Did you know that more men are sitting in Westminster right now than there have been female MPs in the entirety of British history? And that in our country, more FTSE firms are led by a man called John than by a woman?
These are the kinds of facts that Laura Bates can reel off without a moment’s hesitation, her face alight with conviction and passion. Her name is synonymous with the Everyday Sexism campaign, which she founded; Bates is one of the beacons of today’s wave of feminism. She's speaking at Edinburgh International Book Festival about her most recent book Girl Up. Aimed at young women and teenagers, and the people who work with them, it is (at times) a remarkably concrete guide showing how to deal with the multiple and complex issues that young women face.
“Sometimes older generations just tell young women to switch off Facebook if they’re receiving abuse there. It’s really not that simple!” exclaims Bates. In contrast, Girl Up offers comebacks to unwelcome advances – as a reply to that scourge of instant messaging, the dick pic, a balloon with the words 'Congratulations! You’ve got a penis!' receives particularly appreciative laughter from the audience.
The book is in many ways a replacement for what Bates is really fighting to achieve: comprehensive sex and relationships education as part of the universal curriculum, which she sees as one of the main solutions to the gender stereotyping and inequality which continue to exist. “We all know what the issue is,” she remarks, “but that’s the problem: WE all know what the issue is.” To make a difference in society, we need to reach beyond the echo chamber. And how do we reach everyone? Through education, Bates answers.