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BY EMILY MAY AND CATHERINE FAVORITE
Today Gawker featured the story of a woman who witnessed public masturbation on the subway — and the pictures she took in response. While we are happy to see Gawker highlighting the issue of street harassment, their analysis was off. Way off.
“Obviously, there’s no proof of lewd behavior in these pictures, just one woman’s story so, who knows, this guy could be innocent [emphasis added].
What is it with the media’s insistence that women’s reports of sexual violence are untrustworthy? It’s an old myth that stands in the way of progress. The FBI says that “unfounded” rape claims stand at 8%. But that tiny little 8% gives the media enough ammo to question all reports of sexual violence. Articles like Gawker’s tend to have a silencing effect on the rest of us, which is perhaps why 75-95% of rapes go unreported, making rape the “most under-reported crime” according to the American Medical Association. But why stop at questioning the victim? Gawker also offered the victim a little advice:
Also, it’s probably wise to contact the police before reaching out to a gossip blog when a crime has occurred.
Oh, Gawker. We know you’re DC-based so let’s fill you in on how this goes down. If you tell the NYPD, they might ignore you. If they don’t, you have to sit in front of a big black book of all the sexual offenders in the subway. If you don’t get totally freaked out and run screaming, you *might* find your guy. And then what? It’s a long, painful court process. No wonder victims turn to the internet for reprieve. And no wonder we have a robust “no coulda woulda shoulda” policy. Victims of sexual violence deserve to have whatever response makes sense to them most, because after all, it wasn’t their fault.
So Gawker, next time someone shares their experience of street harassment with you, perhaps you could politely suggest that gentlemen of the world refrain from public masturbation? It seems like good advice to us.
BY CATHERINE FAVORITE
Come “Meet Us On the Street”, for International Anti-Street Harassment week, from March 18-24, to take a stand against street harassment! Last year’s first International Anti-Street Harassment Day was so successful, with over thousands of people participating in 13 countries, that this year, the folks of Stop Street Harassment are dedicating an entire week to raising public awareness to end gender-based verbal harassment.
In speaking out against catcalls, sexist comments, public masturbation, groping, stalking, and assault, you will help to create a sustained dialogue surrounding how women, girls and the LGBTQ community must endure a level of verbal and physical street violence that continues to be an inevitable reality for far too many people. The widespread acceptance of gender and sexuality based street harassment has created a silent suffering that wrongfully places the burden of street harassment onto those receiving the harassment, leaving harassers free to continue. In the past, a casual acceptance of street harassment for LGBTQ individuals, women and girls has created a stigma of shame and silence. International Anti-Street Harassment Week is a way of countering this. By making this a part of the public discussion, we can change the culture of acceptance surrounding street harassment. No one should have to change the way they walk to school or work, or worry if their clothing might draw unwanted attention. This week is about calling for the right of everyone to be treated as equals in all shared public spaces. Just as sexual harassment is not tolerated in schools, work or at home, we should not accept it from strangers on the streets, either!
Meet Us On the Street offers many ways for how you can participate, whether by taking to the street on March 24th with your friends and community, bringing up street harassment in conversations, to tweeting about it (#NoSHWeek) and changing your Facebook photo during the third week of March. You can also organize action in your community and submit it to the map so others in your area can find out about it.
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.
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.
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?
BY CATHERINE FAVORITE
A few weeks ago, a blogger out of Boston penned a thought provoking piece on a particular encounter she had with a street harasser in Allston, Massachusetts. Titled, “Why I Punched a Stranger”, Allison’s story raises many points on how women, particularly women in the LGBTQ community, all too often experience verbal violence on the street. Thank you, Allison, for sharing your experiences with us!
Tell us about the first time you were street harassed. How old were you, and how did you respond?
I don’t remember the first time I was harassed on the street, but I think I must have been 13 or 14. It’s hard to pinpoint the first time because as young girls we aren’t aware enough to realize that men telling us to smile or pressing us for conversation isn’t okay. Encounters like that just left me with bad feelings in my gut.
Your post has received tons of attention on Jezebel and throughout the blogsphere. Why do you think that is?
I believe my post created a stir for a couple reasons. First, it struck a chord with women and queers who are harassed on a regular basis and showed that we can break the silence about these experiences. Secondly, a lot of people got worked up in the controversy of the punch. We’re taught that violence is never okay, period. But pacifism is a privileged position for people to be able to take, and in many cases I think it’s because they have not been the target of abuse. It’s interesting because many people believe that my act was violent, but don’t see repeated, menacing, degrading behavior as violent, when that behavior can be so damaging to our mental and emotional wellbeing.
On Jezebel and your blog, many commenters seem to think Allston, Mass. is a breeding ground for street harassers. Do you think women and LGBTQ individuals are more prone to harassment in Allston than in other areas?
Allston has a disproportionate amount of street harassment compared to other neighborhoods, partially because of the BU [Boston University] bros who act like the town is their playground. People seem to think I’m exaggerating about experiencing street harassment every day here, but truly, not a day in Allston goes by that I don’t receive unwanted sexual attention. It happens everywhere though; it’s just very blatant here.
What would you say to those who say we should “just ignore or walk away” from street harassers?
Sometimes ignoring or walking away is the safest thing to do in that moment. However, doing so just proves to harassers that they are free to keep bullying. Standing up for yourself, whether that is verbal or physical, can be very empowering. It’s not up to other people to decide what will be empowering for you, so I urge targets of harassment to do whatever will make you feel safest and strongest. As for men’s role in stopping street harassment, I believe it is absolutely necessary for men to call out their friends on their actions. Only with allies of all genders and sexualities do we have a shot at smashing rape culture.
Did you feel more safe punching this guy because your girlfriend was with you?
I didn’t feel safe punching the guy and half-expected to be hit back. I probably wouldn’t have hit him if I weren’t both with my girlfriend and on a populated street. It had just gotten to the point where I was willing to physically put my body on the line to confront the verbal abuse I experience every day.
You mentioned that after years of being harassed by strangers daily, you “snapped” and that the guy “got the brunt of my rage of him and hundreds of other men’s blatant sexual harassment. The punch I threw carried the pain and solidarity of thousands of other women, queers and other non-normative people who are targeted by hate and ignorance every day.” Now that the punch has been thrown — how are you going to target your anger and pain? Do you think you’ll ever punch a street harasser again?
I target my anger and pain into consciousness raising and activist work. Hearteningly enough, some amazing feminist work has been blossoming in the Boston area lately. An advocacy group called Knockout Barstool just formed at Northeastern University to call out a blog that promotes rape culture through its “Blackout Tour”. The Boston branch of Permanent Wave (NY-based feminist group) has its first meeting this Sunday. I’m involved with the Women’s Caucus of Occupy Boston, and Occupy Allston-Brighton has a feminist/anti-oppression working group I want to get involved with. Basically I want to be part of a greater effort to raise consciousness in our society and destroy rape culture. I don’t have plans to hit anyone again, but I will stand up for myself and my loved ones in whatever way is necessary.
I was walking down the street at about 1am on Saturday after having a celebration with a group of friends. I was with one friend who is male and slightly shorter than me (I am 5’6″). Approaching us was a group of four larger men. I didn’t think anything of it as we walked past them, and then one of them smacked me on the butt as we walked past. I did not even look at their faces because my friend and I were having a conversation — and it took me a few seconds to even comprehend what had happened. I told my friend that it had happened, but I am very angry at myself for not advocating for myself in some way. I didn’t yell. I didn’t explain how unacceptable his behavior was. I just kept walking. And that makes me feel very victimized and subservient. Yuck.
BY HOLLABACK! ADMIN
It is so wonderful to see that the Hollaback! global phenomenon is hitting headlines all over the world. Last week it was Hollaback! Chennai featured in The Times India and this week Hollaback! Istanbul has made it into Time Out Instanbul.
So congratulations Istanbul for giving women and LGBTQ individuals a platform to share their street harassment stories and the right to feel safe and confident on the streets of Turkey without fear of harassment or objectification. And thank you Hollaback! Istanbul for sparking a national conversation on street harassment in Turkey.
To read the full article click here.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Black is Beautiful movement, the Black and Latino Film Coalition has created the Black is Beautiful project, a documentary and Public Service Announcement that reflects the beauty opinions of 100 Black and Latina women. Take a look at the teaser here:
The documentary maker’s vision for the project is that the film will be viewed by hundreds of students each of whom can connect with an onscreen person that looks like they do or looks like a friend or relative. Viewers will witness and engage in the “active celebration of strength, power and beauty of being a woman of color.”
But in order to make this a success the Black and Latino Film Coalition needs your help! For too long the media has projected a very narrow set of guidelines that stipulate what it is to be beautiful, so help us show the world that beauty is a multi-faceted concept that spans culture and ethnicity. To help bring Black is Beautiful to high schools, colleges and beyond visit their fundraising campaign on Indiegogo and make a donation today!
In order to bring this message to high schools, colleges and beyond, the Black Is Beautiful Project needs your help! Visit their fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, read their mission and make a donation. Be sure to tell a friend to tell a friend.
OR if you want to be a part of this exclusive cohort of beautiful women of color then submit your headshot, a small bio and a paragraph on “Why Black is Beautiful?” [email protected].
I’ve been living in Sri Lanka for several months now, working as an English teacher. The verbal harassment that foreign women (and I suspect Sri Lankan women as well) endure on a daily basis is disgusting. I can’t walk ten feet out my door before comments like “hey sexy,” “I want to f**k you!” and other extremely forward comments are made. It has made me feel bad about even walking out of my door, and I sometimes don’t even go out because I don’t feel like dealing with the harassment. The worst part is that public shaming does not work here. If I call someone out on their harassment, they behave as if they’ve done something to be proud of, or, as I walk past, they laugh at me.
I’ve never experienced such horrible harassment before coming here, and I would love to find some way of stopping it.