The Movement

Safe vs Sexy

BY LAURA RUOCCO

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Check out this awesome project!  I think it brings up a lot about the way street harassment and the threat of violence influences the way we live our lives.

One of the subtle ways street harassment affects people is the way it becomes a part of our most personal decisions, like the way we present ourselves to the world in general. I think about this often as a person who’s sense of self is very connected to having a really personalized style. I wear patches and pins and bedazzles on my clothes, and I alter shirts and skirts to fit me just right. I like knowing that what I’m wearing is uniquely mine, and that no one could go out and buy exactly what I’m wearing. For me, the way I present myself is a tiny way of challenging capitalism, patriarchy, fatphobia, and heteronormativity. So there’s a lot going on there! Though I have a lot of intense feelings about self expression through physical appearance, I have still at times felt restricted in what I wear for fear of the potential to increase harassment. And not even just on more obvious questions like “Is this skirt too short?”, I’m also talking about things like “Should I bleach my hair/wear this bright color/these fishnets?”.
Clothing comes up a lot in the street harassment stories people post on Hollaback:
“I’m embarrassed to say that instead of instantly recognizing his statement for what it was ~ a dangerous manipulation ~ I immediately took stock of what I was wearing…”
“Some people read me as ‘guy wearing women’s clothing,’ and other people read me as ‘woman,’ or ‘girl,’ it is hard to tell.”
“I promise I’m not jogging so that you can creepily watch me, and these Target gym shorts I’m wearing are not for your benefit.”
“And if I’m wearing high heels and a skirt that goes up to Tahiti, it’s still creepy and misogynistic when you honk at me—I promise.”
“I mean, we should be allowed to wear summer clothes without feeling we’re asking for it!”
“This is the kind of thing that makes me feel unsafe if I’m not wearing a pair of baggy jeans and a man’s t-shirt.”
“I was wearing black tights and a dress with a baggy jumper over the top and I actually caught myself thinking ‘i’ll never wear this dress again without a long coat’.”
It made me think “I’m wearing vinyl pants, clearly anyone would think I’m asking for whatever happens next. “Never mind the corset they can’t see under my coat”. It made me think “Priority one is protecting my friend”, who is a few years younger and who had thigh-high fishnets and garters showing under a short skirt – probably an easier target than the pants.”
“I wasn’t wearing anything particularly revealing (jeans, t shirt and cardigan)…”
“It was a hot day and so to be practical I was wearing a pair of mid-length denim shorts.”
“I didn’t feel ‘sexy’ or ‘flattered’…I felt awkward, embarrassed, and mad at myself for what I was wearing.”
“I’ve known people who have been physically assaulted just because they were wearing a head scarf.”
“I hate that I have to think about what I’m going to wear every time I have to ride the bus. I’ll get honked at anyway but it’s worse/more often when I’m wearing a dress or shorts.”
“The funny part is that I was wearing my hair back, glasses, no makeup, and a big puffy winter coat”
“in a world without street harassment i wouldn’t be groped &expected to explain my tattoos, triggering panic attacks.”

Those are just a few of the many stories on Hollaback where street harassment affects not only what people decide to wear, but how they feel about what they’re wearing after hearing someone else’s unwanted opinion on it.  A lot of the posts specifically mention wearing clothing that they deem non provocative, only to be harassed anyway.  One of the most ridiculous harassment memories I have is walking home from the subway one day after a New York blizzard, waddling down the unshoveled sidewalk after a long day of work.  I hate winter clothes and never feel particularly attractive when I’m all suited up for a blizzard.  But apparently somebody thought differently, as I heard a man shout out “YOU LOOK REAL SEXY WALKIN THROUGH THAT SNOW!”  Uhh….really?  Taking baby steps to avoid slipping on the ice, covered head to toe in winter wear?  Really?

To an extent, it doesn’t matter what you wear.  Harassment seems to persist no matter what.  But on the flip side of that, there is added risk of harassment that goes along with dressing in a way that deviates from the norm.  When I have lived in places where there is usually less street harassment, I have felt noticeably more comfortable dressing as weird as I wanna. Because harassers will use anything as a conversation piece.  Tattoos, piercings, writing on a tshirt, dyed hair, patterned tights, all of these things have become jumping off points for harassment in my experience.  However, I can say the same for walking a dog, carrying a heavy item, riding a bike, or seemingly anything you do publicly that can be commented on.  Though a lot of what I’m talking about here is clothing, the idea of being open to comment just by going outside relates heavily to physical attributes that aren’t so easily changed.  People who are of color, physically or mentally disabled, fat, or gender non-conforming, bear the brunt of street harassment for sure.  Because, as we’ve said before, street harassment is not about compliments or flirtation, its about people exerting power over one another, and often its about enforcing cultural norms.  Which in my opinion begs the question, who does that shit serve anyway?  Encouraging other people’s self expression lets us all be a little more free to be our true weirdo selves!

 

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The Movement

Nicola’s Got Nerve | Issue 5

“Female Jogger Attacked”

This is an all-too familiar headline in the news, with reports coming in from all over the nation about women who are just trying to get some exercise in (mostly) the warmer weather. As we start to shift more and more of our activities to the outdoors in the coming months, unfortunately, we’ve also got to go on “Amber” alert, which I think is so sad. There’s something very freeing about not having to pile on all those layers because of the cold, just to go about one’s daily business, and something even more liberating about donning a pair of shorts and running shoes, waking up before most of the city does so you can stretch your legs and clear your head.

But this also means that we’ve got to be even more aware of those ill individuals out there who would take advantage of us as women moving around solo in the city. Some say that wearing headphones is not a great idea, because your awareness is severely diminished, and that jogging or exercising in the park is safer with a partner, and that avoiding the park at certain very early or late hours is wise. I agree with these “preventative” techniques, but also think that they are not always possible, desirable or practical. The other day, I was sitting on a bench with a male friend in Bronx Park, which if you haven’t been, is a beautiful place. We chatted and ate our lunch, watching a few solo male joggers go by. And we solemnly agreed that it was extremely unfortunate, but there would be few women joggers out, at any time, in that park, because of the high degree of risk.

Here it was a gorgeous, sunny day, not too hot, and literally half the population would not feel safe there. It made me realize with a start that I in fact would probably not be sitting there, had it not been for the companionship of my male friend. Talk about being in hidden bondage. My ardent wish for the near future would be to TAKE BACK OUR PARKS, in a similar way that we’ve taken back the night. Only with the vocal and persistent action of reclaiming public spaces can we really feel and actually BE safe. But until we can make it happen, be safe out there.

no comments 
homophobic, Verbal

Lia’s story from South Dakota: Small town harassment

I was about 11 years old and I was walking with my mother to a store called Prarie Market in Rapid City SD to get some groceries. It was a winter, so we were bulked up in puffy winter jackets. We lived about 4 blocks away, and this was a typical thing to do. Anyway, about a block from the store a speeding truck with about 4-5 men started screaming obscenities at us. They were initially screaming “faggots” but once they got closer, and realized we were women, they began screaming “maggots” and other worse words. We ignored them and fortunately it lasted about 20 seconds at best. It happened so quickly and out of nowhere; we were too shocked to say anything.

Although on other occasions, while using a phone near to this same store I had rocks thrown at me by a group of drunken men. Again, walking home from school past this same area some men shouted racist insults at me.

Yeah, it’s a small town, but haven’t they got something better to do than frighten women and children?

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The Movement

We’ve got your back

BY EMILY MAY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

 

On Saturday morning, March 6th, 2011, an email went out over our listserve from Inti Maria, our site leader in Buenos Aires. It read, “”I’d like to see her to tell her I would break her asshole with my cock” This is what a JOURNALIST wrote about me today — on the printed page they changed it but he made a POINT of including his original version on his blog.”  The changed version wasn’t much better. It read, “break her argument with my cock.”

 

Tears immediately welled into my eyes.  Hollaback/Atrevete Buenos Aires launched only a month ago. I knew our work was controversial, but I never thought it would lead to a public rape threat from a prominent journalist and professor.  This wasn’t just an asshole.  This was an asshole with a mouthpiece.

 

I quickly g-chatted Inti Maria.  She was shaken, but OK.  She decided to leave the country for a few days to be safe.

 

Both Inti Maria and I knew we had to take action, but what do we do? Our model was premised on the power individual activists who were committed to bringing the movement to end street harassment home.  None of our site leaders have funding or on-the-ground infrastructure. It is the beauty of our model, but now I could see it was also a tremendous risk.

 

I spent a day reaching asking a lot of super-smart people for advice.  The advice was across the board, and it struck me that this decision was going to have to be made based on gut instinct.  As we weighed our options, I just kept coming back to one of our core organizational values: “we’ve got your back.” We needed a response that showed Inti Maria that we had her back, and showed all our site leaders that if this happened to them, we would have their backs too.  We also needed a response that would set a precedent: Hollaback takes violent threats and actions seriously.  And if that wasn’t a tall enough order, we needed it to be based in Buenos Aires.  Engaging our networks in the United States would quickly lead to a US v. Argentina dynamic that would be ineffective, and just quite simply wasn’t our style or our message.

 

We decided to launch a petition on change.org in Spanish, with the English translation under it.   Our lead blogger Violet wrote it, Gaby who runs Hollaback/Atrevete Mexico City translated it, and all our site leaders united to blog it, facebook it, and tweet it.  Ultimately, over 3,500 people signed it from 75 countries.

 

When the publication that Juan Terranova worked for – El Guardian – wouldn’t budge, Inti Maria, Violet, and Gaby worked with the incredible team at change.org to target the magazine’s two main advertisers. We organized another petition that put pressure on Fiat and Lacoste pull their advertising, and it was signed by over 1,700 people. In historic and precedent setting move for the Argentinean media, both companies pulled their advertising and publicly announced their disapproval of Terranova’s threat. Lacoste wrote, “our brand has suffered from being associated to comments we disapprove of.”

 

The rest is history. A public apology was issued by both Juan Terranova and El Guardian, and Terranova’s column was cancelled at the request of the magazine’s main stakeholder. And although we don’t take joy in another man losing his job, we are pleased that another journalist will have an opportunity to write a column absent of rape threats.  And as for Terranova, hold your sympathy.  Rumor has it he’s getting a reality show.

 

But this story isn’t just about some asshole with a mouthpiece. It is a story of what happens, when people ban together to do the right thing. It is a story of what it means to have the backs of people you’ve never met.  It is a story of an incredible team. Inti Maria wrote,

 

“The other day I made a comparison to a friend between Hollaback and a bee hive.   I said I felt like a bee because we are organized, strong, active and when we get mad — we act together. He said, “you are a strong bee,” haha.  But the point is I feel strong because we are all strong together. Right now it feels like we’re taking down the bear of institutionalized misogynism in the media!”


Even Juan Terranova agrees with us on this one. In his apology, he wrote, “Hollaback is a powerful organization, influential and organized, and I am sure they will get what they want.”

 

In nonprofit terms, we are a tiny organization with only one full time and one part time staff member.  But in real terms, we are a team of over 100 people in 10 countries and six languages.  I know for many, it is hard to understand how Hollaback works without a traditional office space, or a traditional organizing model.  It is hard to understand how people who have never met each other can work together to create impact, and why all these tremendous activists are working ten, sometimes twenty or thirty hours a week unpaid.

 

The only way I can explain it is this: have you ever been part of an incredible team?  Was there ever a time in your life when you completely trusted the people you worked with, when you would have done anything for them, when everyone had everyone else’s back, and when those things made you work faster, smarter, and better than you ever thought possible? Chances are you have. It may have been fleeting, but you know what I’m talking about.  And chances are you’d give anything to have that feeling back.

 

But that is what it feels like to be part of Hollaback: we are an incredible team.  Independently, we are like bees. Weak, small, and always buzzing that street harassment is not OK.  Collectively though, we’re working together seamlessly to make the impossible possible.  To bring awareness to an issue that has been ignored for too long, and to lead this movement in our own communities.

 

I feel honored to be buzzing alongside the most badass bees on earth, and knowing that no matter what comes our way, we will always have each other’s backs.

18 comments 
Assault, demonstration, groping

Kayla’s story from Hollywood: You call it “a funny joke,” I call it assault

My co-worker was just turning 21 and she had planned for a small group of people to head to some clubs in Hollywood. After the rest of the group ordered drinks- I had to drive home so I stayed sober, a sloppy, drunk man came up behind me. He proceeded to shove his hand down my shirt, groping me and exposing myself to the entire club.
I hadn’t been in the club for more than 10 minutes and was simply waiting for my friends to receive their drinks. My friend’s boyfriend saw the incident and told club security. The man was kicked out for the night, or so I thought.
Later on in the evening, I happened to run into him again where he proceeded to call me a dumb bitch for telling on him and that it was just a funny joke.
1. it wasn’t funny
2. you’re disgusting.

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The Movement

TEDx talk: Anita Roberts, violence prevention advocate

Anita Roberts tells the story of the sexual violence she experienced in her youth, and how it helped her discover her child, her “bitch,” and ultimately, her wise woman.

 

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demonstration, Verbal

Andrea’s story from Dallas: Facebook post deleted & she reposted it

I live in one of Dallas few truly walkable neighborhoods, which I love. Near my house is a pizza parlor, Zini’s Pizza, where the delivery guys hang out in the side alley between drop-offs. I walked by midday to head over to the convenience store, and the guys (two of them) whistled at me, thrust their pelvises in my direction, and made sexually suggestive remarks. I complained to management on their Facebook page wall (after all, if my body is up for public discussion, surely I’m within my rights to post on their wall rather than telephone a manager) and they deleted it almost immediately. So I reposted it. I intend to keep doing so until I get a response.

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demonstration, groping

Liz’s story from Virginia: Deployment ain’t an excuse for harassment

Navy guys are the worst. I don’t know what it is, but they really are the worst kind of creepers, even if you think you know them well.

A friend of mine was going out on deployment, and his request was to have a night of drinking and merry-making at another friend’s place before he left. I didn’t want to go, mostly because I know how this particular group is when drunk. I stayed sober and on guard all night, sitting quietly with the only other 3 girls there.

When I’d finally had enough and convinced my ride that we were leaving, we had to make our round of goodbyes. Most of the guys went for the hug, some for the high-five.

The man of honor picked me up by my ass and proceeded to attempt to dry hump me against a tree.

The idiot woke up in the morning covered in bruises and walking funny.

Don’t Mess with VA girls!

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demonstration, Verbal

CS’s story: Creepy creeps get called out

It was a mix of verbal and stalking it seemed, though it was not a prolonged stalking… just a creeper van with two creeper creeps inside parked nearbye saying stuff like “hey honey, come closer- want to have a good time?”, sounding like the usual potential rapists many of us have encountered in our walks to work, drives home, and even from acquaintances.

I was dumbfounded at first. It brought up memories of being approached at ages as young as twelve (at least when i had begun being aware of what this sort of attention was), and made me feel ill, sick and just downright disturbed- but then it clicked, I was angry, and almost amazed at how blatantly rude this was and that no one, not any women, girl, boy, or man deserves this form of disrespect.

I stopped and waited for a second to confirm that they were really addressing me (dangerous I know, but I just needed to know) and as soon as it was certain that I was the only person near bye, in creepy talking range, I said clearly, without yelling or shaking (i was surprised that it was possible), as if just stating an indisputable fact, “You are disgusting” made eye contact and everything- even laughed and smiled at them in a you are incredibly pathetic sort of way.

They didn’t say anything back. Maybe they’re not used to someone they are sexually harassing sticking up for their own right to walk without feeling like they may be killed or raped.

I quickly ducked back into a store I was in before to make sure it wouldn’t escalate to violence since people being that creepy cannot be trusted. I waited a bit and they were gone. On the drive home I kept kicking myself saying I should have said “you sound like a rapist” and “does your mom know you are a creep to women?” but really, all I really wanted to do was kick them.

And you know what if it hadn’t been directed at me, I would have said that they are creeps too. This should never go unresponded to. It doesn’t matter who it is directed at.

These comments are unwarranted and verbally abusive. I just wish they weren’t so *&$#in’ normal and seen as the *&^%in’ status quo. If we are vigilant in our abilities to speak up for ourselves and for others then maybe, just maybe, we can make some real social progress. I only hope it can be achieved sooner rather than later (though it should have never been an issue to begin with).

I mean we are taught to be respectful to human beings right? (at least I was) Are women not people to some men?

no comments 
demonstration, Nonverbal Harassment

Phoebe’s story from Boston: Camera-phones used to harass

I was waiting for the bus stop today, around 10:30AM. To pass time I was reading a local paper and was very engrossed. I noticed a man near me but assumed he was also waiting for the bus. A moment later I looked up and he had a digital camera pointed directly at me and had just snapped a picture of me. Shocked, I asked if he had just taken a photo of me and he smirked and said it was a good picture. I took a step towards him and he started backing off immediately- I told him I didn’t want him to take that photo and to delete it. He basically began mocking me and saying it was just a photo and he had the right to and there was nothing I can do. I started shouting at him that it was not his property. He turned and literally started jogging off. I screamed at him that what he did was so disrespectful, and another woman at the bus stop took after him screaming. I stayed put, feeling helpless and that it was pointless to chase him. He laughed at us saying his camera took pictures, didn’t shoot bullets, and that there was nothing illegal about it. He ran away down the street. I felt and feel so humiliated. Maybe it sounds like just a photo, but I don’t know this person, I didn’t consent to this, and he clearly took it to make me uncomfortable and to get off on invading somebody else’s privacy and enjoying their vulnerability. I tried to report it to the police and the (male) office took the perp’s side saying it wasn’t a crime because he didn’t hurt me.

It just feels like such a violation, that as a woman I am never safe, somebody can have my image and jerk off to it or share it on the internet or get off on invading my privacy no matter where I am or what I am doing.

So for anybody traveling through Hynes area in Boston, watch out for a skinny, pathetic, disgusting male, early 30s, 5-7″ish, slimy looking, bad teeth, digital camera, and the support of the Boston Police Department.

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