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I’ve been scared to drive ever since I was little. So when I announced at the beginning of the spring of 2011 that I was going to get my driver’s license, my friends and family were in disbelief. Imagine their surprise a few months later when at the wonderful age of 23 I proudly showed off my official license.
The first time I drove with my older sister in the car, I pulled up to a stop light next to a black SUV. An ordinary enough occurrence, but when I looked over and saw four boys leaning out of the SUV and making jack-off and cunnilingus gestures at us. I was absolutely stunned at their lack of respect. So stunned in fact, that I unknowingly switched lanes once the light turned green and cut off the person in the red car behind the black SUV full of jerks. The boys in the SUV pointed and laughed out of their windows as the guy in the red car honked mercilessly at me. My sister started screaming at me, saying that she shouldn’t have let me drive. I told her about how stunned I was with the guys making rude gestures at me, and her only response was:
“You’re going to have to get used to it. Guys do that to cute girls.”
I drove the rest of the trip in silence. I don’t want to ‘get used to it’ and I don’t think it’s fair that women have to add one more thing to worry about on the road.
To help build a world where Sara doesn’t have to “get used to it,” donate here to support our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign.
Rare are summer days in Houston when the weather cools from the oppressively swampy to merely sultry. Whenever such an opportunity presents itself, few would blame me for wanting to slip out of my desk and into the sunshine. I didn’t take a lunch break, anyways. Nobody would mind if I ran to the bookstore for a metaphorical minute.
As I walk along Main Street, between its intersections with Lamar and Dallas, a stranger saunters up to me. His body now merely millimeters from mine, he demands, “Let me pick you up and carry you home. I have to carry you and take you home with me right now.” Loud enough for a 5-person band of onlookers to start quietly paying attention.
I panic. “GO FUCK YOURSELF!” Not the most mature of reactions, but fear and a desire to intimidate preclude creativity. Our audience continues staring.
He shrinks back, raising his volume and desperately whining, “But I have to do SOMETHING to you! I need to take you back to my home and do something. Let me carry you home and we’ll talk about this.”
“GO! FUCK! YOURSELF!” Finally, the man jerks his head away and turns to walk off in the other direction. My voice transcends my meager frame. Gives me power. Authority. A strength beyond whatever it is I’m bench pressing these days. “I AM NOT A PIECE OF MEAT, SIR!” rockets towards his back. Cliché to be certain, and not my proudest moment. But it gets the point across succinctly. A glare shot at the throng transfixed by our encounter. Lips pressed tightly into themselves. Eyes narrowed to nothing more than paper cuts, albeit obscured by prescription sunglasses.
They look away. Huffy. Bored. One man mutters, “Such language…”
Humiliation. An overarching sensation of dehumanization prickles my internals and externals alike. Saline stings the backs of my eyelids. A quaking, shaking blancmange of a thoroughly ashamed, embarrassed and just plain angry young woman. Deliberate encroachment onto my personal space, overtures of sexual violence and a complete lack of disrespect for my autonomy, agency and consent…and they take offense at the language I use to convey my flashpoint rage! He and I provided them with the day’s sensational entertainment, not a pathetic tableau of harassment. I question whether or not their apathy would have finally dissolved had this horrid man attempted to genuinely hurt me.
And I am incredibly fortunate he intended to intimidate more than actually injure, but all the same there exists no compelling justification for his actions (sorry, victim-blamers, but I was wearing a loose-fitting Muppets t-shirt and even more comfortable jeans that day). Nor those who saw fit to treat us as free, live theatre. Their silence gave this man permission to treat another woman with such a callous dismissal of her independence. Their chiding my self-defense enabled yet another incident of public harassment and verbal assault to end up an exercise in shaming the recipient. Of neglecting to change the rhetoric of gender-based violence.
But hey! It only takes something as easy and minor as the complete overhaul of societal perceptions towards street harassment, sexual assault and rape to reverse this attitude! Neither I nor anyone else deserves to inhabit a world where something simple like running to pick up a copy The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks ends up a disheartening lesson in how Americans react when confronted with very public verbal and physical harassment. Public places belong to the public, not just those intending to badger, bully or brutalize the innocent. And that is why those of us with stories to tell – all narratives, be they victim, bystander or a loved one hearing about everything later in the day – must ensure the populace learns of them. Education, not dressing differently or agoraphobia or constantly looking over your shoulder, remains just about the only truly effective, sustainable weapon in our stash.
What? Hollaback NYC is inviting community members and organizations to take a stand against street sexual harassment. For too long, women and girls have been victims of sexual harassment, assault, rape, socio-economic and political violence…. and silence has been the response in many of our communities. During these hot summer days, many look to affirm their “power” through constant street sexual harassment and inappropriate remarks made to women and young girls… If street harassment is “okay,” then other forms of violence are okay. Hollaback says “Enough is enough! It is not okay!”
It is our right to never let anyone make us feel any less than our confident and badass self, so on Friday, July 8th we will be sharing strength, looking to unite forces with community members and organizations to encourage women and girls to…. Hollaback!
Join us! There will be music and speakers….
When? Friday, July 8th, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.
It is time for community members and organizations to build unity and strength to create safer streets, where our women and men of all ages can walk safely and feel free of any type of harassment.
We’ve raised $11,355 and we’ve got over $13,000 to go in only 5 days. Do you have our back? Of course you do! So keep supporting us by asking friends and family to donate. And if you haven’t donated yet – do it now! Your donation will be matched by our generous board of directors.
Here’s a sample letter to send to your loved ones:
Dear Friends and Family,
I’m contacting you today because of an effort I truly believe deserves your support. Hollaback! is an international movement to end street harassment (sexual harassment in public spaces). Over the past year, this tiny non-profit has organized volunteer activists in 24 cities in 10 countries – to work to end street harassment within their own communities. Though street harassment is the most common form of violence experienced in women’s lives, Hollaback! is one of the only efforts to prevent street harassment.
A guy in a white car: The ubiquitous ‘hey baby,’ something else I couldn’t make out, a jacking off gesture.
To show Susannah you’ve got her back, please make a generous donation to our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign. Only 5 days until the campaign ends! And your donation will be matched by our generous board of directors.
BY EMILY MAY
The beautiful thing about running these campaigns is the tremendous number of supporters that come forward with their kind words and generous donations. Here are some of our favorites:
“After hearing about Hollaback’s new campaign initiative, I kept meaning to donate, but would forget. However, after being harassed on the street at least once a day this past week week in NYC (including one instance where I had to run into a bar and hide), it was impossible for me to forget anymore. Thank you for all of the work that Hollaback does. I hope to be able to contribute more than just $$$ one day.” – Laurin Paige
“As a father of a high-school age boy, I think it is critical to educate boys on what is and what is not acceptable in their interraction with women. And what they can do when they see unacceptable behavior in a public or private place. Go Hollaback!” – biopestman
“The first time I experienced street harassment, I told my friends about how angry and afraid the experience made me feel. They were completely dismissive of my feelings and told me I would just have to get used to it. Years later I discovered Hollaback! and felt relieved to know that I’m not “overreacting” for expecting to be treated like a human being when I walk down the street. Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone, and that together we can all end street harassment for good.” -pixieny
These testimonies from our kind donors keep us motivated and inspired. But not all the stories we receive about why this campaign is so important are happy ones. And it was the unhappy stories – the stories that we received over the years from people who after experiencing harassment were ignored, treated like they were “crazy,” or blamed – that inspired us to start this campaign to begin with. These stories are too common. About 15-20% of the stories we receive on the site mention bystanders who failed to stand up for what they knew was right. For today’s campaign update, we wanted to highlight one story in particular that stood out to us.
Thank you — to the 143 of you who have donated so far. Because of you, we’ve raised $10,485. And it’s because of you out there who haven’t had a chance to donate that we’re going to make our goal. So please, if you haven’t yet, take a minute to donate. Your donation will be matched by our board — so even the smallest donation can mean big change.
BY NANCY A. DAVIS
It was just another typical Tuesday. I was in the Port Authority Bus Terminal waiting for the A train. All I wanted to do was get downtown. I waited by a pillar, minding my own business. I felt someone staring at me, but brushed it off as paranoia. I looked around and saw him – he was checking me out all right. He gave me one of those head-to-toe looks, that just makes me cringe. I slid back behind the pillar, hoping the A train would arrive soon.
I hopped on the train, and found a spot to plant my feet. I took a deep breath and thought He’s gone. I then felt a pair of eyes upon me again. It was him, and he was still staring and making obscene gestures. I moved to another part of the car to stand when some other passengers exited the train. He moved with me. I turned around, not looking him in the face. I could hear his heavy breathing behind me. My skin was crawling from being stared at like that.
I then moved to another car and he followed me there too. Now I was really freaked. I am a small woman. No way would I be able to fight this person off if he acted up. The sad part is, no one even noticed or said anything about him staring straight at me or about him following me to the next car. No one.
We should not have to be subjected to this. This is why I donated. Some people think it is acceptable to speak to anyone in a suggestive manner, or that staring for a long time is acceptable. It is not okay. We need help. We need you. Please donate to Hollaback! and let women not just here in the United States, but Worldwide know – that you have their back.
I have so many other stories of harassment. For instance, when I was seventeen (years ago), a friend and I were followed out to my car by a man working at Home Depot (who had approached us in the store, and checked us out back by the tires away from everyone else….. already creepy. He was much older and way bigger). He asked how old we were, we answered 17, and he then asked when our birthdays were. When we told him we had just turned 17, he paused and said, “Well…. I mean, if you girls ever want to hang out, just holler at me.”
Things like that happen a lot. And lesser incidents like being whistled or kissed at from a moving car (whether or not I’m walking with a group or a boyfriend, regardless of dress) happen even more often (just last night, actually).
But what made me want to post was a conversation I had with my current boyfriend tonight. We were at a pizza place and I went to go to the bathroom. While passing the men’s room, I heard two guys talking. “Aw man, the line is longer than the women’s room!” “Well, men are smarter than women, so…” I missed the rest, and I may be overreacting but the tone of his voice… it sounded like he meant it. And whether he did or not, it reminded me that there are men who truly believe that they are more intelligent than all women simply by the virtue of their penis. It bothered me, and when I told my boyfriend about it, he sort of blew me off and dismissed it. “I’m sure he was just joking,” etc.
Later, he asked what was wrong and I explained that it seemed that every time I bring up an instance of sexism or objectification, he doesn’t take me seriously and seems to think I’m making it up (this has happened before). I assured him that I wasn’t. And actually, he understood and apologized. We continued talking and I said, “I have had hatred thrown my way before, but most of what I have to deal with is the kind of sexism that is patronizing, objectifying, dismissive, perv bullshit. But the thing about that is… It’s a weird thing – trying to be tough and strong while knowing that there are men twice my size who, if they wanted to, could throw me across a room or punch me out and take advantage of me. And I can fight, and I would, but I can’t deny the difference in physical strength. And when I am objectified, it disturbs me. If they don’t see me as human, what’s to stop them from doing those things?”
(sidetrack: I just caught myself thinking, “If I were stronger, I guess I wouldn’t have to worry as much.” WTF!? I am 5’0″ and around 110 lbs. I’m in pretty good shape, and I’m fairly muscular. Still, there is only so much I can do for my size. But what bothers me about my thought is the whole “might makes right” mentality that I was JUST guilty of, even though I’m so opposed to it. “Oh, if I were stronger, I’d be safe.” As if we’re animals. Just because a man is stronger than me, that does not give him the right to use that against me. It shouldn’t be about me fending a man off, it shouldn’t even be an issue in the first place. Why is he bothering me at all? You can’t logically promote the idea that men are more intelligent/rational/capable than women (you know us gals and our periods) and then at the same time suggest that they (men) are so overcome by their irrational, savage, animal instincts at the sight of a woman’s [insert body part, depending where you are] that they can’t help but commit a rape. Not only is it misogynist, it lacks consistency and just doesn’t even make any fucking sense. Anyway…)
I think tonight helped him get a better idea of why I take things like this seriously. He’s a good guy and I know he wants to treat others with the respect they deserve. He just needed to hear me articulate what bothered me. I know a lot of men like this – men who just need to hear the women in their lives explain why sexism/objectification is so disturbing to us. Thank you, Hollaback, for providing a venue.
We are so strong. Let’s use our strength to build a world where we don’t need physical strength to feel safe. Donate to our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign today.