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Erin’s Story: “Any one of us can be so taken aback that we don’t know how to react”

In 2003, my childhood best friend and I took a trip to NYC to celebrate her birthday. We got second row tickets to an amazing play, staring her favorite actor. It was supposed to be an amazing trip for us, something to remember for a lifetime. Sadly, I will remember it for all the wrong reasons.

We took the subway during rush hour to get to Times Square in time for what I think was a 7:00 performance. We were all dressed up, each wearing cocktail dresses among a sea of bland commuters. The train was utterly packed to the gills. We stood, sharing a pole, facing each other on the train. When there are that many people cramped in a tight space, you are bound to get bumped and jostled by backpacks and suitcases. I found my rear being repeatedly “bumped” by what I initially thought was a suitcase. I began to get suspicious and used a technique that my friend and I had employed many times in the past. I made it clear to her I was a little suspicious about what was going on behind me without saying a word. I quickly stepped to the side, so as to leave whatever was going on behind me immediately exposed to her line of vision. The look on her face was not at all what I expected to see, as it reflected what she had not expected to see—a short man with his pants unzipped, and his erect penis hanging out.

That “bump” was him continually rubbing his penis up against my rear end. Thankfully, we were coming to our station. I was completely shocked and had no idea how to react. I will be forever grateful to my friend for grabbing my hand and running up the steps. We started screaming “Rape” on the top of our lungs. Disturbingly enough, the man began to follow us. Somehow we lost him in the crush of people.

Disoriented and upset, we made it to our performance. I was too disturbed to leave my seat during intermission. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone getting close to me in the lobby. After the show, we had a wonderful experience meeting the actors. I was so bothered by the thought of getting back on the subway, I called a male friend of mine from nearby and he escorted us on the train back to our hotel. While waiting for him, a mounted police officer happened to come by. I stopped him and asked if I could tell him something, even though I knew he couldn’t do anything about it. He was so kind and understanding and his attention to me in that moment actually helped.

I am not the kind of woman to not react–especially to this kind of abuse. This is just evidence that any one of us can be so taken aback that we don’t know how to react. To this day, I am totally paranoid about using public transportation of any kind. This is in part due to a bus driver that harassed me in my home town shortly before the subway incident.

All told, that (literal) jerk-off took a great red cocktail dress from me, a feeling of safety on public transportation, and what should have been an unmarred vacation with my best friend.

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demonstration

Sarah’s Story: Don’t “learn to live with” it

I work at a restaurant. At work last weekend, a male patron called me “darling”. I find this very offensive, objectifying, disrespectful to my intelligence, and dehumanizing – I am not his significant other and he is a total stranger.

I told him: “Don’t call me darling.” He responded, shocked: “What?!” I said, “Don’t call me darling. I’m not your girlfriend.” He said, “I didn’t know!” I said, “Now you know.” He began arguing: “I call everyone that!” I said, “Well, now you know not to call me that. We’re done.”

When he left, he shouted at me, “Thanks a lot, Toots!” I replied, “Don’t call me Toots either!” as he walked away.

I told my manager about it and asked if we could ban him from the restaurant. She said no, because this wasn’t “sexual harassment” as defined in a course on workplace harassment she recently completed. She told me to just suck it up as there was nothing that could be done.

In her response, I heard several undertones: that either she really did believe she had limited options in responding to such incidences, and/or that she thought I should just sit down and shut up – relax and “learn to live with” offensive, derogatory, gender-based remarks, simply because I work in a customer service-oriented industry.

I don’t know what to say to my boss, aside from the fact that I feel (am?) entitled to stand up for myself against unwanted gender-based verbage from patrons, and disappointed that she didn’t have my back in this particular exchange.

Help!

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Anonymous’s Story: Poor example

I was walking to the metro when this male (not worthy of being called a man) walking with two small children said, “ain’t that sexy” to me as I walked by. I didn’t ask for his input, and it’s infuriating to be referred to as an object, “that”. I did feel empowered, however, to be able to pull out my phone and do something about it!

It makes me sad to think of the poor example that person is setting for those two small children. But I remain hopeful that with campaigns like Hollaback, we will one day end street harassment.

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Article

HOLLAWho? Meet Ottawa.

Meet Julie Lalonde, the eternal optimist fighting street harassment in Ottawa, Canada.

Why do you HOLLA? Because it’s what my grandmother would want me to do.

What’s your signature Hollaback? I’m sure your mother is proud!

What’s your craft? Feminist advocate.

HOLLAfact about your city: We are the home of the world’s largest skating rink! We’re also the city that fun forgot. Sadly.

What was your first experience with street harassment? When I was in middle school, my aunt surprised me with tickets to the ballet in Toronto. Being a small town kid, we decided to make it into a full on vacation. On one night, we stopped at a bank machine as we headed back to the hotel. My mom soon noticed that someone was following us.

I remember how panicked my mom and aunt were and how they quickly picked up their pace. We walked a few more blocks, trying not to look scared while the man kept following us. Finally, my mom dragged us into a local bar where she had to explain the whole situation to the bartender in order to justify having a minor with her!

Define your style: My voice is my weapon of choice.

My superheroine power is… eternal optimism.

What do you collect? Haters

Say you’re Queen for the day.  What would you do to end street harassment? I’d institute mandatory community service to anyone caught street harassing and a day at the spa for every victim!

If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be? Don’t be afraid to take the lead! If you see a gap, FILL IT.

What inspires you? “Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t become famous for saying ‘I have a complaint’” I read this amazing motto by eco-activist Van Jones a few years ago and I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m continuously inspired by people who see a problem and make an attempt to fix it. There will always be cynics and haters, but how many of them come to the table with a solution?

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