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Nothing ruins a bike ride on a gorgeous summer day like creeps making sexual comments from the sidewalk. Harriet Walker discusses harassment and biking in London, and wonders why biking seems to draw harassers like a magnet.
Gawker posts their own hollaback, entitled “Have you seen this masturbating gentleman?”
The amazing Holly Kearl has an op-ed in the Huffington Post – check it out for a great introduction to the problem of street harassment.
One of the first questions people always ask me about Hollaback! is whether it is legal to take someone’s photo and post it online. Gizmodo reminds us that in public spaces, all photos are fair game. As anyone who has had a creepy guy with a camera phone take a pic of them knows, this can be a pain, but at least we can point a camera back at them. Let’s reclaim the gaze and Hollaback!
I was walking to my car from my apartment to pick up my little sister and I’m halfway across the lawn when I get a “Hey! Hey!” There is a group of guys loitering on the stoop of my neighbor the drug-dealer’s apartment that I haven’t noticed (how do I know he’s a drug dealer? because his girlfriend welcomed me to the neighborhood about a month before this incident by telling me if I needed anything to just knock on their door). I pause, turn and realize it’s not someone I know, turn back, and continue walking. I hear something along the lines of a “How are you doin?” and pause again to say “Fine.” I am going to continue to my car but then they invite me inside the leering doorway “Hey! Come over here! Come in here!” I stammer something about I can’t, I have to pick up my sister, goodbye. Is my Achilles heel the fact that I am pretty much always polite? I’m an introvert, quiet and timid with low self-esteem and know nothing of your website yet. I’ve been harassed before by men, usually in cars, and normally just put my head down and keep walking. But these are my neighbors–or at least friends/clients of them.Your neighbors know where you live, what car you and your mom drive, when your little sister gets off the schoolbus. I am afraid of retribution if I am rude. I just turned 18 a week ago.
So I get to my car and put my purse and cellphone on the passenger seat when one of the men RUNS up to the passenger-side window. He’s in baggy street-clothes and is mentioning me to roll my window down. I consider driving off but I second-guess myself and roll the window about 3/4s of the way to see what he wants. I am not totally paralyzed with fear until he sticks his head and arm INTO MY CAR. I want to drive away but that might decapitate him and then I will be held responsible for murder. I feel claustrophobic. There’s a big, scary, man, late 30s-mid 40s, in my car, and if he wanted to, could reach out and touch my face (which is stuck in an obviously frightened and pained smile, throughout our conversation).
His name is Jafar. I ask him if he is my neighbor. He says yes. He says he’s surprised that I didn’t just drive off (indicating he’s done this to others before, great…). He wants my phone #. I tell him I’m late, I have to get my little sister. But he wants my phone #. He is a fast talker, it’s scary. I tell him I have a boyfriend. I tell him that my boyfriend doesn’t want me giving out my #. He says that that “doesn’t matter.” He wants me to give him my #. I try to make an excuse about not having a phone but it’s right on the passenger seat. He’s staring at me. My brain is cloudy with fear, I don’t know what to do. I put his number in my phone instead. This has worked at parties with guys who I don’t want to bother me anymore. I tell him I’ll call him. He says to call him right then. An obvious “no minutes” excuse slips my mind. I call him and shit, now he has my phone #. His phone # has a strange area code, so I ask him about it (since I know he has my # and knows where I live, I want to get as much info as I can on him). A sketchy answer–that you could pick any area code you wanted at the cell phone store…so he picked an out-of-state one? I ask him again if he is my neighbor. He says no this time, that he’s just visiting. I can feel the blood in my veins. I guess he finally takes pity on me and extracts himself from my window, letting me go.
My heart is racing and I want to puke. I cry on the way to getting my sister. I warn her about the neighbors and park in the back of the building. In order to tell my mother about this I would have to wake her up. My mother works night shifts and needs her sleep. Plus this would make her worry even more about us. I cry and call my boyfriend and my boyfriend tells his mom and his mom says I should call the police. But by now this incident has happened hours ago. Jafar is no longer outside. Plus, what would they do, arrest him? For what? Isn’t it my fault, since I stupidly rolled down my window? I still feel frightened though. I double check all the locks and windows. I have trouble falling asleep the next few nights.
I still have Jafar’s # in my phone, so that I can choose to not answer it if he ever calls. He hasn’t. It’s been about 3 months. I not scared anymore but I still mostly park in the back. I don’t want any attention from my neighbors, ever again.
I question why I didn’t just drive off, leave him in the dirt. (The meek will never inherit the earth.) I question alot of things–how he came to have such audacity to invade my personal space–either his complete and utter ignorance of my frightened eyes and smile, or his selfishness as he brushed my feelings of safety away to make room for his own desires. I question women’s gender role in society, to be submissive and pandering and timid and accepting. I question past wrongs: “Titties!” screamed out a car window, numerous car-honkings and tongue-flickerings from vehicles zooming past, a manager at the fast-food joint I worked at who took a plastic toy into the break room and rubbed it between my 14-year-old breasts.
Many, many questions, and I think I’ve come to a conclusion for one of them. I let Jafar psychologically screw with me because I was afraid that, if I stood up for myself, I would come back and he’d still be there, pissed and waiting for revenge. That I’d walk past him and be yelled at, or rushed at and chased after, or the door to my apartment would be scribbled with obscenities, the window cracked, the lock broken. I don’t know if this is an irrational thought or not, if I am just paranoid. I know it’s the coward’s way out (is this victim-blaming?). It’s not noble to do nothing, but I felt–and feel, remembering this–trapped. I want to stand up for myself, but when it’s so close to home, it’s not just big anonymous you. It’s your family, too. I don’t want anything happening to me or my sister or mother. In another apartment complex my little sister was raped. I don’t want it to happen ever again.
Submitted by Gianna
Editor’s Note: Sometimes staying quiet in the moment is the best, most noble defense that we have. It’s doesn’t mean that we’re weak. Street harassment oftentimes leaves us with very few defenses in the moment, but that’s why holla’ing back is so important. Gianna could of just stood up for herself in front of her harasser, but instead she’s standing up for herself on a much bigger platform: the thousands of you that are reading this right now. What’s more heroic than that?
I wasn’t sure if I should submit this story, because it involved me losing my temper which I don’t think was the most productive response, but…
I live in Astoria, Queens. One morning I was heading to work, walking along 23rd Ave to the train. I was just about to put my headphones on to listen to my iPod when I heard a low, drawn-out catcall from one of two guys sitting on chairs outside a barber shop as I walked past.
me: “What did you say?”
him: “I said you look very nice”
me: “You fucking pedophile, you’re old enough to be my father!”
him: “What? It’s a compliment!”
his friend: “What are you talking about, he’s only 30”
me: “Well he doesn’t look like he’s 30. And it’s not a compliment, no girl wants to hear some random stranger say that stuff to her, it’s rude”
him: “I’m giving you a compliment”
me: “no girl wants to hear your ‘compliment’, I guarantee it!”
him: “you aren’t a normal girl then”
me: “no, NO GIRL who is just walking to the subway to go to work wants to hear about you checking her out. you save those kind of compliments for a girl you’re dating, don’t harass women on the street”
him: “I have a girlfriend”
me: “I bet she loves the fact that you harass women on the street”
He kept insisting that I was a rare species of female, the only girl who did not enjoy his creepy, leering remarks! That every other girl appreciated the ‘compliment’! This made me angrier than the initial remarks themselves.
I lost my temper here… I made some insulting remarks about the size of his genitalia, told him to go home and pleasure his girlfriend with his inadequate genitalia and leave everyone on the street alone, and then picked up the coffee cup (nearly empty, unfortunately) which was sitting next to his friend’s chair and flung the contents at the two of them before walking quickly down the sidewalk towards the subway.
They yelled violent threats at me as I walked away, but didn’t move to act upon them. I realized of course that throwing the coffee cup at them had been a dumb move, but I was livid. The phrase he had said that upset me the most and that haunted me more then the catcall itself was “You aren’t a normal girl”. Like he wanted me to think I was a freak for being offended and upset by his gross leering comment. And the fact that maybe he really believes that – that it’s okay to say those things because “most girls” appreciate it. And that he’ll probably keep doing it because he thinks it’s okay, even though one crazy girl threw a cup of coffee at him for it.
Submitted by Anonymous
About two weeks ago, I experienced one of the worst incidents of street harassment in my entire 14 years of living in New York City, in which five men surrounded me on a sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon and proceeded to verbally harass me while not allowing me to continue down the sidewalk. There was no one else around, and I was truly terrified, because I was so outnumbered, and there was nothing I could have done to defend myself against so many if they had chosen to do worse than verbally harass. After a minute (that felt like an hour) I managed to dart around them and get away. Once I was far enough away that I felt a bit safer, I reached for my phone to take their photo (yes, I was scared, but I was also so angry at being treated like that!) and I realized I didn’t have my phone with me. I was so, so, disappointed.
I was still trembling by the time I got back to work, but I called the business these men were employees of to complain. The managers I spoke with surprisingly took the incident very seriously, stating that they did not accept this type of behavior from their employees, and would speak with the men involved.
But still, as I’ve processed the incident since then, the biggest regret I’ve had is that I didn’t have my phone with me to take a picture of them. I’m glad that they probably got in trouble with their bosses, but the immediate impact of having their victim take a photo of them – I’ve done it before, and it really does have an affect. The bottom line is, when you do this, you’re taking the power back from the harasser. And that’s what street harassment is really about – the power. Holla-ing back with my camera phone is the only thing I’ve done in response to street harassment that actually made me feel less like a victim, and more like a human being.
Well, this morning I witnessed an incident of street harassment directed at another woman. She was walking a few feet in front of me, and a man was walking in the opposite direction (towards us). The sidewalks on this block are very narrow, and under the best of circumstances, it’s difficult for to people to pass each other. When the woman in front of me got to the point where she had to squeeze by the man, he stopped, staring really hard at her, and turned his body into her as she passed. There was less than an inch of space between them, and he was doing his best to make it even smaller. She ignored him and kept going, but I guess he didn’t like that, because then he called out to her “I am going to bite you.” I was so grossed out, but also scared he would turn his attention to me as I passed. So, I took advantage of the fact that he was still staring at her as she walked away to get past him myself. As soon as I was past him, I grabbed my phone out of my purse. After a few moments of fumbling to get to the camera feature, I turned back, and saw he was going down a flight of stairs. With my camera in position, I realized I would only get the back of his head, so I said “Hey!” He turned, and I snapped a perfect photo.
Him: Why did you take my picture?
Me: I’m putting it on the internet, with other perverts who harass women on the streets.
Him: What? Come here. [motioning with his fingers] Why did you take my picture, bitch?
Me: [starting to walk away] It’s too late! It’s done! It’s a good picture, too, it shows your face real good!
He did not look happy. But me? I felt … empowered.
Submitted by Nancy
My friend and I were riding the 6 train downtown together. As we’re chatting, I feel something brush on my backside. I thought that someone was bumping into me cause the subway conductor was breaking every two seconds and people kept falling over and losing their balance. But, there was something about this that was different. It was really low on my backside and it was warm. I look and the guy behind me has a fucking ERECTION. It was right up against me. I freak out inside, but I’m trying to remain calm. I look at him, he had his head turned away from me
I was in the middle of talking when this all happened. I immediately stop what I was saying and turn to my friend and said (loud enough for the guy to hear) “can we SWITCH POSITIONS?” my friend switches with me, so now my friend is next to this guy. The guy gets off at the very next stop, and my friend asks me why I look so nervous. I whisper to him what happened and he was disgusted and angry, not to mention really weirded out. We both noticed that the man was wearing these blue shorts that had “pockets” but instead of fabric is was just a hole that showed his skin, and the man was clearly not wearing underwear.
I’m cat-called every day of my life. I take it as a part of living in this city. I literally cannot go out by myself without getting lewd looks or comments, most of the time by men who are old enough to be my father. What is saddening is that I am used to this. I should not have to “get used to this”, because men should never be doing this to begin with. This was my first ever physical encounter with one of these creeps. In the end I felt like I needed to take a shower.
Submitted by Susanna
This evening I was walking down Christopher St, which is ironically like the gayest street in NYC. I passed a group of young dudes and one whispered at me some shit like “Hey, you looking fine. Why don’t you say hi. I’d like to see that body.” I was so pissed, I turned around and charged him like I was going to kick him in the nuts. He dodged me and shouted “I’ll press charges!” Then I looked him in the eye and said “Why did you say that? It’s an insult and you know it’s an insult. Why did you insult me?” At which point the fucking dude started staring at my cleavage and saying something about how he wanted to be my friend. I decided to make a big scene so I started yelling “You insulted me because you think you’re better than me. You’re a stranger and you insulted me!” His friends were laughing and I was so angry, but I wasn’t really going to fight him so I just turned and left.
It probably wasn’t the most productive reaction, but I was enraged. The whispering really drives me nuts, because it means the dude doesn’t even have the nerve to really talk to me.
Submitted by Rachel
“Hey, baby,” he said, as I rode my bike down an idyllic block in Brooklyn on a hot July day. Of course, I ignored him. I dare assume that most women have heard this or something similar as they attempted to go about the mundane. For me, this was the 5th “Hey,:: insert something I don’t want anyone but my boyfriend or grandmother to call me::”, in only about ten minutes into my first bike ride of the summer. I swerved past him and around his car and continued on riding down the block, hoping that he understood the look on my face and my tensed body to mean that I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t enjoy being hit on, and I just wanted this to end.
Instead for him, he was turned on by my ignoring him and eventually peeved that I wasn’t responding. His comments, during the 3 block span of time that he FOLLOWED ME [I know he was following me because his car was poised to make a right, and instead upon my arrival and his lascivious comments, he decided to go straight. He later made a u-turn back to wherever else he was going,] ranged from, “Don’t you hear me talking to you, girl,” [don’t ever call me girl. I was now not only scared but pissed] to “Ride that bike like you need to ride my dick,” [I see you’ve mastered the English language, you fuck] to “I’m gonna make that ass fold over my face just like that,” [I hope you burn in a fiery single-car crash on your way home tonight, you asshole.] Increasingly violent and verbal, he had his bumper literally inches away from my tire. I considered slowing down, turning around and saying, “why are you doing this?” when images of old “Unsolved Mysteries” episodes flashed through my head— I didn’t want to be the girl who went missing because she was dumb enough righteous enough/smart enough/fearless enough to try to defend herself. Instead, I shut up and shoved my rising tears deep down inside of me along with the feeling that I needed to take a shower, bow my head, and hide in a corner of my dark room. I kept riding until I found a block that was person free and stopped, took out my phone and called my boyfriend.
There are few things in this world as demoralizing and frightening as sexual harassment. It’s a mental, emotional and often, a physical violation. I cannot name the amount of times that someone has grabbed my arm walking down a block, or felt up my sister’s ass “accidentally” on the train, or touched my best friend’s shoulder or hair. The worst and most common of these offenders, get confrontational when we say, “Stop.” Must be nice. Male privilege, that is.
I’m sick and tired of going to the gym/ /buying tampons and Midol/going to the doctor’s office/reading a book/bumping to my iPod and GETTING HIT ON HARRASSED. I’m tired of wearing my best dresses to parties and getting the expected uncalled for touches and comments but then going out in sweats, drool, and head wraps and still getting the “psssst” and the “yo.”
Men: Do you randomly approach, touch, and threaten other men? Do you say things like “I will loosen dat ass up” to other dudes? How does it make you feel to know that you scared someone so much that they had to stop on a corner and take a breather? I bet it feels really powerful. Do you gaze so hard at other men that it makes them feel like you can see through their flesh and bones into their souls? Do you get livid when other men ignore your “compliments’ on the street? Do you wonder why [insert generalizations: black women] always look “stank”? It’s probably because she just walked down a block and every fool between the ages of 12 and 92 said something [looks can talk, too] offensive. Probably not. If you have done these things to women, it’s because you’re a sexual harasser. A sexist. A predator. I beseech you:
LEAVE US ALONE.
When I’m on the treadmill at The Y – it’s not an invitation for you to tap my shoulders and chat me up. When I’m carrying groceries it’s not an invitation for you to make some sort of gross innuendo [they always find a way, don’t they?] These are not compliments and it isn’t chivalry and we aren’t stupid: they aren’t benign offers. Go ahead and call me a man- basher and a “feminist” [you know, implying that being a feminist is bad]. Go ahead and tell me to wear something else, or that I’m being overly sensitive, or that women need to learn to take a “compliment.” All I want is to be left alone to live and exist—and the issue isn’t with me, it’s with you [men]. I needn’t my female- bodiedness to be a scarlet letter. I just want to live and not think twice about whether my mini is too short, or if my hair frames my face too well, or if my jeans accentuate too well. I don’t want to weigh sides of the streets to determine which side I should cross to in order to avoid the most men. I don’t want to walk with my head down and my headphones blaring to protect myself from nonsense. I don’t want to judge all male-kind and be afraid for my future daughters, my mother, my 4 sisters, and my best friends. I do not need for a man to tell me to “smile” as I walk down the street with my only weapon in this war, my scowl. You have no rights to this body [also, you don’t know me.]
I just want to live and be treated with equality and respect. I want to be viewed as human—with emotions and purpose—rather than some lifeless museum exhibit for your petting and leering pleasure. I want to not feel threatened in my everyday life. I want to not think twice about my body or whether it’s my fault that I get catcalled. I’m happy that I live in a place where being a woman means I can work and have kids or do neither of those things, and that I can vote, and walk around [in theory] without a chaperone. But, I need to live in a world where I am not touched against my will, where I am not labeled a crazy bitch for complaining about inappropriate behavior, and where people see me as more than my ass and my breasts. I haven’t surveyed all the women in the world but I can say confidently that very few of “us” enjoy this kind of attention. So stop it. We are fed up.
To my girls: START SAYING SOMETHING.
I’m not going to blame us. We have strength and presence as victims but as with every other ill in the world, nothing gets changed with silence. The more often we ride our bikes off onto empty streets and call our boyfriends, the more often we pull down our skirts and tie sweaters around our waists, the more often we “laugh it off” when our bosses lean too close, the more often these people will do what they do because we’ve taught them that it’s okay. Silence is allowance. Your body is your own and no one has any physical, mental, or emotional rights to it. I refuse to remain silent. I refuse to feel dirty and used and ashamed because someone else doesn’t understand limits and because some male- bodied person takes advantage of, dismisses and underestimates the value of me being female- bodied. I refuse to be a second- class citizen in regards to race, economics, disability, and age but for far too long, I’ve done nothing about my second- class standing as a woman. This… this is my protest—the voice I didn’t have earlier today. This is the kick that, I hope for you, will be the catalyst.
We will be empowered and fearless. This stops today.
I appreciate a good compliment every now and again. “Sis, you are beautiful,” “I like your unique style,” “You have a nice smile.” I’m not a grinch and I’m not impossible. But I need for the invasion of the female form to cease and I need for the boundaries, respect, sensibility, and the humanity to be put in its place.
The stinker of today is that as I rode my bike on the sidewalk [instead of the street] to avoid the weirdoes in cars following me [there’s something about people saying threatening things in a stronger, faster vehicle that added a whole new layer to this experience] I was stopped by a googley- eyed, ambulated policeman who ticketed me for riding my bike on the sidewalk. No, my protests of “I’ve never done this before” [I really have never ridden a bike on the sidewalk before] did not get me out of a ticket. Nor did, “I was trying to avoid the men who were harassing me” work. The man had a job to do but if that doesn’t say something about society I don’t know what does.
Submitted by A.E.
We are totally crushing on the changemakers social media blog – check out this post on NYPD’s manipulation of assault statistics, which includes a Hollaback shout-out!
“Between 80% and 100% of women have been harassed in public places, particularly on their way to work.” Holly Kearl tells us why employers should care.
Here is a hilarious list of harassment and assault prevention tips that are “guaranteed to work.” In response to constant warnings to dress modestly, walk in pairs, etc, this blogger provides the novel suggestion: DON’T assault people! My personal favorites are: “USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM, if you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public” and “When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!”
Human Rights Watch recently released a report on the harassment of female and transgender Cambodian sex workers on the street and in police custody. Just a reminder: no matter what you are wearing, how you gender present, or why you are on the street, STREET HARASSMENT ON THE BASIS OF SEX, GENDER, SEXUALITY AND PERFORMANCE OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY IS NOT OK!
Street harassment is a constant problem for women in Jakarta, and the Jakarta Press has started to pay attention.
Our Vision, Our Voices discusses the status of Street Harassment worldwide.
Check out the London Anti-Street Harassment Campaign!
A little over two years ago, I was the target of three strangers whose attack on me started as a barrage of contradictory insults and “compliments” and soon led to rape. The men initially noticed me because I was wearing a shirt that identified me as gay. Coming from a radically conservative town where almost everyone knew me, especially after I came out, I rarely experienced street harassment from people who I didn’t know. This experience was a first for me on many fronts and has scarred me from all directions and in all aspects of my life. From then on, any time anyone made a comment about me in the halls of my high school or while I was walking around town, I felt utterly powerless and would often have flashbacks. I came upon the Holla Back New York blog a while ago and was inspired by the tools the site offered for ending street harassment. After attending a workshop on how to holla back this year, I’ve been considering starting a Holla Back site for the area surrounding my college. This journey has not been without obstacles, however.
The idea of me starting a Holla Back blog by myself is something that scares me. During high school, I was active in efforts to end harassment of LGBTQ youth and was often the target of a great deal of hate. Having moved from my small conservative hometown to college in a really liberal area, I feel that I’ve just recently become a less visible target and am not willing to risk that sense of comfort. To split the weight of my decision to Holla Back, I began searching for a partner. This search, thus far, has turned out empty. The friends I have talked to about partnering with me for a project like this have found the idea of a Holla Back blog to be problematic for differing reasons which I don’t necessarily agree with but don’t want to repeat here because I think I would express their opinions differently than they would.
I guess the point of my writing this post is sort of the old “there’s power in numbers” speech. When fear is shared, it’s lessened. When we are there for each other, start projects together, march side by side, we feel stronger and can do more. I don’t feel that those I asked to help me were wrong in choosing not to, but I think that if someone in your community is trying to start something and you think it’s a good idea, join them. The more of us holla back, the louder we are, which would be nice because I’m tired of all this silence.
Institute of Audio Research – HEAR this loud and clear, Teach your students not to harass women….
Okay it has taken multiple harassers for me to post this. Everytime I pass the institute of audio research on university place in the village there are a bunch of males standing outside. I mistakenly took them for workers of D’agastino but when I called to speak to the managers they said they were well aware of the males that gather there and they are students.
I started to walk by, conservatively dressed, and as a woman of color I did not blend in with all the other scantilly clad women, but from far I hear hooting and coughing. I look up and one of them is hitting the other one to turn around and look at me. He shoved his head in my face and in my year and said I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU sarcastically because I tried to shield my face from him.
This is unacceptable. The coward who did the screaming is in the picture and was staring when I turned at a safe distance to take it, but he quickly hid behind the other guys – he is facing the camera but blocked by his cronies with white shirts.
Submitted by Lisa