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I was walking to Walgreens from my sorority house dressed in a pair of slacks, heels, and a blouse. I am very busty, and when I wear heels things tend to be more jiggly. An older man in a car was turning at an intersection I was about to cross, so I stopped on the corner to wait. He stopped his vehicle and waited for me to cross so I would walk in front of him and he could watch me pass. After a few moments of both of us awkwardly waiting, I had not other choice but to cross. As I passed he shouted out of his car window: “Damn! You are looking nice!” I’m ashamed of this, but I mumbled a “thank you” in response, because I didn’t know what else to do or say. I’m a feminist who has attended protests and stood up for others, but sometimes I’m still too scared to stand up for myself.
It isn’t enough for you to grope my ass through my skirt. You have to put your hand up my skirt and grab my bare skin.
You have no idea how long I will spend in the shower, scrubbing myself where you touched me, or how many minutes I will spend thinking about the fact that you were that close to my vagina, how almost GRATEFUL I am for the fact that you didn’t touch me there.
How dare people like you have made girls like me grateful you didn’t touch me there.
I work hard for my grades at a top university, I never go out because I prefer reading, chatting to my friends, exercising, cooking, watching movies. I bothered to dress up and go out, and I felt damn good.
You made me feel bad for dressing up.
And then I turn and face you.
And you smile in that way that means you know I know, but you’re going to act like I don’t. Like you never touched me.
If you won’t admit it, why do it? Are you too shy to tell me I’m pretty? Not an excuse. Is the music so loud that you considered THAT the best way to get my attention? Not an excuse. There is no excuse.
I wonder if you have sisters, cousins. A mother.
I want you to imagine someone putting their hands on that woman you love, and I want you to feel sick with yourself.
About a year ago, I was out drinking pretty late in a bar by my college in Manhattan. At about three, I decided I’d close my tab and head out when I was cornered by one of my pool buddies, who decided that because my back was turned, he could grope me. “You have a nice ass.” he was literally rubbing my ass while I was pressed against the bar, waiting and waiting and waiting for my card and bill. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so, I just said, “I know,” and shifted so he couldn’t touch me anymore. He tried to get me to do shots with him but I made a quick exit and got to the train about a block away.
I thought my night was over from there, but! I was approached by a man on the train platform. This is where I should mention that the station I was at is about five or six stories above ground. The man approached me and immediately asked, “do you eat pussy?” being drunk and terrified, I replied, “no.” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Do you like being eaten out?” (“no” to both) and then, “Can I show you my cock?” I was so scared and I had no idea of what to say. If I said the wrong thing, what if he decided to push me off of the platform? That was the only thing going through my head. I was extremely lucky that night, I said “No, thank you.” and he finally left me alone, but so often I think about next time, because I know there will be a next time. I think almost everyday, “Where will it be? Who will it be? Will the next guy actually kill me?”
I walk my dog around lake merrit almost everyday because it is a beautiful walk in an otherwise urban area. My experience has been that I cannot make it around this three mile loop without a man making some kind of comment to me. It has ranged from “hi beautiful” to grunting noises to comments about my butt or asking me if they can join me on my walk. I had a man step into my path and stop right in front of me to pet my dog, blocking my path and giving me no choice in the interaction. I get angry, scared and embarrassed by these encounters, but above all I feel helpless and that is by far the worst emotion for me. I feel like I have to put up with this in order to walk my dog in a park near my home. I now have to consider what I wear and what time of day I go for a walk in an effort to achieve some sort of anonymity. Some people might think, what’s the big deal if a man wants to tell you you’re attractive or ask you out. Here’s the big deal, it’s unsolicited, unreciprocated and unwanted attention . It can be scary, embarrassing and menacing. Bottom line, I just want to walk my dog in peace and feel safe.
BY ELIZABETH SCHULTZ
This was originally posted on econgirl and sent to us by Carey Tan.
My last night in Ouagadougou, I enjoyed a lovely Vietnamese dinner, then went to the street to find a taxi to my hotel. It wasn’t late, but it was just starting to rain, and taxis were scarce, so I started walking in the direction of the hotel, knowing I would be more likely to find a taxi that way.
I was crossing an intersection when a man started yelling “La blanche! La blanche” (White! White!) I decided to ignore him, as this rude by any measure. The man then ran up behind me, and grabbed me around the neck with both arms.
I had no idea what he was doing, so to be on the safe side, I screamed. I was able to duck out of his arms and push him away. He didn’t put up much resistance, so I decided this was just his idea of sport. I hit him across the face, then walked away, and he let me go.
Hitting an assailant wasn’t the smartest thing—I probably should have taken off running—but I’m glad I did. What was he thinking? He didn’t strike me as being mentally ill in any way. The only conclusion that I can come to is that since I was clearly a foreigner, and because he thought I was physically weak, he felt like he could get away behavior that would be unacceptable in his own community.
The more disturbing thing is that, even though there were half a dozen people in the immediate vicinity, no one did anything. No one tried to help, or even asked if I was okay. This was shocking to me, especially because in Ghana, people would have come running from all around. I’m not sure why no one helped—if it was because it was beginning to rain and they wanted to go home, or if it was because I was a foreigner, or if that’s just the culture in Ouagadougou.
If you are reading this and thinking, “Poor Liz—what a god-awful country!”, then I have news for you: men do stuff like this to women all the time in the United States, and they get away with it. Ask any young woman living in a city like New York or DC when the last time was that she was catcalled on the street, or grabbed in a bar or club. Ask her if anyone said anything to the person who did it.
The fact is, wherever conditions exist that allow people to harass others without consequence, there will be people who take advantage of that. I think there are two cultural tendencies that contribute to those conditions:
1. A general tendency not to get involved. This is something that you see a lot more in the west than in places like Ghana, where society values individualism less and communities are tightly-knit, creating more incentive to enforce good behavior. But everywhere, to some extent, people are often hesitant to get involved, either because of fear, or because of inconvenience. The result is that bad behavior goes unpunished. This is especially consequential in places where formal law and order is lacking.
2. In-group bias. I think that everywhere, people who are “different” are more likely to be targeted and less likely to be helped. (They are probably more likely to be targeted BECAUSE they are less likely to be helped.) These people might be vulnerable because they don’t speak the local language, and don’t have local social connections or social standing, but I think there is also a tendency for people who are different to be more objectified—they are seen first as “a white” or “a black”, rather than as another person. People have less problem with them being objects for others’ amusement, and they are less concerned with their welfare than they would be someone who appears to be from their same community. There are people who would argue that in-group bias is okay or even good, and that it encourages social cohesion. I argue that the cost of in-group bias is that the most vulnerable people are ignored when they need help.
So if you don’t like what happened to me, I urge you to do two things. First, make yourself more of a “social enforcer.” Being a social enforcer can be intimidating. Natural social enforcers often have a high tolerance for stress. But generally, a person who enforces good social behavior, for example by chiding someone who cuts in line, are viewed favorably by everyone who observes the interaction.
Second, try to fight your own in-group bias, and make an effort to reach out to those people who seem especially out of place. If they look out of place, they probably feel that way even more so. Treat them the way you would want your mother, or your sister, or your daughter treated if she were alone someplace strange.
Interestingly, the two things I am encouraging—social enforcement and reducing in-group bias—are typically associated with opposite sides of the political and social spectrum. Social enforcement tends to be associated with conventional, authoritarian, and duty-oriented attitudes. Reduced in-group bias tends to be associated with liberal, individualistic, and intellectually-oriented attitudes. I don’t think this is an accident: all of these values are good; that’s why there are people that value them. If we all ascribe to each other’s values a little more—if social enforcers can apply their protections to a wider group of people, and if those who care about people who are different can make themselves into social enforcers—I think we would do better at protecting the most vulnerable from those people who have no values at all.
We had a big week, with lots of exciting news. Let’s jump right in:
We are in PEOPLE magazine this week! With a circulation of 25 million, we’re bringing the street harassment movement to a grocery isle near you. We couldn’t be more proud. And we couldn’t have done it without you.
We’ve got new Partners (legislative and otherwise)! We met with Councilmember Lander, Councilmember Levin, and Councilmember Arroyo this week (whew!) and partnered with Men Can Stop Rape as an ally in their new Healthy Masculinity Project!
I went to North Carolina! I had the opportunity to speak with students from Western Carolina University, who were quite simply some of the most amazing students I have ever met. And I’m not just saying that because they have committed to start a Hollaback! site on their campus. Promise.
New York Women’s Foundation’s Got Our Back! We are grateful to New York Women’s Foundation for their support of our work here in New York City — and we’re honored to be listed among their grantees. To learn more about the foundation, click here.
Next week, I’m going to the WHITE HOUSE to join Vice President Joe Biden (!!!), Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and White House Advisor on Violence Against Women Lynn Rosenthal, for a program about the importance of the Violence Against Women Act and the Administration’s efforts to reduce domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking victimization. I’ll be representing as Hollaback!’s executive director and board member of ISIS! I can’t wait!
HOLLA and out —
Meet Dhruv, one of the creators behind GotStared, an online movement based in Delhi, India that he and his friend, Kuber, created earlier this year. They started GotStared as a way to provide an outlet for people’s experiences with street harassment and as a way of targeting the myth that a woman is responsible for her own harassment based on what she wears. Additionally, they have created some fantastic graphics to support the movement
How long have you been using social media to advocate the idea that “It’s not your fault”?
GotStared is not too old. We started the website and Facebook page towards the end of January, up till which we weren’t sure of what direction we wanted to take the Facebook page in. Owing to my obsession with Photoshop, we created the first original poster on 1st of February, in which we first advocated the idea that “it’s not your fault”. Since February 1st (and it’s been about 60 days now), we’ve held on to using the phrase “it’s not your fault” on our posters and the hashtag #ItsNotYourFault on Twitter.
Where did the inspiration for creating Got Stared and the #ItsNotYourFault come from?
A couple of days before GotStared was created, Kuber and I were sitting and discussing how ridiculous the comments of certain prominent people in India were turning out to be. It was almost saddening that female professors at reputed Universities (such as K.K. Seethamma from Karnataka University) were going on record saying that “women today are becoming shameless. If you expose skin, of course you will get harassed. If you wear traditional Indian suits and hide your skin, you won’t get harassed”. This was outrageous, and we were discussing what we individuals could do about this. Then we came up with this idea about creating a website where people can come and post the pictures of what they were wearing when they got harassed on the streets. We wanted to see what kind of submissions we’d get, whether it would just be the “revealing Western outfits” or other clothes as well. We wanted to see if it mattered what you wore or where you were at. Not surprisingly, the results were as we expected. We were getting entries in Indian wear, western where, from India, and everywhere else as well.
About the Facebook page, as I mentioned, we hadn’t planned on what we would want to do with it. The idea for using posters wasn’t really an idea, per se. We just happened to create the poster and while doing that, we were thinking of what message we could use in it. We decided to go with #ItsNotYourFault, because it just made sense, since everywhere you look, you see messages (either subliminal or direct) where people are being held accountable for mundane and insane things like being dark skinned, not being tall, blaming you if you got harassed (through messages that tell you how to not get harassed instead of telling people to not rape). Most importantly, that was also the time when the clothes vs harassment debate was going on in India and quite a few prominent figures had gone on record saying “if you’re not dressed modestly, then you will get raped”.
What has the response been like to this idea in Delhi, specifically, as well as internationally?
Ever since we’ve started creating posters, you can actually see the exponential increase in people’s participation. Initially, the response from Delhi wasn’t overwhelming to say the least. Surprisingly, the initial splurge of followers wasn’t from India at all, but internationally. Then, as the posters started growing, there was a sudden inflow of supporters from Delhi, especially as a few known organizations and initiatives based in India started picking up the posters and sharing them as well. Today, the largest number of supporters from any city are from Delhi. At the end of the day though, numbers are just numbers. What is really heartening is to see the things people have to say. Our intention has always been to not be politically correct and try to spark debates on these issues, which really has worked.
Can you talk about a story you have received (be it inspiring, infuriating or mind boggling) that sticks out in your minds the most?
Funny you should ask, actually. I will talk about about last entry that we received. I’m sure it’s going to stick out in my mind for a very very long time. I’m talking about this one: http://bit.ly/Hlkjjr
It’s about a white woman who came to New Delhi to work. She cites a couple of instances where she got harassed. Reading the post, I literally felt fear. That’s the thing about reading written pieces, for that moment, you are what you’re reading, so you can feel like the person you’re reading about may have been feeling. In each of the instances, you feel fear, you feel helpless, scared and alone. Unsafe becomes just another word. What really hit me was that at the very end, she points out how her employers (who were also actively involved in one of the instances) said “what were you wearing? why were you walking in the dark? what did you say to him?”
She has returned from Delhi to her home now, earlier than she expected. And I, being an Indian citizen, never felt more ashamed of being a part of such a crowd. I am sure this woman will never come to Delhi again, because it will remind her of the times she was on the streets being followed by random men, unsure of what extent they would go to, helpless, alone and scared. And the most interesting thing about the stories are, a whole bunch of them are wearing a traditional Indian Suit.
What do you say to people who blame victims of street harassment for what they were wearing, where they were walking or what time of day it was when it happened?
I don’t wish to say anything, I wish to show. The reason we started GotStared was to be able to bring out these instances like the one I’ve highlighted above. I wish to show them these posts by normal Indian citizens and ask them, what of these women? I wish to ask them what they would suggest to these women, who are working, supporting themselves, minding their own business, and even dressed modestly, who are still getting harassed. I would like for them to implore and tell me what about the countless people, like the one above, who have left the country we are so proud of because they felt downright unsafe? If this is the condition of women in our country after imposing so many restrictions on them, maybe it is time to rethink the restrictions and see where we may be wrong. Maybe instead of imposing more and more restrictions on Women which isn’t working at all, maybe we can divert our attention to devising more strategical means of dealing with the perpetrators. Through these instances, through the posters, We only wish to point out the ridiculousness of the way we’re dealing with the problem.
What advice would you give to people in dealing with getting stared at, yelled at, groped, followed or other forms street harassment?
I would like to say that I understand. I understand that it is very very difficult for a woman in this situation to react, because of the sheer possibilities and the “what-ifs”. I understand that it may not be possible to “do something” in that moment itself. But having said that, it is important that we do something. The reason people are able to go ahead with these heinous crimes without fear is because not enough pressure is put on them yet. So even if we aren’t able to react in that situation, it is important to learn from the situation and follow that up with putting pressure on the people responsible. The police, the authorities that are constantly trying to dodge responsibility, getting away with saying absurd things like “If you got harassed at night, don’t go out after 8″. And as we can see from the recent rape case in the city of Gurgaon, it was followed up by action, pressure was put on the authorities who not only rolled back on their absurd statement, but suspended the responsible police officials and arrested the perpetrators as well. As long as we keep shut, the people will feel that they have the liberty to do whatever they like. Lastly, I would like to say that speaking for every self-respecting man in this world, I’m sorry for the horrible things some men do, and the bunch of us fighting the good fight will keep trying to change not just the actions, but the thoughts as well. And that’s what it says on the GotStared page as well, “because it’s not the clothes that matter, it’s the intentions”.
BY CATHERINE FAVORITE
How did you develop the idea to have an art event on the subject of street harassment?
I took on street harassment because of my own personal disgust with the harassment I experience daily on the street. My business organizes events for a cause, so it made perfect sense to coordinate a series of events to prompt action in San Francisco.
The art event selection came about organically. Early on in the planning process, I talked to numerous people and organizations to get an idea of my resources and allies, and many interested parties happened to be involved in the arts. Once I secured event space and began spreading the word, interest spread like wildfire. Art is an amazing vehicle for self expression and outreach; it touches people on so many different levels. I’m also hoping using the arts will allow us to cast our net beyond “feminist” circles (ie. those already interested in equality issues) to reach a wider audience.
San Francisco seems like it has long been at the forefront of advancing a more socially-just culture. Do you think street harassment happens less often there compared to other cities or would you say it’s just as much of a problem?
San Francisco is undoubtedly at the forefront of advancing a more socially just culture. Still, street harassment happens here every day – I’d say at least as much as other cities, although it’s hard to pin numbers down. I’ll put it like this: every woman I talk with hates street harassment (and has a story), yet half of the men I’ve spoken with believe some women “like” the attention. Many men and women believe harassment is so entrenched it’s a losing battle to fight. I don’t share this mindset, of course; if we’d taken that view in the women’s suffrage or civil rights movements, women wouldn’t have been able to vote in our country’s first African American President.
How did you first get started as an activist for social causes?
I’ve always been put off, if not straight up engraged, by the objectificaiton of women in our culture – in the media, on the streets, in our places of employement, in our homes. What was worse was the social myth: “Relax, it’s a compliment. That’s how men are.” Too fed up to remain silent, I engaged in online activism for a while, ranting on social media sites, posting on HollaBack and other women’s rights sites, and the like. Although I got validation for my own feelings of “WTF”, and the comfort of knowing I wasn’t alone in my experiences, ranting online wasn’t enough. I wanted to turn my experiences into positive social changes in my local community. Finally, I took the cause on formally to rally others and present harassment as a legitimate social issue. There’s nothing quite as empowering as working from the gut.
Can you talk a little bit about the art installations you’ve received for this event?
We’re still in the call-for-art process. I’m seeking artists from a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, political persuasions, etc… I’m looking forward to the outcome.
Do you have plans for future event related to fighting street harassment, similar to the Meet Us On the Streets in San Francisco event you helped organize?
The Meet Us on the Street San Francisco event was the first of many anti-street harassment events VoiceTool Productions will be coordinating. I’m always brewing ideas and scheming. For example, this summer, I will begin actions to petition Bay Area public transport authorities for tools against harassment on BART and Muni. The August art event, which will involve determining next steps per district represented through the arts, will spawn several future events. Events also spring up organically, so keep an eye on my blog, VoiceTool Productions, for information on how to participate.
VoiceTool Productions is coordinating an event (set for August) to examine street harassment through the arts.
The long-term goal is to use VOICE as a tool to create a culture of respect, versus one of harassment. The short-term goal is to twofold:
One, we will start a dialogue about street harassment, through the work of artists representing different districts/cultural communities of San Francisco.
Two, we will pinpoint concrete next steps participants (artists and viewers) will take toward creating culturally appropriate, lasting solutions for street harassment in San Francisco.
VoiceTool is currently seeking art for the event, on the topic of how street harassment affects you (the artist), and how you can use VOICE to create a culture of respect.
Art is due August 1.
The gallery space is at SomArts Cultural Center in SOMA. Founded in 1979, SOMArts embraces the entire spectrum of arts practice and cultural identity, and it is beloved in San Francisco as a truly multicultural, community-built space where cutting-edge events and counterculture commingle with traditional art forms. See http://www.somarts.org/.
Since this is an all-ages event space, adult content may be rejected.
The display space consists of two secure wall-mounted cases ready to display all flat work. The dimensions of the cases are 24.75″ x 37″ and 137″ x 37″.
You’ll get proceeds from your art’s sales, minus the gallery cut and the Voice’s production costs.
BY VICTORIA TRAVERS
Hollaback! has been keenly following the fantastic work being completed by the National Task Force to End Sexual Violence Against Women. We were lucky enough to interview Lisalyn R. Jacobs of Legal Momentum, the organization’s Vice President for Government Relations and an all round kick-ass player in the fight to end violence against women.
Lisalyn R. Jacobs works for Legal Momentum, the nation’s oldest legal defense and education fund committed to advancing the rights of women and girls. Lisalyn is the organization’s Vice President for Government Relations, making her the chief lobbyist and advocate with federal and U.S Congress:
“My work is primarily focused on the issues of violence against women and poverty, but we are involved in a variety of other work from advocacy around women’s economic issues, to judicial nominations.”
This particular role came as a bit of a surprise for the tenacious lawyer. In March 2003 she had originally applied for another job at Legal Momentum, but after officials realized her experience in federal laws concerning the organization’s advocacy projects they offered her another role instead.
Lisalyn grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., attended Goucher and Oberlin colleges and attended Stanford Law School. She remembers that she “wanted to be a lawyer and advocate by the time” she “was in middle school.” But faced the challenged of defining exactly what “kind of advocacy” she “was passionate about as against ending up in corporate America somewhere, which was more in line with the way law schools were training their students.”
She started her career at the National Partnership for Women and Families with the support of Georgetown’s Women’s Law & Public Policy Fellowship. Lisalyn joined the Office of Policy Development of the U.S. Justice Department in 1995 and worked on a number of issues including implementation of the Violence Against Women Act, the welfare reform law, judicial nominations and affirmative action.
Lisalyn first heard about Hollaback! a couple of years ago after her organization assembled a book about “the history of the drive for women’s rights in this country.” Hollaback! was featured in that book. Lisalyn notes that:
“It’s hard to grow up in the U.S. and NOT have experiences with street harassment.”
Lisalyn recalled her own memories of street harassment, telling us:
“I remember not too long after graduating from law school, I got into an argument on the streets of Washington, D.C. with a guy who had either harassed me or the friend I was talking to. At some point during the exchange, I recall telling the guy that he was objectifying me and afterwards, thinking that I had been in school just a little too long!”
The wonderful thing about Lisalyn is that not only is she a fearless change-maker, but she gets us, like Hollaback! she understands that although harassment can seem like a very solitary experience, you do not have to feel alone. Her advice to anyone experiencing harassment or abuse is this:
“Whether you are experiencing the violence or trying to help/figure out how to approach or support the person who is, you don’t have to do it alone. There is help out there for you. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE, and they can direct you to services in your community. You can call your local rape crisis hot-line, or the stalking hot-line. There is a world of folks out there ready and able to help you. Let them. Don’t wait. Get safe!!”
So we salute you Lisalyn for all your hard work, activism and change making!
Please welcome our newest Hollaback! Maria Luiza Welton! Maria is a Hunter College Honors graduate that is currently studying at Columbia University for her Masters in social work. Maria lives in New York and is super-psyched to be joining the Hollaback! blogging team. Read on to see what drew Maria and why she always is inclined to Hollaback!:
“The Hollaback! Effect
I’m very excited to be joining the Hollaback! blogging team. Having experienced firsthand how pervasive the issue of street-harassment is and how it can wear you down, I feel very passionate about becoming one of the many voices already taking part in anti-street harassment the movement. I strongly support speaking up, and my experience in taking action is my proof it creates positive change.
I first learned about Hollaback! when searching for ways to stop the daily street harassment I’d been facing since I was 12. In reading through the personal accounts, I felt so empowered by how much I saw my own experiences in other people’s stories.
Shortly after, I mustered up the courage to Hollaback! for the first time. My first target was a scrap metal shop where I would get my early morning harassment. As I walked by the kissy noises and teeth sucking, I walked up to one of them and boomed “That’s enough!” I was stunned at myself that I did it, and the group of dudes were equally frozen. They never bothered me again.
I started noticing changes in myself after I started to Hollaback! My body was more relaxed when I went out, I stopped hiding in my clothes and I stopped feeling ashamed. I felt like I had taken back my space and my right to exist without it meaning other people be entitled to disrespect me. And I don’t know if this is some kind of Hollaback! sorcery or if I started to give off different vibes and body language, but the street harassment went from happening at least once a day, to happening maybe a few times a year. I can’t explain how this happened, but everywhere I went, it stopped.
Has anyone else had this Hollaback! effect?”