BY EMILY MAY
In spring 2009 I was accepted into the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices Program with nine of the most impressive women I’ve ever met. At the front of the room was Katy Orenstein, founder of the Op-ed project, a project designed to increase the amount of women writers on the editorial pages.
Katy was pushing us to identify as “experts.” Media people love “experts” (read: talking heads) but women tend to shy away from it. We fear the “so what makes you an expert?” question like the plague, and to be fair – we’re much more likely to get it than men. The more Katy pushed us to identify, the more we wiggled in our seats and pushed back with over-intellectualized arguments that reasoned if every one’s voice matters – what was so special about ours?
What Katy did next changed my life. She told us to imagine that everyone in the room had cancer. Then after a long pause she told us to imagine that we weren’t sure – but that we thought we had a cure. She asked us: do we speak up?
We responded in unison: of course.
So, she said, “what’s the difference? The world has problems, and you all have answers. If you’re not speaking up you’re silently complicit in other’s pain.”
Those words hit me hard. It made me realize — once and for all — the power of what we had created. We had a huge international platform from which to end street harassment. We also had a me, who didn’t want to lead, write books, or pursue media for fear of making it all about me. And in the process, I had made it all about me. Hollaback! hadn’t even come close to realizing it’s potential because I was scared to lead, and in that moment I realized that this wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about my fears, feelings, hesitations or career goals. I had a choice: I could lead this thing or I could sit back, go with Plan A, and delay progress.
We all know what the end of the story is, but my point is this: every day each of us face moments where we can speak up or shut up. I’m not gonna lie, speaking up is one the scariest things you’ll ever do. You’ll open yourself up to criticism and ridicule. If you speak loudly enough someone will tell you you’re fat or ugly. When we make the mistake of thinking that we speak up only for ourselves, shutting up becomes an obvious choice. But when we remember that our voices can speed the pace of progress -whether it’s ending street harassment, promoting peace, or preserving the environment – speaking up becomes so much more than an outlet. It becomes a responsibility.
Due to flooding, the street where I work has been unusually backed up. I have to walk about ten minutes from the parking lot to my office. This has led to what I refer to as the “catwalk gauntlet.” Men leaning out of their cars, asking for my name, if I have a boyfriend, where I am going, and commenting on my appearance.
today was a beautiful hot summer day, and I was wearing a skirt (with shorts underneath) and a tank top and enjoying the sunshine as I biked around doing my errands. First I got a whistle from a passing truck, which I ignored, then a man approaching in the opposite direction on a bike looked at me, laughed, and yelled “skank!” I was too shocked to give him the finger until it was a little too late.
I was studying abroad in Mexico and got lost trying to find my way back from an internet cafe to the house where I was staying. Two men on bikes groped the shit out of my ass and my breasts, and then sped away laughing. I felt incredibly violated and absolutely furious.
I was walking down the street around mid-day and a guy came right up to me and yelled in my face, “GIRL I WANT TO EAT YOUR [expletive conveying vagina].” I turned around as he walked by and said loudly, “EW!” and he kept walking. Another man who overheard just looked at me and laughed, as if this event was amusing to him. Gross. Proud to hollaback!
On September 6, 2011, I was driving to Lexington for groceries and, at the Fayette County line, noticed that a small blue Dodge with four young men (probably early-mid 20s) were yelling something about fucking me, laughing, and making gestures. I am a middle aged woman. Each time I sped up or slowed down, the Dodge car full of men shouting things that sounded like threats of sexual assault did the same until finally I slowed nearly to a stop shortly before Man O’ War Blvd. The blue car pulled in front of me and then turned right onto Man O’ War.
A male neighbor who moved here from a different state recently complained to me about the way men look at and speak to his wife. Since I’ve always lived here and pay little attention to other people unless I feel threatened, I was confused, but after he talked about some things that had happened I started paying attention. Then this happened: a perfect example of what he was talking about. I was confused, angry, and frightened by the young men following me in traffic and shouting about fucking me. I know that they may not have actually intended to assault me, and that if they did they probably didn’t care that I am probably older than some of their mothers.
As a survivor of sexual assault, I moved away from Lexington, a small city, to feel safer. While I’m not still afraid, I’m infuriated. I didn’t get the number of the license plate on the car or what sort of Dodge it was, but I hope that when those men do this again – and I think they will – the next woman gets the information and calls the police. I hope they’re arrested before their threats escalate into rape.
I was finishing up a walk with my dog at about 7pm Friday evening. We were coming down Friendship Ave in the Friendship/East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, heading toward S. Negley Ave. As we approached this intersection, two mean in their 30s crossed from the other side of Friendship Ave. One appeared to ignore me as they passed. The other licked his lips at me, then made kissing noises, leering at me. “Hey sexy mama” he said as he passed. When I reached the corner, I turned my dog down Stratford, away the home stretch to my building. The guy yelled at me “You got a pitt bull” as we continued on. I took my dog an extra two blocks out of the way, and then back, because I was afraid this guy would see where I live, and I live alone. This is far from the first time I’ve been openly harassed on the street since moving to the city a few months ago. I wanted to vomit right there. I’ve worked so hard to lose over 20 lbs this year, and being treated like this makes me feel disgusting. I wish I could yell back at them, think of something to say, that there was someone else around to hear it and encourage me. But I’m always too afraid of what they might do to me then, if they’re brazen enough to harass me in the first place.
BY ANNIE BOGGS
It’s easy to feel hopeless about the world when we are constantly barraged with the media’s continuing fascination with Sarah Palin, sexist JCPenney shirts for girls (although it was promptly removed from their site), and other depressing news like zero job growth. It’s easy to feel that you can do, well, nothing.
In one of my college courses we are reading the influential “Feminism Is For Everybody” by bell hooks. In the final chapter, she ends on a positive note by reminding her readers that feminism can be advanced on a personal scale; anyone can take a stand against sexism.
“That work does not necessarily require us to join organizations; we can work on behalf of feminism right where we are,” she says. “We can begin to do the work on feminism at home, right where we live, educating ourselves and our loved ones.”
This was refreshing to me, as I feel there is a lot of pressure on self-described feminists to stir up society at large. Of course, that always causes the most instantly recognizable change, but questioning someone you know on a racist or sexist statement they made can also stir up change. Making just one person question their viewpoints can be just as important and “radical.”
There is a project called Microagressions which aims to do just that. People send in short remarks that reveal how privilege persists as a defining force in their everyday life, in settings like the doctor’s office or their own home. It just shows that acknowledging hurtful, commonplace comments about sex, class, race, gender and other factors is the first step to creating change. Hollaback! is another good example of this- sharing your story of harassment is one of the first steps to creating broader change.
Whenever someone around me makes a discriminatory statement, even if it’s seemingly normal and not meant to be malicious, I try to correct them and acknowledge that their statement is Wrong. But to be honest, I don’t take the plunge every time. I’m going to try to be more critical, however, and acknowledge these “microagressions” in everyday situations. It’s the easiest way to provoke change in the world, however small your community is. Will you?
As the start of the new school year rapidly approaches, some girls are dreading having to go back. They have been subjected to severe sexual harassment by other students in the form of explicit comments, slanderous graffiti, and inappropriate touching. As a result of this unwanted attention, they are often ostracized by other girls, and can fall into depressive and self-destructive behaviors. Sadly, this is not as unusual as it might sound, because girls today are living in a world that has forced them to become sexual much earlier than at any other time in American history. And by “sexual,” I don’t mean just making babies ~ as we know, girls were married at extremely young ages a hundred years ago, and already had large families by their late teens ~ no, instead, I’m referring to the exploitation of women’s and girls bodies as objects/commodities, and way before they have a chance to attain emotional and intellectual maturity. But I digress ~ there are so many underlying reasons for this problem, which we’ll have to explore at another time. Today’s discussion is about the prevalence of sexual harassment in public schools, and what can be done about it.
According to AAUW (The American Association of University Women), an astounding 83% of girls have experienced sexual harassment. Just think about that ~ When we walk out onto the street in New York City, or even take public transportation (known breeding grounds for harassing behaviors), most of the time we expect not to be harassed, and are rudely shocked out of our happy place/complacency by some jerk that sees an opportunity to take our power away. But girls in public schools, according to this report, might fullyexpect to be abused, just by showing up in that environment. It is one thing to endure a one-time violation by an anonymous stranger whom you’ll never have to see again (except maybe in a police line-up, or in court), but another thing entirely to endure repeat abuse at the hands of someone you have to encounter on a daily basis. Shocking isn’t even the word, and actually invites comparisons to torture. This summer, I completed a course in the Human Rights of Women at Columbia University, in which we exposed domestic violence and other forms of continual abuse as a form of torture, because of the ability to take one’s autonomy and power away through repeated episodes of sexual violation. I believe that if there was this understanding of the seriousness what girls are going through in the schools, more direct action could, and would, be taken against it at the school administrative level, if not higher.
So, in the absence of regularly enforced policies, what can girls and their parents do? For starters, it’s about setting boundaries. This blog, and much of the Hollaback! website seeks to empower women in all situations, so that they can escape, or ideally, prevent harm from coming to them. The same principles apply in the school environment, as out on the street. The word “No!” is a powerful ally in self-protection. Standing up to one’s aggressor/bully is never easy, and not always the safest thing to do, but in the right circumstance, can dissuade an abuser from seeing someone as an easy target, “worthy” of repeated acts of abuse. Since sexual harassment of girl students seems to happen most often on school buses (a closed environment, think “subway car”), changing classes (the “hit and run,” when a student is focused on getting to class), or obviously, in the gym and locker room environment, a girl must always be alert to who is in close proximity to her. Getting changed in a bathroom stall might not be convenient, but does work to allow some privacy. And as for riding on the bus, sitting closer to the driver is always the safest option for students being subjected to harassment. But just as in the case of harassment in the workplace, there should be some type of “paper trail” to describe the nature and time lines of individual complaints, if there are repeated incidents, even from different people. School officials cannot readily ignore written complaints without opening themselves up to liability.
Now, let’s look at a scenario where a girl’s complaints might fall on deaf ears, and her school, for whatever reason, refuses to bring a timely and appropriate remedy to the situation, by either limiting contact with the abuser, or taking disciplinary action. Sadly, name-calling and even inappropriate touching is seen as “normal teenage behavior” by many school officials ~ many of whom grew up in a very different, more sheltered time and place, and who therefore seem to lack the sense of empathy needed to protect a vulnerable student. If a harassment situation gets this far, parents have a powerful resource in the Title IX Act Education Amendment of 1972, which guarantees every child the equal right to an education. This has been used successfully in many instances, but not everyone knows about it to take advantage of it. The mere mention of invoking it may actually trigger the appropriate (albeit overdue) response from school officials. But at heart, this is a problem of education ~ just as there are now seminars and school assemblies that openly discuss the problem of general bullying, there needs to be more said about sexual harassment, which seems to be almost exclusively a problem for girls. Public school must be safe if learning and growing is to take place, and more and more girls in recent years have been driven out of this environment towards more expensive single-sex, private institutions. Let’s see how we can deepen our empathy for girls, not only by teaching them how to protect themselves, but by creating safer places where they never have to fear being violated just by showing up. Because, frankly, that should be the very last thing on their minds this September.
I was walking home from work on a friday night from Broadbeach to Pacific Fair, and on my way is Jupiters Casino. I manage a resturant so it would have been around 11:30pm and the casino was teeming with people. Anyway these 3 guys as I was walking past whistled at me, which I ignored and then screamed out “Show me your tits baby you’re looking hot tonight” to which i replied “F*&k off”, the two other men laughed but the other guy said “Whatever you frigid c*$t”