, for [the book] to be a kind of survival guide,” she told The Huffington Post UK at the Women Of The World festival (WOW) in March.
Bates said it was a “real shock” to hear first-hand about the “sheer amount of crap” that young women have to put up with.
“Repeatedly in schools I was hearing things like: ‘rape is compliment really’ and ‘it’s not rape if she enjoys it’. Loads of young women at university still thought that a rapist is a stranger in a dark alleyway, not a partner.
“No one was giving the girls basic information around their rights towards their own bodies.”
That’s why a key element of the book is consent, as well as sex education (including a chapter called Clitoris Allsorts) and positive body image. Down-to-earth, sweary and illustrated with dancing vaginas, the book “unapologetically addresses what teenage girls are really dealing with”, to quote the foreword written by another super feminist du jour, Emma Watson.
Bates said she wanted ‘Girl Up’ to provide advice that understands the complexity of the decisions and issues facing young women today.
“Young people are getting a huge amount of information, the majority of which is negative. As adults, we have a choice to make: do we shy away from those topics or do we counter balance that with positive information?”
She uses sexting as an example. If a young woman is confronted with a sexual image from a male and asked to send one back, most adults would simply advise “well don’t send a picture back, then”. But Bates says it is more complex and wanted something that would fill this void.
Together with illustrator and feminist Jo Harrison, who worked on the book, they devised a series of hilarious ‘dick pic retorts’ (below).
Harrison, who first met Bates working on the No More Page 3 project, told HuffPost UK: “I wanted the images to reflect the book’s simple tackling of a complex message, something which can be difficult and I’m always looking for ways to do it.
“We wanted the drawings to be cute but not twee, attractive but have substance. I wanted them to have humour and beauty, which is something that are often seen to be at odds and something that I feel the book is all about.”
The book is dedicated to a girl called Abi, whom Bates met at a school.
“I asked the students to raise their hand if they thought they were a feminist, Abi was the only one that did. And she then proceeded to very calmly and eloquently defend her position against a complete barrage of sexist tropes and stereotypes from the other young people,” said Bates.
“After I left, Abi emailed me and said she’d been subjected to sexist bullying, labelled a ‘feminazi’, told she must hate men…”
Bates felt she had to do something to both protect and guide young women like Abi.
“I felt like I was going into universities and schools to see young people and then having to leave. I wanted to have some kind of lifeline to throw to these young women.
“I wanted to tell them: it’s not you, it is the rest of the world, you don’t have only two options that you’re a prude or a slut, a ballbreaker or homemaker. There are millions of options.”
Bates’ message to young women, is to remind them they have choice.
“You can be and do anything that you want,” she said. “The world is facing you with different boxes and types they want to bottle you in, but there is an option to step outside of that, that you’re not destined to pick between two narrow options and actually you have every option in the world.”
She believes that women and girls are programmed to believe everything they do has to be perfect, or else there is no point trying.
“I wanted young women to know that you have to try and fail and it’s commendable to try and fail and that you don’t have to be perfect to pursue engineering.”
If Bates has made her name facing the world head-on, sexism and all, ‘Girl Up’ is hoping to inspire a generation of feminists to follow in her footsteps.
Laura Bates’ new book ‘Girl Up’ is out now.