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I recently had the painfully unpleasant (but all too common) experience of being sexually harassed by a man. I was harassed in a digital age, when creepy men can invade your personal space by sending their unwanted and invasive attention straight to you, regardless of where you are or what you are doing. I was sexually harassed while I was enjoying dinner at home with my family and friends, this creep’s crass thoughts and words flooding me with fear and shame in the comfort of the home I grew up in. I was sexually harassed while I was working at school, this asshole’s demented ideas trashing my consciousness and the innocent environment it was meant to be nourishing. I was sexually harassed and it was NOT OK. It IS not OK. But when I reported it to the local police force meant to protect me from this kind of creep- this ONE creep of an entire species of creeps pervading the male-world we live in- it informed me that this sexual harassment WAS, in fact, OK because it did not place me in any sort of direct existential danger, and that if he continued to harass me I should simply change my number and avoid the areas I typically see him creeping around.
When I hung up the phone with the police I thought to myself: Something here is terribly wrong.
Now let us be frank about this endemic plague called sexual harassment that male homo sapiens can’t seem to kick. It shares the same qualities of all of society’s ugliest actualities, but is experienced by an entire gender group, worldwide, and everyday. To be female in the world- today, yesterday and tomorrows to come- is to be subject to sexual harassment by men. For women, sexual harassment is as pervasive and (dare I say) NATURAL an everyday part of our realities as breathing: it is in us and outside of us from our youth on up to adulthood, a period through which we develop our own personal means of dealing with it while trying to fulfill ourselves meaningfully in a world built up against us. I have historically dealt with it through silence, ignoring the presumptive “hey baby’s” and “nice ass’s” by quickening my pace and turning my face from the eyes and mouths violating me. A friend of mine plays crazy, staring blankly or yelling incoherently at her perpetrators’ advances until they finally back off (needless to say, some don’t). Yes, we women have our ways of dealing with the sick and unfair reality our sexist history has constructed for us , and to varying degrees they allow us to get through the day to day.
But today our methods, my methods especially, are dated. Today, my (admittedly) passive silent reaction to a man’s harassment protects me from him about as much as a cigarette protects a smoker from getting lung cancer: Not only does my silence fail to protect me, it makes the situation worse. As I repeatedly erased the explicitly crude messages invading my phone and interrupting my life- my life as I was CHOOSING to experience it- I was giving this creep the power to manipulate my immediate condition and surroundings. When I simply closed out the digital garbage littering my laptop’s inbox and polluting my mind, I was allowing this jerk the liberty to control how I was feeling and thinking at that time. And when I reported this unjust robbery of my self-determination, I was told that silence and avoidance would be the only means of coping with the harassment until it transpired into something more “real”: a response which, rather than providing me a sense of comfort and consolation from fear, stirred in me a very deep sense of rage, and a firm new determination to never feel that fear again.
We live in a world today where people die from the lives they lead in digital media. Kids commit suicide from cyber bullying, people are trafficked into fatal situations, and women get harassed- and abused, and prostituted, and raped and killed- in a cyberspace that increasingly takes on the oppressive patriarchal qualities of the society that produced it. Not only do women now have the “real” male-oriented world to navigate and survive in, we also have the equivocally real, male-oriented cyber-reality to navigate and survive in, the latter’s very “unreality” making it all the more dangerous. Who we women choose to participate in our everyday “real” lives is something that is fortunately very much in our control, despite the abrasive harassment which inevitably invades them. We are free to pick and choose what male attention we wish to fill those lives with, while surviving the grimy reality of unwanted male attention because we are women and that is what we women do. Who we invite to participate in our digitized lives, however, is something entirely different completely. While our digital livelihoods are not something we are completely powerless over, they do involve spaces that make our digital (and real) selves more readily accessible and vulnerable to unwanted attention, gazes and words. Creepy men will, and are, invading those spaces, and it is not something that will stop by simply ignoring it or keeping your mouth shut. Cigarettes will kill you. Silence will make this harassment worse.
So consider this my own little vernacular vendetta against the creep who thought it was OK to fuck with me, to make me feel belittled, ashamed and afraid (to protect the integrity of his identity, I will refer to him here as “the-guy-you-all-know-if-you-go-to-the-Starbuck’s-on-Monroe-Avenue,-Monday-through-Friday,-anytime-from-about-7-a.m.-to-5-p.m.,-who-wears-a-yellow-jacket-and-rain-boots-and-sits-in-one-of-the-larger-comfy-chairs-pretending-to-write-a-math-textbook-while-actually-sexually-harassing-women-all-day-long,-who-is-reported-to-have-done-this-to-countless-girls-before-me-and-will-unquestionably-continue-to-do-so,-so-long-as-all-of-us-girls-stay-quiet-and-choose-not-to-stop-taking-this-BULLSHIT!). But it’s more than that. It’s a statement that this kind of harassment is more pervasive and less tolerable in today’s digital age than the former kind was, currently is, or ever will be in the future. It is ubiquitous and just as menacing, dangerous and unacceptable as any other form of harassment or abuse for the very real and tragic consequences we’ve seen it create. Why should a woman being sexually harassed on the street be given different consideration than one being sexually harassed in the privacy of her own home? Why must a woman feel the direct physical fear of a man for her fear to be taken seriously by the law, and why have our laws failed to acknowledge this fear manifesting itself in new forms, through our new medias and in our new digital selves?
Freedom from fear is not a right limited to the world we actively live in, but one that extends into the worlds we create with our language and means of expression. The fact that the digital worlds we populate are not real in a corporeal sense does not absolve us the moral responsibility we have to endow those worlds with a bit of humanity. The fear I felt every day the aforementioned creep harassed me was unquestionably real, though that fear’s source was “not.” If fear can blur the lines separating our “real” selves from our digital selves” and our “real” worlds from our digital worlds, freedom from fear can do it too, in a very loud way.
Originally posted on My So Called Writer’s Life, by Sandria311.
Focused and determined. That’s how I would describe my stride and my gaze walking through Oak Park on an unseasonably warm March afternoon. I heard the rattling from the bass of the car’s sound system approaching behind me, but I kept my attention forward. It’s crazy when you stop to think about it—hearing a noise, but not responding to it. It goes against natural reflexes, but in all my years growing up female, I’ve learned to adapt and develop new reflexes. I felt the car slow down somewhat as the driver and his passengers passed me. But, I guess I did a thorough enough job of looking absolutely preoccupied and disinterested because they continued on without saying a word. Thank God for exceptions to the rule.
Growing up, I don’t remember ever being taught how to respond to or deal with street harassment. For me, I learned by trial and error.
Ignoring the comments and advances may get you called a bitch or stuck up. It’s okay to smile and be polite; sometimes boys/men are genuinely just giving a compliment and being friendly. Don’t look in every car that passes or turn around at the sound of car honks or general “Ay you, in the blue,” “Hey shawty,” or those annoying bird-sounding calls. You are not a street walker…or a pigeon.
As women, the catcalls and advances are so commonplace that they’ve become a justifiable normality—almost to be expected, as if street harassment is an understood risk we voluntarily take anytime we step outside our front doors. I know it happens all the time to women of all races, but as a black woman I sometimes feel like I’m in the minority of experiencing this. We don’t really talk about it. It’s not discussed at length in our magazines and media outlets. So today when I came across this documentary Black Woman Walking on the Stop Street Harassment site, I did a little happy dance. Other sisters openly expressed and shared my same concerns. Where on earth has this documentary been hiding all these years???
At a mere eight minutes long, Black Woman Walking is a 2007 documentary by Tracey Rose featuring interviews with women of color about their experiences with street harassment. Like me, these women shared stories of being harassed in their everyday lives, doing simple things like going to work or walking down the street. Simple things like just being alive and being women.
For some men, I think being female is enough to warrant their attention. During my same walk through Oak Park, I got “holla’d” at by a group of men that were gathered at least a block and a half away from where I was walking. A block and half. Who does that? Apparently those dudes. They couldn’t see my face to gauge my attractiveness. I was wearing a long Maxi dress, with a jacket tied around my waist, so they really couldn’t see my figure. The ability to see me from that distance and make out that I was a woman was enough to garner all types of “Hey ma! Hey ma! Yooooooo! Slow up!” from them.
I lived to tell about it, but 16-year-old Adilah Gaither wasn’t so lucky. Black Woman Walking is dedicated to the memory of young Adilah, who was shot and killed in 1998 while standing at a bus stop because she wouldn’t give a boy who was trying to holla her phone number. Almost as heartbreaking as the incident itself is the fact that there is very little information about Adilah’s story on the Internet. In 1998, social media wasn’t a phrase in most people’s vocabulary, so it’s not surprising. It is still very unfortunate, nonetheless.
I hope that during this 2012 observance of International Anti-Street Harassment Week (March 18-24) women and men will take time to talk candidly about street harassment and send a prayer up for Adilah and all the young girls and women like her just trying to walk through life unharmed.
Hollaback! got the chance to chat with the creators of a newly released smart phone app, designed with college students in mind, to keep people connected with their friends as a way to prevent violence before it happens. The “Circle of 6″ app is available free to download from iTunes. Find out more details about this app here!
Where did the idea for creating the “Circle of 6″ mobile app come from? What inspired your collaboration?
Nancy Schwartzman, founder of The Line Campaign, brought the Apps Against Abuse challenge to Deb Levine’s attention. Deb is the founder of ISIS, Inc.. Both women have had a deep commitment to ending violence against women, to working with youth and young adults, and to using 21st century communication to achieve these ends. Nancy brought in Thomas Cabus, international award-winning designer to the team, and Deb found Christine Corbett Moran, an MIT-trained engineer on an mWomen (mobile women) listserv. That’s the Circle of 6 team!
Congratulations on winning the the White House’s “Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge”, last month! What do you think set the Circle of 6 app apart from the other proposals in the competition?
Circle of 6 has two parts: a public pledge campaign to end dating violence and sexual assault in your own communities (www.facebook.com/circleof6) and a mobile app that college students can use with their friends for in-the-moment support. The look and feel for the app is definitely created for 18-29 year olds with a hip, purple based design using “everyday” icons, rather than the more traditional look for safety in red using icons that represent danger.
You have mentioned previously that there may be possible add-ons, following the release of the Circle of 6 app. Do you have any ideas yet on how this app may be expanded?
We have built the app such that it can be modularized for other populations such as teens, U.S. immigrant communities, and international women.
What is the ideal long-term goal for this mobile app on college campuses? How will you measure your success?
We are aiming to reach 30,000 women in the U.S. in our first year. We will measure success by the number of downloads, usage of the app, press coverage, and pledges on our Facebook page.
My friend and I were walking in our neighbourhood, not far from where we lived. A car came up beside us. A man probably in his late 20’s and another teenager who couldn’t have been older than 17.
The Teenager: Hey girls
Him: Where you headed?
Me: To my house
Us: Oh yeah, where you live?
Me: Oh, just around there…ish… (With my open hand waving vaguely over an area)
Him: Oh you live close then? Why don’t you girls come down to Limberlost tonight?
Him: We’ll show you a great time. See you ladies later.
During the summer vacation, my friend and I were walking through a relatively empty parking lot. As were walking, I hear a car going really fast nearby. Like – Right behind us – nearby. I looked over my shoulder and a white SUV pulled up right beside us. If I hadn’t grabbed my friend out of the way, the car might have grazed her. To our left five or six early 20’s men smiled at us. The driver said “Hey Ladies” to us and looked into our faces. Our just turned 14 year old faces. The driver sheepishly said “Oh, we thought you were someone else” and just as quickly as they appeared, they disappeared. My friend and I stood there for a few seconds. Still stunned by what happened. Eventually we laughed it off. I mean – no one got hurt and that’s just a funny story to tell at parties, we joked. But when I got home, I thought about it. They could have hit my friend. They could have easily dragged us into the car. There was no one around. That minor incident could’ve been something huge.
But of course, it’s just a story that I tell at parties.
Thanks to @rev_melissa for her thoughtful analysis of the problem, sassy style, and shout-out!
This week, March 18-24th, Hollabackers around the world are banning together to commemorate International Anti-Street Harassment week. On March 22nd, we’ll be launching our “I’ve Got Your Back” bystander campaign across our network of 44 sites. Check out some of the other events our site leaders have planned:
Hollaback! Croatia will write an op-ed and hold an event to commemorate the launch of our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign.
Hollaback! Philly will is partnering with local organizations to host four days of events including a self-defense class, film screening, benefit show, and awareness-raising street teams.
Hollaback! Buenos Aires will have a stand at the Women’s Counsel (el consejo de la mujer)’s monthly fair, where they will hand out information about anti-street-harassment week.
Hollaback! Montreal is hosting a screening of the street harassmnet documentary “War Zone.”
Hollaback! New York City will host an “I’ve Got Your Back” launch party in Brooklyn and join other local organizations in participating in an anti-street harassment rally with Councilmember Ferraras.
Hollaback! Mexico DF will be distributing information about the week following a caberet show.
Hollaback! Ottawa is putting up posters around town and posting photographs of people with their favorite ‘holla’ each day for the week. Submit yours today!
Hollaback! Chennai is collecting photos of all the locations in Chennai, India, where people feel unsafe. The photos will be posted to their facebook page throughout the week.
Hollaback! Bmore will gather volunteers to do mud stenciling (eco-friendly public art) around Baltimore.
Hollaback! Istanbul will host a panel discussion and screening of the documentary “War Zone” at universities, as well as a meet-up where people can discuss their stories of street harassment.
For a comprehensive list of things going on in your community, check out the “Meet Us on the Street” website. And remember to keep holla’ing back!
Um, AWESOME. Thanks to meetusonthestreet.org for passing this our way!
Hey Hollaback y’alls,
So, I like this. I like this because I thought of waging my own anti-street harassment campaigns the same time you were building this website. Awesome.
I lived in San Francisco, in the deep mission. The men stared at EVERY woman under 30 who walked by. They’d visually stalk me every time I walked out the door.
I had seriously high anxiety in San Francisco because I was always being watched. Walking down the street, men would see me from a block away, and literally turn their bodies toward me while still talking to each other & stare. As I walked past them, they’d turn their bodies so they could watch me walk away.
This was a daily thing. I dreamed of putting up posters that said, ” Staring is rude.” “We think men who stare are unattractive.” Knowing they were total homophobic pigs…”Would you fuck a 68 year old man? Neither would I. Stop Staring.”
I didn’t do it, but I think I still will.
(h/t to Hollaback! Mumbai for finding and posting this! We couldn’t agree more.)