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This post is part of our Nicola’s Got Nerve series by Nicola Briggs.
I believe that it’s vital to practice boundary-setting every day. You might think that that sounds like a lot of work, even a bit paranoid. But if you practice in environments that feel non-threatening, you’ll be gratified to see that you can rise to even the most surprising and stressful situation. Even if, God forbid, a do-or-die moment comes along, you will be ready. It’s difficult to think of getting into the right mind set to save your yourself from harm if you don’t continually work on establishing appropriate boundaries.
So what would some examples be in different settings? One could be refusing to allow your new boyfriend or girlfriend to show up at your house or work unannounced. You see, little transgressions like this, while seemingly cute and endearing at first, tend to escalate into even more violating behaviors.
Here’s an every-day example: Say you have a neighbor in your apartment building or on your block that continually asks about your private life. It always makes you really uncomfortable, but you seem to end up giving the information that he or she wants, just so you don’t appear rude. Well, that person is actually acting like a bully (even if they don’t realize it) and if you don’t want your privacy violated again, it’s time to look after yourself and set some boundaries in a polite way. Changing the topic of conversation to the person asking the questions, or even to another non-personal topic is a great way of deflecting attention away from yourself, thereby safeguarding your privacy. Information is power, and no one can take away your power without your consent.
Boundary setting is vitally important in the workplace as well. When I was fresh out of college, I once had a supervisor who tried to assert dominance over me by draping her arm over my shoulders each time she visited me in my cubicle. She kept doing it, until I had to tell her that it made me uncomfortable. Instead of respecting my request, she tried to save face and put me on the defensive, saying something to the effect of, “Well, everybody likes hugs, why don’t you?” It really doesn’t matter whether the someone doing this is male or female, if action is inappropriate and makes you feel uncomfortable, you’ve got a right to speak up against it. Or it will keep happening, and sometimes escalate.
I have seen so many people in authority do this so many times, that I’ve actually given it a name. I like to call it, “The Supervisor Hold.” Mind you, this is not simply a casual, friendly act between equals, because I have never seen an employee do this to their employer. Now, this is something you want to become aware of, because some supervisors might be doing it unconsciously, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a very effective method of coercion. There’s something about the touch of a fellow human being that we all respond to, and if that person is not a stranger, then we’ve already been conditioned on some level to accept that touch, no matter what it’s real intention is. So it behooves us to examine whether we really feel comfortable with this kind of contact, especially if its coming from a superior. Some people might not say anything about it, just because they feel it might put their position in jeopardy, not because they actually like the contact.
And if you want to speak up about it, how should you go about that? From my personal experience, if you want the unwanted contact to stop, but want to maintain a working relationship, the best way is to have a private, short, direct, but respectful conversation with the person who’s making you feel uncomfortable. By establishing boundaries in the home and work environment you won’t hesitate to make sure that someone on the outside of those “safe” zones doesn’t run rough-shod over your personal space, either physically or psychologically. This is vitally important for your safety, and will allow you to move about your world with greater confidence.
This has been an amazing week and I have lots to share. I’ll start here in New York City.
I feel incredibly honored to be chosen as a “Next Maker” in AOL’s Makers: Women Who Make America Awards. Five astoundingly powerful women and I were chosen out of a pool of 1,200 applicants. Our stories will be included in a documentary about the feminism movement then and now airing on PBS in February. Read up on the other winners and learn more about this initiative on the Maker’s website. Thank you to all the hollabackers, past and present, who have made this possible.
Also, I’ll be celebrating the arrival of the book “I still believe Anita Hill: Three Generations Discuss the Legacy of Speaking Truth to Power” at an event in NYC this weekend. The section about Hollaback in the book is accompanied by many other stories of feminist visionaries. Get your copy here.
Here’s what our sites around the world have been up to:
Hollaback Dublin is hitting the ground running with lots of press before they’ve even launched. Not only did they make the national news twice already, they were also on a major talk radio show. Even though radio host Ryan Tubridy was unabashedly rude to site leader Aimee Doyle (he actually said ”to hell with the PC brigade, there isn’t enough wolf-whistling at women going on!”), she repped Hollaback with grace and poise. I couldn’t be more proud of Aimee and the Dublin site, our new family members.
Hollaback Richmond recruited some hollabackers this week too by hosting a volunteer interest meeting. RVA has also been actively spreading awareness about the street harassment that the LGBTQ community faces, especially transgender people. Each day in November they are sharing stories of the many transgender lives lost due to gender-based and hate violence. Please click here to learn more.
Let’s keep this movement going together.
HOLLA and out –
I was in a taxi going back to my boyfriend’s house from a night out at about 4 in the morning, and I was drunk. The taxi driver told me it would be 20$ and being drunk I handed him the money in order to not have to deal with it later.
He stopped the cab 3 blocks from my boyfriend’s house in a really quiet, dark neighborhood, and got out. I got out of the taxi and asked him why he wasn’t driving the next three blocks. He told me that if I didn’t suck his dick, he would leave me there and drive off.
I walked back to the house in the dark, hiding in the shadows because I was afraid. I’m furious that I didn’t take down his license number and report him.
When I was 16, I was walking to the bus stop in my nice, relatively safe neighborhood. As I passed an elementary school on a busy street, an adult businessman in a red sports car slowed down and offered me sex, a ride, and told me how hot I looked today. The most shocking thing was that he looked like he could be someones father, so normal and almost safe looking. I was horrified, and loudly told him I was 16, and why the hell did he think it was acceptable as a grown man to hit on a child? I told him his words were disgusting and inappropriate and walked away. Plenty of other people on the street heard and stared at the man with disgust. His shame and embarrassment at being called out was empowering.
Unfortunately, I don’t currently hollaback at street harassers. This event happened in Seattle, and I now live alone in Fresno and rarely leave my apartment as I don’t feel safe.
I was riding the number 3 bus northbound. A man boarded, sat down and loudly cracked a beer open. He then started to come on to the young Asian woman sitting next to him, trying to get her attention in Cantonese, making kissing motions at her, draping his arm over the back of his seat. She was visibly ignoring him and feeling uncomfortable. I reported him to the driver – first for the beer, then for the assault. The driver notified transit police but did nothing more.
Some guy, probably a couple years older than me, knew that I was looking at something in the distance when I was going into the station and he was leaving. He said “hi beautiful”. I immediately turned around, looked him in the eyes and responded “That’s not cool! Not cool.” He seemed so taken aback that I actually responded with confidence instead of putting my head down and walking into the station, that all he could mutter way “okay.”
It’s been a great week here in New York and for our site leaders worldwide. I’ve got lots to share.
First, our International Fellow Shahinaz led a workshop at Planned Parenthood of New York City about bystander intervention with a mixed gender group of late high school/early college-aged peer educators. She also facilitated a similar event with middle-school youth.
I also got a note from Simone Kallett, a Resident Adviser at Florida State University, set up a board in her dorm with info from our website and resources from her school about ending street harassment. Simone said the response was overwhelmingly positive and she hopes her board will inspire other college students and activists to do the same.
Here’s what our sites around the world have been busy with this week:
Hollaback Ottowa‘s incredible site leader, Julie Lalonde, was a panelist at the World University Service of Canada’s International Forum where she spoke about feminist youth and Hollaback. This makes us so proud!
Hollaback Richmond volunteered with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia this week and made phone calls to encourage Americans to vote. They’re also sitting on the planning committee for Richmond’s Transgender Day of Remembrance which is coming up on November 20th.
I am so proud of our family of activists this week. Keep up the great work.
HOLLA and out,
Noticed a guy masturbating on the train, started taking pictures of him, and when he noticed me and got up, I started yelling at him, “I see you!!! Masturbator!!” No one else on the train flinched, the guy got off the train and I tried to follow him but he jumped back on, I kept yelling at him and banging on the window to warn the other people in the car. I exited train platform and tried to file a report with a station agent, who panicked, and said there was nothing he could do. It takes him 3 uptown F trains before he calls it in. Then he switches shifts and explains to the new station agents the situation, cause I’m still standing there, and I’m not going anywhere til I file a report. The new agent is the first person to ask me if I am okay, which I reply YES but I need to report this. He tells me the police are coming and I can file with them. 30 minutes later there is no police. I ask the agent when they are coming, he says he has no way of knowing. I ask if I will still be able to file a report tomorrow, explaining that I’ve had friends who experienced this and were not allowed to file a report because it was “too late”. He assures me I can file a report any time I want. It’s a snowstorm, so I’m worried I won’t make it home if I don’t go now. I get back on the train with a crystal clear photo of the masturbator that nobody has looked at, unable to file a police report.
I was at a Halloween party and this guy was saying “good-bye” to everyone who passed. I said “bye” to him. He then stoked/grabbed/tickled the length of my torso. I instinctively brought up my arm as if to back hand him. He said, “oh, oh. Hit me. Go ahead, hit me.” With a disgusted face, I lowered my hand and said something like, “that is NOT cool. You should NOT do that to anyone.” Then I walked away. After contemplating the situation later I realized that I should have stayed by him, talked to him and made him feel very uncomfortable by standing my ground. He won that interaction and I could have annoyed him until HE walked away. He was alone and I was at a house surrounded by people who know me.
When I was 17 I played on a traveling soccer team and in order to get to practice I would have had to drive between 25 and 30 miles of back country winding road to get there. So since the coach was a man who had worked with my dad for close to 30 years he made the suggestion that I could ride with him because I was not a very experienced driver, so that way my parents would know I was going to make it home safe. All during practice he kept asking me what kind of underwear I had on and he would tell us all how great our rear ends looked, but we just passed it off as it’s just him being him and laughed it off. Well when we left, it was just he and I in the car because the rest of the team were from that county, he starts up again with the comments and I just laughed it off like I always did. Then he pulled onto a side road that I had never seen before so I just sat there. And when I asked why we were here he said he wanted me to see the “coolness” of his van that he bought for the team to travel in. So while still in my seat i turned my head to look back and he said that the back row of seats fold out into a full size bed and he said that the shades are made in a way that we can see out but no one can see in. There are no words for how afraid I was in that moment, so I just stayed strapped in the front seat and begged with him for an hour to take me home. When he finally got back up in the drivers seat he asked me if he had upset me, I told him yes you have upset me more than you will ever know– to which then he replied “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to that wasn’t my intention” and I said yeah I know what your intentions were now drive me home. It was then that he leaned over and tried to hug me and asked for a kiss. I squirmed away from it and told him to drive me home right now and to be prepared because when my dad and big brother and my big brothers friends that all see me as their little sister too find out what you’ve done, they are gonna drag your name so far through the mud that by the time it comes out it’s gonna reveal who you really are.
I know this didn’t happen to me on the street but he is one of those men who will harass a woman if he sees the opportunity. And until now I haven’t had the strength to say anything to anyone except for my immediate family, and I think this is a much bigger monster than any of us realize or maybe even want to realize. I also had another so called friend grope me while we were trying to workout one day because I asked him to give me some tips and help me with my workout. He was probably in his 40s and was a mutual friend of mine and he had known me since high school and I was friends with both of his sons yada yada yada. When he did that I was immediately in shock and scared because he was a very physically strong man. So when we went to leave I left and never went back or returned his calls. About 2 weeks after that I see him in the Wal-Mart parking lot and he grabbed my arm so tight that I couldn’t break loose and he asked me what I had told our mutual friend. I told him that I told them the truth, they asked me how the workouts were going and I just broke down and started to feel trapped all over again, I felt like I was trapped in that god awful van again. I didn’t find out until about a year later that my friend, my best friend chewed him up one side and down the other and told him that if he ever touched me again in any way that he would have my best friend to deal with, and they are someone that you do not want to cross.