Recently, we spoke with Maggie Hadleigh-West, filmmaker of the fascinating 1998 street harassment documentary film, War Zone. As Maggie describes on her website, War Zone is about “sex, power and what happens when men—either knowingly or unknowingly—threaten a woman’s right to walk undisturbed on the streets.” In shooting the documentary, Maggie turned her camera on catcallers, giving us all a peek into the mind of the harasser. Here’s what Maggie had to say about her activism, what inspires her, and War Zone, her amazing videoHOLLA:
Most importantly, where can we find War Zone?
http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/war_zone, or my website if you just want to see the trailer, http://www.yomaggie.com/
Tell us a bit about how you got involved in activism and the street harassment movement.
Well, for as long as I can remember I’ve been an activist. My first feminist outrage was realizing I was going to probably have to change my name when I married some guy! I was about 6. Also I grew up with two brothers and a very sexist father so from the beginning I was very clear that there was an extreme inequity. The first time I remember championing anything was I was in elementary school, and I was defending kids that were mentally challenged. That was second grade or something like that.
As for street harassment, I became pretty outraged about street abuse some time in my early 20’s, and when I moved to New York in my late 20’s, I became really crazed about it!
Is that awareness what inspired you to film War Zone? Was there a specific trigger point?
It was a combination of that awareness and some experiences in my personal life—I had a boyfriend at the time that I really loved, and he really didn’t seem to understand the impact street harassment had on me. I would talk to him about my experiences, particularly about a specific group of men in the neighborhood who repeatedly harassed me, and my boyfriend recommended that I carry mace and spray the guys. I remember thinking to myself, “this guy who loves me doesn’t understand the threat of street harassment or how it impacts my feeling of safety. These guys know where I live!” and I knew that was also true of other men in my family. It occurred to me that most men probably didn’t quite “get it” either. That was my early inspiration, although I didn’t really know what I was going to do about it. Then one day I bought a camera. I woke up the next morning and thought “Oh. Now I have a weapon!”
Interesting, so the film just sort of developed out of your growing interest and conversations you had about street harassment.
Yea. That’s generally how I work on all my films. “Player Hating: A Love Story,” my most recent film, developed right out of War Zone. I noticed that many of the men who were on the streets were disenfranchised men, and I started to think about how those men dealt with the disenfranchisement they felt from the overall culture.
That lack of understanding about the impact of street harassment that you mentioned earlier seems unfortunately widespread—in a news interview about War Zone, I saw a reporter describe street harassment as “street flirting.” What did you think of that?
Well, he, like many, was just ignorant of the impact of street harassment. And sadly, for some men, they do think of their harassment as flirting.
Your film really did capture the wide range of how men view their harassment. What do you think of as the most memorable moment or interaction captured in War Zone?
Probably Joe, the guy at the end of the movie. When I filmed him I wasn’t actually shooting for the movie—when I turned on the camera I had thought of it as collecting evidence because I was certain he was a predator. So I was in a totally different frame of mind compared to the rest of the movie. I was calm during regular shooting because I was gathering information, not trying to protect myself and other women.
Do you have any other memorable street harassment stories that you can share with us?
I have so many. One of the most surprising was when a seven year old boy harassed me, referencing my body parts, and it was just so clear he was copying something he’d heard from an older man. Another time, there was a guy on my street who I always tried to ignore because he was a drug dealer, and one day I was wearing a man’s winter coat as I passed him by. He called out to me “Baby, you’re getting fatter!” and I turned around and said “You’re getting stupider!” and we actually both started laughing. Another time I was on the subway, and I saw some young boys target me, and one kid walked up to me. He didn’t say anything but just took a physical stance and stepped into my personal space. I didn’t move at all, and he was about 10 inches from my face when I just smiled really big at him and said “WHASSUP!!” And he just burst out laughing. Another story I can relay happened to a friend– a guy was getting aggressive with her, she got scared and wasn’t sure what to do, so she turned around and yelled really load in his face, “DO YOU KNOW THE TIME??!!” And I think that just seemed so crazy that it worked in terms of him leaving her alone.
So you have definitely seen a wide range of types of harassing behaviors. What do you think is the best way for people to combat street harassment?
Just get out of the space—to me, safety is the most important thing, because of the relationship between street abuse and sexual assault, rape, and murder. It can be a very direct trajectory sometimes. Also using non-confrontational, non-aggressive, classic “sexual assault” language, like “stay away,” “I’m not interested in you,” being definitive but not escalating the situation, and then absolutely reporting the incident later on.
We’re all about reporting! Do you remember how you first heard about Hollaback?
Yes, some of the founding members of Hollaback had contacted me about War Zone a few years back when it had just begun.
It’s a great video resource. Do you have any other favorite resources on street harassment that you’d recommend?
“Back Off” by Martha Langelan was a good resource years ago, but I’d don’t know if it’s been updated-or even if it needs to be, but I really think Hollaback is the best resource.
Thanks! So what else do you think everyone should know about street harassment?
I feel like the most important thing that isn’t addressed a lot is reporting things to the police, or to organizations like Hollaback, when women are harassed. It’s just so common, and so rarely reported, and I think that increasing reporting is going to be one of the things that will eventually change everything.
While I don’t recommend taking pictures while you drive, I got so upset after this truck sped up to be next to my car just to honk. Yes, I get it, I’m wearing a dress. It’s 101 degrees outside, after all. The worst part? I can see the future when it comes to street harassment.
Just because the temperature is rising, doesn’t mean that street harassment has to.
We would like to give a special thanks to everyone who donated to our Indiegogo campaign against campus harassment. We have been busy mailing out Hollaback! tote bags, Hollaback! stickers, and cool “I’ve Got Your Back Pins” to our awesome donors. We also sent Hollaback t-shirts to our social media contest winners. We hope that you wear your new Hollaback! gear with pride, knowing that you are helping bring awareness to campus and street harassment. We are now one step closer to ending sexual harassment on college campuses and around the world.
Here’s some more very exciting news for you: New York University will soon become the first college to host its own on-campus Hollaback! The launch of NYU’s Hollaback! is slated for this coming fall, and the team here at Hollaback! headquarters is looking forward to working closely with the NYU site leaders over the course of the coming school year. You can follow Hollaback! NYU on Twitter
Or join their Facebook page here:
This summer, we’ll be working on creating how-to guides and educational resources so that even more students can bring Hollaback! to their college campuses in the future!
HOLLA and out-
Some time ago, in high school, two female friends and I were sitting in the rain shelter at the station waiting for our train, when a man walked into the doorway of the shelter, blocking it. He told us we were pretty, and asked for our names, which we didn’t give him. He asked where we were going, still blocking the doorway, and we gave him the intentionally-ambiguous “the mall”. I don’t recall how we answered when he asked which mall, but we didn’t tell him.
Then he changed tactic a little, told us we were pretty again, and asked if any of us “would be interested in going out with [his] friends”. We were pretty visibly horrified, and he tried to convince us by saying we’d “make them happy” and that they’d “buy [us] stuff, like iPods and stuff”. We kept saying we weren’t interested, and he kept asking us if we were sure for a while, but thankfully he eventually gave up and got out of the doorway and walked off.
I had this plan that if he looked like he was going to try and follow us onto the train, we could fake out getting on, then get back off the train at the last minute and wait for the next one, even though they ran at hour intervals. Thankfully, though, he wandered off to the other side of the station and we never saw him again.
Waiting for the 66 bus. Man sits down next to me on the bench and tells me how much he likes my “huge tits” and that I’m “way hotter than skinny bitches in the clubs”.
I was walking home from a friend’s house tonight when I passed four young men (they looked about 17-18). They had been having a conversation, but when they noticed me approaching they all fell silent and stared at me. As I passed them on the pavement, they continued to stare at me in an intimidating way. Just after I passed in front of them, I overheard them laughing and discussing how much I was “worth”:
“Nah, more like 50p.”
It can be almost impossible to pass this spot late at night without having something shouted at you, especially if you are alone. I often cross the road to avoid having to walk directly past, but still experience verbal abuse when I do. I am in my twenties, but the fact that they were younger than me did not stop me feeling intimadated and uncomfortable.
I’ve lived in happy valley, hong kong my whole life, and because it is my home, my neighbourhood, i have usually felt very comfortable here. but for the past few months, i have been harassed by these dudes and this lovely neighbourhood which used to be one that i could walk around aimlessly with a popsicle is now one in which i need to think about my route to the train station, policing where i walk in an attempt to avoid this harassment. i hate this. it royally, seriously sucks. i don’t know who these dudes are but whenever i see them, they leer and stare at me and will occasionally stop in the street and watch me walk past them and away. it’s disgusting. it makes me feel like garbage. i have tried reasoning with them, arguing with them, screaming at them. nothing has worked. when i yelled at them on one day when i was too hot and frustrated to think straight, one guy called after me ‘hey bitch.’ a few days later, the other dude came running after me on the street and asked me to explain why i got so mad. i did. and he just…didn’t get it. he didn’t understand why their actions would bother me. WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND?! just leave me the hell alone. do you want someone to wink at you, leer at you, stare at you when you walk down the street? i highly doubt it. why can’t you afford me the same damn courtesy. i want to wander down the street, running errands and not thinking about who will be around the corner. i want my neighbourhood back.
Driving home, north on Interstate 87/Adirondack Northway in upstate New York with my sunroof open, I noticed a truck driver looking down at me. As we continued, he stayed with me. If I sped up, he sped up. If I slowed down, he slowed down. Ultimately, I took an exit quickly so that he didn’t have time to also get off, then waited a bit by the side of the road to give him time to continue on ahead of me. Then I re-entered the highway and continued my journey home safely.
This happened about a year ago, and only now am I learning about hollaback. Next time, if this ever happens again, I will think to get the driver’s license plate or take a picture or contact hollaback. Thank you for the good work you are doing!
It had been sunny all day. A bit windy, but sunny.
7pm, night is setting in. Eighteen or so lovely enthusiasts show up at the entrance of De Brouckère Metro station to start Hollaback!Brussels’ 2nd CHALK-WALK. We have chalk, self-made banners, flyers in hand – and a lot of badass energy!
and then.. It starts to rain.
But: Who living in Brussels will let her/himself be deterred by such a negligible fact as rain?
Exactly: No One.
The covered roof of the entrance of De Brouckère proves to be a perfect hideout – we huddle together and after some troubled looks towards the pitch-black sky, we start writing on the pavement, there, on the spot.
More and more people running from the rain join our shelter – slowly it gets crowded under there – and they become (unintentional) bystanders watching us while we write our colorful messages. We hand out flyers, explain what we are doing, why we are here. It feels exciting; unusual for some, thrilling for others.
And then the rain stops pouring … just for a second. With the urge to move on, we look for areas that are at least slightly covered so our chalk messages are not immediately washed away. We run to another protected area.
More chalk-walkers come forward and write how they feel about street harassment, how it affects them, what they think should be done about it. We talk with bystanders, passers-by and rain shelter seekers. Reactions range from “Oh, is it that bad in Brussels?” (from tourists) to “Yeah, it happens a lot, you’re right” to “Wow, finally someone is doing something about it” to “You girls are amazing”. And it starts to sink in how important this is, being on the street like this, talking with people, starting a dialogue. But also for ourselves: It’s empowering, it liberates us from certain fears, and being in a group like this reinforces the fact that we ‘have each other’s backs’.
We walk on from shelter to shelter and when the rain finally stops, for real this time, we go to reclaim the biggest spot we had marked on our map: “La Bourse”.
There, we notice it works really well to write with chalk on the pavement when it’s still quite wet ;-), who’d a thought. A large group of bystanders circle around us, trying to read, thinking we’re doing a performance of some sort. We enter into conversations, some are difficult to walk away from, some are awesome & encouraging, some require a lot of energy, some feel good, others not.
Rue du Midi is our end-point of the night. Everyone’s elated. This was so awesome. This is what we should do every day! …. This reinforces that things can change.
So Brussels… our message to you dear friend:
You DO have the power to end street harassment!!Reclaim the street, every day!
Your Hollaback!Brussel team
Up next for July/August/September: Self-defense classes with Garance and a Big Holla Party! More news soon!