When Laura Bates created the Everyday Sexism Project in 2012, I remember thinking if only it had come 40 years earlier, and wondering what we would have reported if it had. Since then more than 150,000 women and girls have posted their personal experiences of sexism on the forum, and public shock at this sheer volume of testimony has done a great deal to galvanise the new feminist resurgence we see today. Bates’s project can look like #MeToo’s twin sister — online, inclusive, contemporary — but it has been sobering to see how many of the experiences posted today could just as easily have been logged when I was at school.
What I do not recognise from the 1980s, however, is a subgenre of sexism that Bates encounters again and again when she visits schools to talk to teenagers. It makes no difference if the school is private or state, co-ed or single sex, in the south or the north; everywhere she goes, boys say the same things. “Rape is a compliment, really,” they tell her. “It’s not rape if she enjoys it.” “It’s normal for girls to cry during sex.” “A girl has to have sex with you if you’re her boyfriend.” Why does Bates even bother talking about consent and assault, they demand, “when everyone knows so many women lie about it”?