With over 60 students in attendance and a barrage of voices taking to Twitter, Loughborough University’s innovative conference Everyday Sexism took great steps in raising awareness in gender issues going on across campus and the wider community. Reporting for Label Culture, student Kirsty Jayne Longland reveals why such inequalities are often closer to home than you think.

My realisation a couple of years ago, that women are a whole lot worse off in society than men, showed me the importance of having a space to discuss gender inequality. Without having friends to tell me “actually, you’re right, it’s not okay for that guy you don’t know to grab your bum,” I probably would have gone crazy by now. Identifying as a feminist and calling people out on their internalised sexist views – or what they class as ‘banter’ – can get very lonely. So, when I was informed about the Gender Equality and Everyday Sexism talk on campus on May 1st, I got a little bit too excited.

The range of speakers included Laura Bates (Everyday Sexism Project founder), Lucy Holmes (‘No More Page Three’ campaigner), Penny Yates (a mature student at Loughborough), Joanne Hill and Elizabeth Stokoe (lecturers in Gender Equality) and Abida Akram (Loughborough’s Equality and Diversity adviser). These impressive speakers brought a range of important issues to the fore, including the normalisation of sexual assault, the extreme sexualisation of women in the media, ‘lad’ culture and ‘banter’, and how vocalising these issues brings people together, but also results in hostility and aggression.

The talk made me realise that because gender inequality is so constant, we have become conditioned to accept what goes on. But if we realised every single way that women are put down and discriminated against, we would probably go insane. We are taught that the value of women lies in how attractive they are or the size of their boobs. We are taught that it is acceptable for a man to touch us inappropriately, without our consent, in a club. We are taught that jokes about rape are ‘just a bit of fun’ and that taking them seriously makes us boring or uptight.

Cloaking sexism as a joke silences the more sinister side of it, and allows society to blur the boundaries between a serious sexist offence and harmless fun. When large institutions such as universities, newspapers and the government seem to support gender stereotyping and inequality, it is very difficult to object and challenge the normalisations that we are exposed to every single day.

The most important part of the day, for me, was realising that I wasn’t the only person realising that the current situation isn’t acceptable. Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism Project has recently gained a lot of momentum in the media and has received over 23,000 tweets from women – and men – reporting their own experiences of sexism and gender inequality. Lucy Holmes’ ‘No More Page Three’ petition has now received over 98,000 supporters and from the big turnout at the Gender Equality talk, it is clear to see that people are not sitting back and letting sexism be an accepted part of society anymore.

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