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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.
I am a 22 year old women working as a geologist in the mining industry, in northern Ontario, Canada. I experience sexual harassment on a consistent basis. I have been cat called on the walk from my car to the office. I have been blocked access to my car by an employee in a truck, because I was a women, and the man I have never met before wanted to ask me out. This person has continued to stop me at work and bother me. On a related note, former coworkers have accused me of only being promoted because my boss “had the hots for me”, instead of for the hard work that I do. The list goes on. The latest, and most serious instance I have experienced was Friday night at my company Christmas party. After being introduced to the CEO, he continued to thank me for working hard for the company, and that he is happy there are more women. He went on to tell me how men really like it when women are my height (he was refering to the fact that I had taken off my high heel shoes). He told me that men also really like girls with curves like me. He kept asking me if he could buy me a drink- which I refused. He also went on to tell me how he really wants to have a slow dance with me, and grabbed my lower back, but said that since he is the CEO, and there were too many people there, so that he could only fast dance with me. I also refused. He said many things along this line, and finally I managed to get out of talking to him when someone else came up to us and I made my out to the bathroom. I walked away from it very upset, and told a male friend of mine what had happened. His response… “Get used to it, it’s a part of the mining industry and you know what you were getting yourself into.” Unfortunately the response didn’t surprise me at all. Sexual harassment is a widely accepted part of the mining industry. My friend also told me, that in my lifetime I will never see it change. I’m taking that as a challenge, and will try my best to promote equality and respect of people of all gender in industry.
One of the first times I experienced street harassment around the age of 12. Shouted at as I walked along the road by men in a car.
Sometimes we have to return to the basics. It is important for us to explain exactly what constitutes “Street Harassment” for our new readers as well as consolidating the knowledge of our existing audience. I speak to many people that are aware, vaguely aware, unaware or totally unsure of what is appropriate in public spaces. This is because the perennial problem of street harassment is something we are used to and have come to accept and ignore. So now it’s time to set the record straight.
Street Harassment is any form of behavior, verbal or physical, between strangers in a public space that is unwanted, disrespectful, threatening or violent. The best way to know if this has happened to you is to ask yourself how the abuser/incident has made you feel, if you feel ashamed, angered or forced to stare at the floor, walk faster or dive into a shop – you should not tolerate it and you should definitely Hollaback!
Street Harassment affects everyone, men, women and LGBTQ folk, although statistically it happens to certain groups more frequently than others, not a single individual on the planet is impervious to it. It manifests itself in all manner of ways from wolf whistles to assault. Popular Anti –Street Harassment site Stop Street Harassment has defined the varying types of street harassment:
“It ranges from leers, whistles, honks, kissing noises, and non-sexually explicit evaluative comments, to more insulting and threatening behavior like vulgar gestures, sexually charged comments, flashing, and stalking, to illegal actions like public masturbation, sexual touching, assault, and murder.”
A few months ago I met a man via my husband who asked me “where do you draw the line in street harassment?” It is interesting because I do not believe that he was a pervert or a mean person, just an ignorant product of the “boys will be boys” mentality that trivializes the act of abusing another person on the street. He continued:
“Well what exactly can I say to a woman on the street?”
For this poor chap, my advice was that it was probably best for him to say nothing at all and maybe he should imagine being bound by an imaginary line that forever lies just ahead of him. I could not blame him entirely because we are constantly exposed to images that suggest such behavior is acceptable. There is a scene in “The Hangover” where the characters cruise a cop car down the Vegas strip, using the loud speaker Bradley Cooper’s character informs a woman on the street something to the effect of “you have an awesome rack”, having already accepted the other humorous parts of the movie so it is widely accepted as “harmless fun”. However, I am sure the majority of people out there would not like to have their “rack” or any other part of them referred to by a total stranger on the street.
Regardless of sex, creed, color or choice of outfit everyone has the right to feel safe and confident on the streets without fear of any varying violation of their person or personal space. We have the power to end street harassment and we will. Join the revolution, it’s freakin’ awesome!
Twenty-two-year-old Franca Ogbu has spent the past year in a hospital bed, after falling victim to an acid attack while studying at Federal University of Technology that left her in extreme pain and deeply disfigured. She has undergone 11 surgeries and needs 13 more — meanwhile, the perpetrator of this horrific assault remains out on the streets.
Fellow student Chibuzor Bright Nkire was promptly expelled, along with a group of accomplices, for pouring acid on Franca because she refused to date him. However, nobody has been prosecuted for this vile crime yet.
When we talk about street harassment we usually talk about verbal harassment, groping, public masturbation, assault… but acid attacks? We don’t often talk about them but we should. So we’re starting to, right here, right now. SIGN THIS PETITION! Real justice is living in a world where these things never happen in the first place. But until we get there — let’s at least hold the people that do these things accountable.
The movement to end street harassment takes another giant leap forward today as an additional 11 Hollaback! sites launch internationally, adding to an already vibrant network of 34 sites across four continents. Each site is run by a team of local advocates who are deeply committed to working on-line and off-line to end street harassment in their communities.
“I decided to start a Hollaback! because I wanted to be a part of a collective of dedicated and passionate activists fighting to make the streets safe for women all over the world,” said Hollaback! Palo Alto Founder Viviana Arcia. The organization expected to only launch in five cities this year, but is now in 45 cities across 16 countries, with leaders speaking more than nine different languages — each with the same message: street harassment must be put to a stop. New locations include Bogota, Colombia; Boston, MA; San Luis Obispo, CA; Chennai, India; Dusseldorf, Germany; Minneapolis, MN; Montreal, Quebec; Palo Alto, CA; Portland, ME; Santiago, Chile; and Winnipeg, Canada.
“What we tend to forget is that preventing sexual harassment in the long run is about changing our attitudes, not just ensuring physical safety. This is where we come in with Hollaback!” said Hamsini Ravi, Project Coordinator Hollaback! Chennai.
Local Hollaback! site leaders run their local blogs and organize their communities through advocacy, community partnerships, and direct action. Site leaders are as diverse in their backgrounds as they are in their experiences of harassment. Hollaback! reports that 44% lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer, 26% identify as people of color, 76% are under the age of 30, and 90% are women.
“Women and members of the LGBTQ community have always been taught that street harassment is inevitable and something that we need to accept, smile at, or ignore,” says Cara Courchesne, Director of Hollaback! Portland, Maine. “Hollaback! changes that storyline.”
Hollaback!’s international sites are already having an impact. In Querétaro, Mexico, site leaders have developed a workshop to promote cities free of harassment for all people. In the last two months, 600 young people have taken part. In Baltimore, MD, the site leader has organized several successful events, including an Anti-hate Prom and the Baltimore SlutWalk. In Croatia, site leaders are creating a survey that will allow them to collect data on street harassment that will then be used across the Hollaback! network, giving Hollaback! an ability to compare street harassment across cultures.