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BY EMMA reposted from: Elephant Journal
Last weekend led me to a family reunion halfway across the country. Travel can feel un-grounding for me, and so, with yoga mat in tow I prepared to carry deep breaths cross-country via plane.
The slow spring sunshine finally pulled me outside to the lawn to stretch and practice on the second day of the trip. I felt grateful for the fresh air, warm grass and sun. I had convinced my cousin, a “yoga-virgin” to join me in practice. With each breath the sun came out further and I felt my body finding a new sense of grounding and expansion amidst the busyness of a family reunited.
Cars had been driving past our lawn-turned-yoga-studio throughout our practice and so the sound of engines provided more of a consistent sound track than an annoyance. There was one car, however, that stood out from the rest. From the front seats of the indistinguishable black sedan peered two men, presumably college students from the local state university.
First I returned their gaze, becoming aware of their eyes as I melted forward into a seated forward bend. I quickly regretted my decision to look to my right when my eyes were met by the abrasive sounds of catcalls hollering out into the stalled traffic.
I glanced to my right to make sure I was getting this image right. Were these guys for real?
As if looking for some sort of understanding I stifled a groan, turning to my cousin for validation in my disgust. I could feel the frustration bumbling up inside of me. I felt shocked and conflicted. Taking a deep breath in and out I reflected in my forward fold. My practice is about compassion and patience, I reminded myself and yet in the midst of it I had the urge to yell back, to stick up for myself, and reassure these catcalling men that blatant objectification of women is never OK.
Rather than yell back, I breathed another dirgha (three-part yogic) breath and after a second catcall, the light changed and the car pulled forward into the intersection. I felt myself rolling my decision to remain silent over and over again in my mind. This time I chose understanding, I told myself.
My cousin didn’t understand, he had never witnessed or been victim to a similar instance. I wish I could say that this sort of act is an anomaly but unfortunately, it isn’t. Earlier that week my sister had been catcalled and photographed while biking by a passing group of construction workers in their truck—not cool.
I am not trying to suggest that only men are catcalling—I have definitely witnessed women falling guilty of the same act. Nor am I suggesting that only women are victims to the calls or that all guys catcall. But, I am saying that with each utterance of a catcall, hurt is felt. Whether you think we can hear your call or not, take a second and realize what you’re doing by yelling out.
Sure you may think I look pretty awesome in my forward fold but that’s not the point. Please resist the urge to holler and instead send out some love. Yogis and bicyclists alike much appreciate the respect.
Once I found Hollaback, I started thinking of my experiences and found quite a few. There was one that I didn’t even see as harassment but now I see it has always stayed with me in the most negative of ways. This was very long ago but I feel this is the perfect way to talk about it. I was about 10 years old and was sent to a nearby store to get something needed to cook. As I walked, this guy on a bike stopped me and asked if I knew where a certain street was, I said “No, sorry” and continued on. He did this about 4 more times until I reached the store. Once I got out I took a different route home because of the fear he might catch up with me again–I felt very uncomfortable. Once I was pretty close to my house I thought I was free but he called out once again and said “Hey, look at this…” I looked toward him and realized he was flashing me—I couldn’t move, I felt horrible and though he did not approach me further I felt dirty. I finally got home and didn’t even know what to do–I knew something was wrong. I hated how he made me feel and now I hate that he specifically targeted me and went out of his way to make me feel that way. It has been 10 years since it happened but I still feel glad I found somewhere safe to say, “fuck you!”
Once I found Hollaback, I started thinking of my experiences and found quite a few. There was one that I didn’t even see as harassment but now I see it has always stayed with me in the most negative of ways. This was very long ago but I feel this is the perfect way to talk about it. I was about 10 years old and was sent to a nearby store to get something needed to cook. As I walked, this guy on a bike stopped me and asked if I knew where a certain street was, I said “No, sorry” and continued on. He did this about 4 more times until I reached the store. Once I got out I took a different route home because of the fear he might catch up with me again–I felt very uncomfortable. Once I was pretty close to my house I thought I was free but he called out once again and said “Hey, look at this…” I looked toward him and realized he was flashing me—I couldn’t move, I felt horrible and though he did not approach me further I felt dirty. I finally got home and didn’t even know what to do–I knew something was wrong. I hated how he made me feel and now I hate that he specifically targeted me and went out of his way to make me feel that way. It has been 10 years since it happened but I still feel glad I found somewhere safe to say, “FUCK YOU!!…Hollaback.
This incident happened when I was about 12 years old (I am 20 now) and I was in a park with a friend. We had spent the entire day at the pool and we were laying on the playground asphalt sunbathing and waiting for my mom to come pick us up (the park was right next to the pool). We definitely weren’t alone in the park since there were mothers and children all around us, houses across the street and lifeguards at the pool next door. All of a sudden, a man with very short shorts came up to the park and leaned up against the trash can with his leg pushed up against the can (his package was very obviously hanging out of his tiny shorts). I saw what was going on but I didn’t really understand it, so I ignored it. The mothers automatically caught on and left, without saying anything to my friend and I. All of a sudden we were in the park by ourselves, with the man. He then walked down to a park bench in a shaded area. I looked over at him and he had his entire penis out of his shorts and he was aggressively masturbating while looking directly at us. Being 12 years old and very naive, I was totally confused and didn’t know what to do until my friend saw what was going on and grabbed my arm and ran with me to the entrance of the pool. Thankfully my mom arrived as we were walking up to the entrance and being the fierce mama-bear she is, searched the park for him, screaming for him, but couldn’t find him. We called the police and made a report and they came to my house with mugshots, hoping to catch the guy (apparently he’s been caught doing this before) but they never did catch him. The really sad part is that this happened in a very wealthy and nice part of town where there were plenty of people around. I also don’t understand why those mothers did not warn my friend and I. Now that I look back on it, I wasn’t scared when it was going on.. just confused. I didn’t understand why a man would want to do something like that to little girls and I was never taught to look out for things like that.. especially at the playground. Now that I am adult, I am always on the look out but it terrifies me to think that there are young girls, and boys, who are just as naive as what I was.
Until street harassment and sexual violence ends, we need to have each other’s backs. To make sure Tara’s story never happens again and to build a world where everyone can sit in a park safely, donate today.
I was riding the crowded T home and I felt something poking into my ass. At first I thought nothing of it and assumed it was someone’s bag, since that tends to happen a lot on the rush hour trains. I decided to turn around, though, and saw a man standing behind me with his thumb in his pocket and his fingers bent into a fist and realized that THAT was what was touching me. That his fist was pressing into me. I moved away as much as I could (in this case, a few inches), wondered if it was an accident or not but realized it probably wasn’t. At Copley, when half the train emptied, I moved to the other side and he ended up following me there. I saw him positioned directly behind another girl, looked up at him and stared him down for at least five seconds, and he didn’t break eye contact. It was disgusting and a complete display of domination. He knew I knew what he had done to me and was trying to do to her as well. At that point I somewhat loudly told the girl he was preying on, “You might want to move forward a few inches” and glanced back at him. I hope she got the message, because at that point my stop had come and I bolted home. Revolting.
For the majority of my life when people made cat calls or honked at me on the street I would just glare back enraged but not saying a word. Well that part of my life is over.
At least three times now in Toronto when someone feels the need to tell me something such as this fine fellow “which one of you wants to take a ride on me first” I address it head on. Astonishingly once I begin to ask them what they just said to me and ask whether or not they’ve heard of a thing called sexual harassment (usually causing a scene on the busy streets or in the mall) they tend to back away even apologizing. Not that sincere, but still gets the job done.
A couple of months ago this man was following two girls around my age down the street and kept telling them they were beautiful and asking for their numbers. They were clearly uncomfortable but were trying to ignore him (to no avail) so finally I spoke up and told him, not so kindly to back off. Of course this lead to him swearing at me and asking me if I realized he wasn’t talking to me. But no, it didn’t end there, two other men on the street that didn’t even know this guy also started to chime in and yell at me, it was a little too much to handle so I just walked down the side street and away from them. But hey, at least those two girls got to walk in peace.
This was before I heard about Hollaback on the news awhile back but here’s my story. I was on my way to the train station after getting out of class. When I was going up the escalator to the ticket booth I saw a man going down the stairs to my left who was starring at me. I tried not to notice and looked up at the ticketing booth hoping he’d keep moving the opposite direction. He said something along the lines of don’t you look nice, in which I smugly responded with a thanks… I would have just ignored it, however I’ve dealt with too many instances in the past where I ignore the catcalls and they then proceed to follow me. I was hoping in this case that it would deter that type of interaction. Wrong. He then turned around on the stairs and began walking up along side of me. I then proceeded to ignore him and look away in disgust. The filth that was pouring out of him mouth was unbelievable, detailing the things he’d do to me and his lewd comments about my body that made my flesh crawl. I told him to leave me alone but he pressed on. He stood next to me as I was waiting in line for the automated ticket machine to open up. It wasn’t late at night, there was light pouring through the windows. There were a number of people waiting in the train station lobby that were viewing the interaction, but yet I felt alone. The pervert then propositioned us to go into the bathroom together and I was speechless that he had the audacity to suggest such a thing. I wanted to use harsh words but I was afraid that if I did if it would prompt him to attack me, and if everyone would just watch that as well. I stormed off to the man that was at the ticket counter, where finally the scumbag left me alone. I told one of my male friends what happened, and he interjected with…”well what were you wearing?”. That was almost as offensive as everything that I just went though. What a rotten day.
The time has come for people to stop standing there, watching, and judging when they see others being stalked and harassed. To make sure Blue’s story never happens again, and to build a world where we all have each other’s backs, donate today.
Tomorrow is my birthday but I’m working all day and I was off today so my boyfriend took me out all day long for some birthday celebration awesomeness. At one point we ended up at Barnes and Nobel just relaxing and reading and checking things out. It was very nice, until I sat down to leaf through a magazine and got verbally intruded upon by some guy who happened to be sitting in the chair next to me.
I had been wandering around the store for about 20min looking for new books that I might like when I decided to go see what my partner was doing. I went downstairs and found him sitting in an armchair that was part of a set of four (two next to each other and two opposite those so they were facing each other). I came up behind him, gave him a kiss, hugged him, spoke with him a bit as all the other chairs were taken and was about to walk off and find myself a place to sit and peruse a copy of Wired when the chair opposite him opened up so I sat there.
Immediately upon sitting down the man occupying the chair to my right oogled me a bit and said “I really like your boots” (though he said it while eyeing me up and down and was staring intently at other parts of my body when he mentioned the boots which made me pretty uncomfortable). Hoping that seemingly innocuous statement would be the end of it I sat down. After a few moments he tried to start a conversation with me about the book he was reading. I “politely” ignored him – which is to say that I smiled, nodded, did not answer verbally and went back to my magazine. A few minutes after that he tried again, this time I actually verbalized a one word response and turned away from him again. Finally he tried a third time at which point my boyfriend got up out of his chair, walked toward me with his hand out, said to the strange man “We’re done here” and then said to me “Come on, let’s go.” The strange man said “Oh come on, you’re not leaving are you?” and that was pretty much it.
The whole exchange, from beginning to end, made me extremely uncomfortable. To begin with I don’t appreciate being sexually objectified ever, and especially not by random strangers. Additionally, I was not interested in interacting with anyone whilst at B&N. This was my day to celebrate my birth with my boyfriend in my own way. I didn’t want to have a conversation with this stranger, I wanted to leaf through magazines and books all by myself in a comfy chair but since this man decided he wanted to interact with me I was forced into an exchange that I did not want to be a part of. But after it was all over and I thought about it my biggest issue with the exchange was that I didn’t stand up for myself. I smiled and nodded and sent subtle, non-verbal signals to this man touting my disinterest in him and the fact that I was seriously uncomfortable and displeased with his attentions. I did not, however, actually say that I wanted him to leave me alone. I don’t believe that I am guilty of encouraging him because I don’t think I did. I shouldn’t have had to put up with that shit in the first place and the fact that he felt entitled to invade my space and my day just because he (apparently) thought I was attractive is the main problem here. But the secondary issue is that as a woman dealing with a strange man I was actually afraid to stand up for myself and tell him to leave me alone.
I spent some time thinking after we left B&N and I wondered why I had done nothing and just allowed this stranger to repeatedly accost me while my partner was able to step in without issue. The fact is that I was scared, as I am any time a strange man approaches me. I fear being assaulted, attacked, I fear that if I act out in any way that these men don’t appreciate they will react with anger and become in some way violent. I fear this because it has actually happened to me before (numerous times). I have said no to requests for my phone number or even to people trying to start up a conversation and I have had men yell and scream and get physically violent in the face of my completely reasonable rejection. Having had that happen to me in the past I choose to now err on the side of caution and simply go along with it when strange men approach me until I can safely extricate myself from the situation.
This right here is one of the many insidious side effects of rape culture – I have been literally terrorized into compliance. I will admit here and now that I have actually verbally and physically consented to sex that I did not want to have because I was afraid of the consequences if I said no. And variations on the scene in the bookstore have happened to me more times than I can count.
So men everywhere – if you want women to not fear you then don’t intrude upon them, upon their personal space and their lives, unless they invite you in and if they decline your attempt at contact don’t respond with anger, don’t respond with violence and accept that this person simply isn’t interested in interacting with you the way you want to. I don’t take it as a compliment when you “compliment” me because I know that those words come with strings and expectations attached to them. I don’t appreciate it, it doesn’t pad my ego and it’s not a boost for my self-esteem. There is literally nothing positive about being accosted by a random stranger regardless of what his intentions are.
People are not obligated to give you what you want just because you want it, instead you are obligated to respect their personal space, their personal wants and their personal rights.
BY ALEX ALSTON
When we think of the great social movements of the twentieth century we often think of the great icons that appeared at the helms of these struggles. A charismatic preacher from Montgomery who had a dream, a Catholic commander-in-chief who asked us to ask ourselves what we could for our country, or a revolutionary journalist who told us women needed men as much as fish needed bicycles. From Angela Davis to Allen Ginsberg, we have no shortage of heroes and heroines to look back on. By the same token, when we think of these great movements and these icons, we can’t help but think of the historic protests they orchestrated: Greensboro’s first sit-in, the Stonewall Riots, draft card burnings at UC-Berkeley, the list goes on and on. From Mississippi to Vietnam and back our national memory is full of battlegrounds, theaters for resistance, and the stories they still tell unto this day. But as we look toward the future, we would do well to remember the cornerstones of these movements, the foundations for past protest. It has always, and will continue to be a reality that a movement will only ever be as grand, as powerful, as inevitable, as its stories.
As moving as a speech might be, or as crippling as boycott may become, only a story can harness the power, the passion, and the pain of a movement. As the NYPD quelled the uprising outside of Stonewall on that fateful summer night in 1969 with brute and hateful force, they were not aware that for every blow they dealt, a story was being beaten out of the long-oppressed LGBTQ community. When Bull Connor’s vicious police dogs and firehoses bore down on the child marchers in Birmingham, he had no clue that in killing this march, he was helping the blacks of the Deep South give birth to a story. These were stories that would be broadcast to the corners of the world. Ultimately the oppressor’s hand can only be forced in accordance with the proliferation of injustices. You see silence, is a movement’s greatest enemy.
And so I implore you, all of you, to never stop telling your stories. It is with our stories that we will speak back to and against oppression. It is with out stories that we will change the world. We cannot afford to keep quiet any longer.
Targeting Women in Upper Washington Heights, and Inwood
As a longtime resident of Washington Heights, I had become almost inured to the constant reports of shootings, muggings and other random acts of violence which take place in my neighborhood every day. Until a few months ago, most of those attacks were drug-related, and happened quite a few blocks south of where I live. However, now it seems that attacks which specifically target women are on the rise, and happening right on my doorstep. This not-so-new danger has hampered women’s ability to come out and enjoy their neighborhood in the warmer weather, and to feel safe even in their own homes. The threat of violence is very real, as three sexual assaults have occurred within hours of each other here, over one brutal weekend. One woman was dragged into Dyckman Fields of Inwood Hill Park, another attack happened out on the street as the victim was walking on 184th Street and Bennett Avenue, and the third attack was in the woman’s apartment building, where she was dragged to a higher floor and sexually assaulted. From personal experience in this neighborhood, I’ve observed that although the 34th police precinct is only blocks away from where all of these attacks occurred, there is definitely not enough regular police presence on these streets.
I can personally attest to the fact that there is a quiet (read: desolate) nature to the residential sections here, which although happily removed from the bustle of downtown, can at times be oppressive and dangerous, and an invitation to crime. Just a few months ago, I myself was attacked by a group of male teenagers, who saw fit to punch me in the back of my head as I was entering the 181st Street subway stop, on my way to teach a Tai Chi class. At first, I felt like a glass bottle had been thrown at me, it was so hard, but then I quickly realized that it was the group of three “kids” standing across the street, laughing at me, while I stood there holding my head in pain. I yelled and in my rage, started to run after them, but it was probably a good thing that I couldn’t catch up to them. Moments later, another woman walking toward the station reported the same thing had just happened to her. I reported it to the police immediately, but they were never caught. I’m sad to say it, but there is definitely a problem in this neighborhood with violence that targets women.
Crimes of this nature are born of a predatory instinct married to opportunity, and if there are less cops on the beat, there is simply more of an opening to take advantage of a woman walking alone. In response to the heinous sexual attacks, and the outcry for more law enforcement, police have finally taken to the street in droves, handing out flyers with a profile sketch of the Inwood attacker, and they’ve also released a video of the man who attacked a woman in her building. But I and the other women in the neighborhood have been wondering how long this increase in numbers will last. It’s like using roach baits or a roach bomb to get rid of an infestation ~ when you stop putting the baits out, and your building still has them, the roach population will immediately bounce back, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a problem again. What we need is a stepped-up, long-term presence in this neighborhood to make it clear to attackers that they’re no longer operating in a safe environment to do their evil business. City Councilman Robert Jackson has formally requested just that in a letter to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and other elected officials have also joined their voices to the chorus of people calling for more protection. This is all a step in the right direction, but for the women who’ve already endured assault, way too late.
There are those who’ve responded to these crimes by saying that we should not focus on how women can avoid rape, but INSTEAD teach men not to harass or assault women. This is all very well and good for a long-term solution that has as it’s goal the total transformation of gender relationships, but the brutal fact is that rape has been used as a way of dominating women for millennia. Which is not to say that we should’nt raise our boys up to be respectful men, but for the protection of women NOW, we’ve got to keep our focus on personal self-defense and the support mechanisms in our society which can help keep us safe ~ with groups like the Inwood Safety Patrol, a volunteer pedestrian safety group, as well as more women willing and able to fight back against their aggressors. Whether we like it or not, we must take the necessary precautions to keep ourselves as safe as possible. And it’s NOT always possible, even when we take every precaution in the book, but we can drive down the odds that something bad will happen if we remain alert and sensitive to our surroundings. I agree that it’s a shame we are (again) placed in this defensive posture, but the cardinal rule of self-defense is awareness. And this means modifying you’re personal behavior to keep you from harm, like running in pairs, not jogging late at night, early in the morning, in desolate surroundings, etc. I know it’s not right, but we’ve got to do what’s necessary to fight again another day.