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I have plenty of stories about street harassment, but I would like to share one that has always stuck by me, and that still upsets me a little to think about.
It was the first time I ever got catcalled. I was thirteen years old and on my way home from the bus stop.
I lived in a pretty calm neighborhood at the time. The street I was walking through was empty, except for a guy who was about to get in his car, and an older lady across the street.
As I passed the guy he suddenly yelled at me and said something that roughly translates to ‘Sweetie, if we were alone right now, the things I’d do to you!’.
At the time I didn’t know what to say. I was thirteen years old. I’d just started wearing eyeliner so people wouldn’t see how insecure I was about, well, everything!
I guess what still doesn’t sit right with me is that I just walked away. I walked away from something that, right now, sounds a whole lot like a rape threat to me.
Which is why I want to say this. Street harassment is not okay. It never has been, and it never will be.
Which is why I will never stand for it again. Not when it happens to me, not when it happens to someone else. And neither should you. Hollaback!
My roommate and I were walking to CVS when a man crossed the street and said, “Hey, beautiful,” as he walked by my roommate.
One day when me and my best friend were riding to work in the bus that the company we worked for provided, I was sexually harassed. There were four guys sitting across from us. One was making jokes, and I faced forward, trying to ignore them. He was saying that my parents had sex last night, that I was a mouth virgin, but was experienced everywhere else. I had my name tag on, and he repeated my name over and over again in an antagonizing manor. When I continued to ignore him, he stuck his hand out in the aisle, and waved it around. Eventually, my friend turned to him and said:
He didn’t stop. After we arrived we talked to the bus driver who reported the incident to the company. A few days later when I came into work, I discovered that he had been fired, and I read the note of apology that he had written. I am so thankful that my friend was with me. I’m really shy, and its hard for me to holla back on my own.
I was waiting in the chippy by my school to buy my lunch. I had just bought a bunch of stuff for my history club’s Christmas party so my hands were full. The salespeople were busy trying to meet a big order and the shop was otherwise empty. I had time so I didn’t mind waiting. Then, a man of about 45-50 came in a stood next to me, a little closer than is comfortable. So I moved away. And he moved close to me again. He lent close to my ear and whispered ‘what’s a fine young African goddess like you doing in here?’. I looked down and kept my mouth shut. He told me not to be so shy and commented that I must be a ‘freak between the sheets’ and grabbed my butt. I told him to stop touching me, but he wouldn’t. The salespeople were still busy so, instead of making a scene, I decided to just leave. When I looked back he was still leering at me. As soon as I got back I dumped my stuff, ran to the bathroom and cried. It probably should not have bothered me so much but I felt awful and violated. This is the second time I’ve been groped (outside a pub/club) this year and the umpteenth time I’ve been leered at or had my body (and usually race) commented on. I just wonder what I did to deserve this kind of treatment. I know I’m not the only black girl to suffer from this, but it just doesn’t seem fair or just to me.
BY SARAH M., cross posted from our partners at SAFER
Today finds me crawling out of blog hibernation to point ya’ll to the latest installment of “College Boys Just Want to Have Fun…By Demeaning Women and Making Jokes About Rape.” Today’s episode takes place at the University of Vermont, where a puzzling and revolting survey was recently distributed to the brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon. We were sent a copy of the questionnaire, which mostly consists of benign questions like name, birthday, major, amount of time with SigEp and favorite SigEp memories, hobbies, future goals, etc. It’s actually kind of nerdy and cute, until you get to the final three “personal questions.”
1. Where in public would I want to have sex?
2. Who’s my favorite artist?
3. If I could rape someone, who would it be?
We come across a lot of gross stuff at SAFER, but the contrast here makes this particularly jarring and offensive. It’s not the usual litany of purposefully offensive garbage; it’s a seemingly legit, “normal” survey with this one horrifying nuggets thrown in at the end. The normalization of the question—the nonchalance—is so…disturbing.
As often happens with these kind of “frat shenanigans,” the survey made it into the hands of other folks on campus, who were understandably upset and are taking action. This petition was started last night by “Feminists from UVM” and is already up to 375 signatures. This is what they have to say:
This egregious expression of rape culture is only the most recent example of systemic sexism at UVM. The past year alone has witnessed rape, multiple sexual assaults, and anti-abortion chalking in public spaces. While the university administration has laid off long-time Women’s and Gender Studies faculty and supported sexist institutions like Sigma Phi Epsilon, it has refused to take concerted action to combat sexism and rape culture. We demand that instead of diverting resources into vast salaries for its administrators, UVM should launch an aggressive campaign against sexism and rape culture, and it should expand institutions such as Women’s and Gender Studies and the Women’s Center at UVM. Furthermore, UVM must immediately disband Sigma Phi Epsilon. An institution that discusses who it wants to rape has no place at UVM or in the Burlington community.
Sign the UVM petition and look for updates over at FedUp Vermont, a local grassroots feminist organization. The story hasn’t hit the news yet (campus or otherwise) so there is no word on whether the school will take any action or if the men of Sigma Phi Epsilon have anything to say for themselves, but we’ll let you know if they do. Something tells me this was supposed to “funny.” Ha. Ha. Ha.
I’m a twenty year old, five foot three, one hundred twenty pound girl, and I don’t dress to blend into a crowd. I have a shock of platinum blonde hair styled in a mohawk, and I love my eyeshadow heavy, dramatic and smokey. I wear skinny jeans and skintight leggings and tanktops to reveal the tattoo on my right upper arm. I’ve got a bold form of self-expression, and I expect it to draw attention to me. But that doesn’t validate harassment, unwanted sexual attention and even outright hostility, least of all when I’m in the driver’s seat of my vehicle.
Which brings me to my story. There I was, taking a drive on the highway. My windows were rolled down. The music was blaring. I was having a good time. All of a sudden, I notice a blue van approaching my car fast from my rear view mirror. An unmarked police vehicle? No way, I thought, glancing at my speedometer: I’m travelling five miles under the speed limit. (Lame, I know.)
The van pulled up alongside me and the passenger side window rolled down. There was a man in the driver’s seat. He looked to be in his forties. He kind of looked like a skinnier, coked-out Maury Povich in dark sunglasses. He yelled over the wind whipping against our cars. At first I couldn’t make it out, so I turned down the volume on my radio, still suspecting an off-duty cop. No such luck.
“Hey babe, where you off to?”
“Goin’ my way, sugar?”
“Need some gas? I’ll hook you up.”
Unbelievable. This complete stranger pulled up alongside my car on the highway to flirt with me.
Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I don’t think it’s a stretch for a guy who thinks it’s okay to flirt with me while I’m in my car and presumably going somewhere to, say, sideswipe me or brake-check me to force me to pull over. So, I immediately merged into the lane to my right and picked up speed to hide behind an opportunely placed sixteen-wheeler. I noticed him keeping speed with it, expecting me to pass it so we could resume our conversation. He eventually got the hint, however, and sped off in the distance.
I’ve had my ass smacked, my waist grabbed, my hair played with, and very creepy, unwanted comments made toward me by complete strangers before, but nothing compares to that kind of desperate horniness backed by several tons of steel and horsepower confronting you unawares on a typical afternoon drive.
About twelve years ago, at a leading New York cultural institution which shall not be named, I attended my department’s holiday party, at which no fewer than four of the men in attendance became drunkity-drunk-drunk. Things started out innocently enough, with everyone decorating the department’s hallways and boardroom with fake mistletoe and blue and silver tinsel and setting up trays of food and eggnog. Then someone decided to spike the nog and things went downhill from there. First people started talking in their outdoor, as opposed to indoor voices. Then there was the music switch from songs like Jingle Bell Rock to freak music, which although better to dance to, emboldened some of the drunk people to grab non-drunk members of the opposite sex and start grinding against them. Oh, and it didn’t end there… Before the party was over, these clowns were pulling women under the mistletoe with them, and saying things that would make a sailor blush. It was like these people had been let out of a cage, and it was their only chance to mate with the opposite sex. Needless to say, the professional fall-out from that evening rained down like ash from Mount St. Helens for months afterwards. Not pretty. And definitely not acceptable.
Does this kind of situation sound all too familiar? Whether it was you making that irreversible decision to get plastered or somebody else, there are some moments in life you just can’t take back. And how do you handle it, if a co-worker took advantage of the “everybody’s drinking” mentality and sexually harassed you?
In the moment, I’d suggest you don’t just go along with it, if it makes you uncomfortable, not only are you not being true to yourself, but you’re also enabling the other clowns in the room to think that type of behavior is OK. Even if it feels out of place to say “Stop,” say it and move away from them immediately. Try and join another group of partygoers who will respect your space. Now if the person, regardless of their professional superiority to you, dares to try and “follow-up” the shenanigans at a later time, when you’re both stone sober, I suggest saying something like, “You know, it got pretty crazy at that party the other night, but it’s not really something I’d like to pursue further.” And leave it at that. This is a noncommittal statement that shouldn’t offend any decent human being, because it doesn’t lay blame. After hearing something like this, a sensible person will know not to pursue you. If you feel that the co-worker/boss won’t leave it alone, then you have the option of responding via e-mail, which will then start a paper trail for HR if it should come to that.
Most situations never get this far, but a new report featured in Forbes this month mentioned how getting drunk at the office holiday party is on the rise, with all the inappropriate behavior that goes with it, mostly due to frustrations from the economic downturn. But this doesn’t excuse having a sense of personal responsibility when it comes to respecting each other’s boundaries. So have fun at this year’s round of parties, but always be safe!
BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
Rape jokes may not be the WORST source of feminist-hand-wringing, they do have an awful lot of
competition with all those pay gaps, rolled-back abortion and LGBT rights, not mention dehumanizing objectification and all that darned pernicious, underreported sexism of street harassment and inconspicuous misogyny cleverly disguised as family entertainment. But they sure as heck do hold a specially depressing place in every fatigued-with-trying-to-explain feminist’s heart. As Jon Stewart (I think..) once said, “humor only goes as far as your ideology.”
The latest culprit to make light of such physical and emotional trauma is Jersey Shore’s Vinny Guadagnino who recently released “Rack City Mix” including the appalling line “Actin’like I’m raping it.” The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) immediately condemned the song and Guadagnino defended himself via Twitter saying:
“Whoa! Some people really know how to take things out
of context ! #LearnToListenToMusic …It was fun though!”
As well as, publically apologizing for having “offended anyone.” He later launched a T-shirt line called “I Have A Vision” to combat bullying. I think it’s relevant at this point to reveal some other classy lines from the song:
“I ain’t got a girl … You ain’t got a man …
I’ve got a date for ya … and it’s in my pants.”
The hopeless romantic continues:
“Oh you a fan? You wanna take a pic?
I like your crack girl … I wanna take a hit.
Yeah I’m takin’ it … I’m a get you naked b*tch …
We can f**k and make it fit… boomin s**t and slatin’ it.
Actin’ like I’m raping it …
f** k her til she fakin’ it.”
“If I act like a d*ck … slap me with your t*ts.”
Vinny you eloquent old charmer! It is possible that Vinny was just trying to rhyme with “fakin’ it” as judging by his courtship tactics he probably gets that a lot and restraining orders maybe.
Criticizing rape jokes is not a feminist issue, irrespective of offending women or rape victims, it is an issue for everyone. Exposure to the unchallenged association of violation with humor sends the message that
violence is laughable. By not challenging these jests the jokes pass as innocuous, thus trivializing and normalizing the notion of rape.
I would encourage all joke-tellers, but mostly joke-hearers to think of the responsibility and power they possess in upsetting the current paradigm where violence and sadism are no big deal.
In conclusion: If you hear a rape joke, take a stand! You know? Comment, question, challenge! Silence is the enemy here, since silence inthe face of injustice—as all those ‘First they came for the Catholics…’ posters I saw growing up make clear—is tantamount to colluding with the enemy.
Only YOU can prevent institutionalized violence (and forest fires, perhaps)!
Over the past year and half I have struggled, celebrated, struggled, and celebrated again in the process of getting Hollaback! off the ground. There were those first eight months when I didn’t get a salary and ate a lot of rice and beans (I hate rice). Then there was the ridiculous amounts of press we got (People, Time, CNN, ABC, NPR, what! what!) or me flying around the world to spread the gospel. If you’ve ever met me, I’ve probably tried to convince you to volunteer for Hollaback!. So many of you did, whether it was a little tweet or a major undertaking.
Today the result is nothing short of an activist fairytale. We are in 45 cities, in 16 countries, and in 9 different languages. We’re partnering with government, we’ve taken down four major corporations to date (for being jerks), and on any given day there are over 200 people around the world working to bring Hollaback! to life, even though only two of us get paid. Here’s the funny part about starting a revolution though: only awesome people get it. Institutions? Not so much. People with tons money? Very rarely. We’re working overtime to fix this little problem and bring on an earned income revenue stream, but for right now we’re staring down a budget gap the size of disaster in January. It’s super scary, I’m not going to lie.
So I’m heading straight towards the honeypot of awesome on this one (that is you). We’re having a campaign right now to raise $25,000 before December 31st to keep this movement moving. I want you – yes you – to give. Scratch that: I NEED YOU TO GIVE. And I need you get everyone else you know to give too. We’ve got 25 sites already signed up to launch this Spring, and we can’t stop now. Please donate. And let’s end 2011 with a bang.
A few months ago, I was in Paris on a school trip. We were on the RER (metro) traveling to Versailles and the tube was packed, so packed I couldn’t even see any of my friends or teachers. All through the journey there had been a man staring and smiling at me. Then, about five minutes before I was due to get off, I felt something brush against my butt. I ignored it. Then I felt a hand close around my butt cheek. That man was still staring and smiling, but he had an almost hungry gleam in his eye. His hand was all over my butt and I didn’t know what to do. Normally I’m a confident young woman who is far from afraid of speaking my mind but then, I froze up. I barely speak any French and I didn’t want to cry out. Thankfully, I got off before things got unbearable.
I didn’t tell anyone for weeks afterwards because I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed because, even though I felt dirty and violated, a small part of me was flattered. One small, dark part of my brain was flattered that someone could find me attractive, even in the most base, perverted sense. Not only that, I but felt as though it wasn’t a big deal, that it didn’t matter. Even now I don’t know why I’m sharing this, because in the grand scheme of harassment it’s pretty insignificant.
I don’t know I’ve let it affect me so much. For weeks afterwards I shuddered a little when my boyfriend touched me and to this day I get apprehensive when I get on packed buses and trains in not-so-sunny Liverpool. I feel weak, and I feel stupid because I can’t get passed one little bit of sexual harassment.