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I’ve had this body my whole life. I don’t remember the first time I got honked at or holla’d at, but it may have been as early as middle school. Because as soon as I hit puberty, wham! I had curves. Not that I can even say that is the full reason. It may lend to it, but the real reason is simply this: I’m a woman. If I’m walking down the street, then I’m fair game to any man who feels the need to holla.
I’m not a prude, I love my body, I’m comfortable in it. But I think about what I wear each morning in terms of what attention I’ll get as I walk down the street to the bus stop or work. Some days I just don’t feel like dealing with it, so I wear jeans and a t-shirt. I might not get honked at that day. But turns out, me feeling like I ain’t lookin’ cute–I still get honked at sometimes. I still have men pull up next to me trying to chat me up or offering me rides. But, if I wore a cute dress? It’s guaranteed to happen. In jeans and a t-shirt, it’s a question of whether I’ll have to deal with street harassment. In a dress, or anything slightly more “feminine”, it’s a question of when.
I live about a seven minute walk from the bus stop where I took the bus to school last semester, and about ten minute walk from my job. No, I wasn’t harassed every day. But a lot of days. It’s more annoying when I get honked at (from the front and from the back, but from the back most often), but at least that’s not coming into my bubble. It really creeps me out when men pull up next to me, try to offer me rides and crap. I mean, seriously? I’m not five anymore, but I pretty much still abide with the idea of not getting in cars with strangers.
I have very fortunately never had to deal with any actual assault. I am extremely grateful every time a man backs off and drives away. I hate that I feel fear every time a man pulls up next to me. What if all he wants is to ask directions? It’s never happened. I don’t even give them the benefit of the doubt anymore, and I hate that. I don’t want to be a feminist man-hater. But considering my work is primarily in the area of intimate partner violence, and my own experience with harassment–it’s hard sometimes. I know a lot of great men who treat women well. But I ask of them–do you call off your friends when they try to holla at the girls? If you don’t–then you’re just as bad–someone who stands idly by.
Anyone who thinks street harassment is harmless, ask yourself why the men are doing it. Do they really just want to tell me how beautiful I am? It’s a power play, showing me and and other women who walk down the street that men are still in control. In the society we live in, it’s accepted that you shouldn’t walk around at night, especially alone. But I don’t. This happens in the middle of the day. In broad daylight. In front of many other people in their cars. So don’t try to tell me it isn’t about putting on a show.
Race may be involved with street harassment for some, but you won’t find me saying that. My body apparently is equal opportunity trigger for men of all ages and races. I can’t even say one race does it more, because they don’t. Just depends what part of town I’m in.
I will not stop walking everywhere. I will not be intimidated by men trying to show me who is in control. And I am speaking up. You try to holla, and you better believe I will hollaback.
Hollaback is an organization speaking against street harassment by collecting people’s stories. My story was posted a couple of months ago. I invite you to take part in speaking up. You can also follow them on twitter.
It’s time to be the change.
Reposted from Dancing with Me
Last month, on a Friday after work I decided to go for a run, it was a cool evening and it was starting to rain, which quickly turned to sleet and then light snow. I was less than a 1/4 mile into my run when I heard yelling — my iPod was between songs, otherwise I might have missed the specifics of it. There was a guy (I am assuming high school age) leaning out the window of a car on the other side of the street who screamed out, “Nice ass………WHORE!!!!!!!!!” I have to be honest, it wasn’t just the words that upset me, it was also how he said it — there was anger in his tone, and it felt threatening.
I tried to shake it off as just a bunch of immature kids with poor judgment and kept running.
Maybe a mile later I was on Beacon St in Cambridge when the same car drove by me again with this guy again hanging out the window screaming at me — I had my iPod cranked up so I don’t know what he said but the tone was, again, unmistakably angry & threatening. I was freaked out that this was the 2nd time they’d driven by me, and I was getting into less residential neighborhoods where there were fewer people on the streets — I had visions of the next time they drove past me, what if they pulled over? got out of the car? pulled me into the car?? I decided to listen to my gut, cut my run short, and turn around & head back for more populated streets & home.
Unfortunately I was not wearing my glasses & did not get the license plate #. I am getting over this but had an anxiety dream about it Friday night that involved me being cornered by a large man and calling for help that never came. I remain disturbed by the fact that at some point in their lives, the boys/men in that car learned that harassing & threatening a woman in this way is somehow ok.
This seems to be a fortnightly occurrence and I am unable to escape it.
Thank you perverts!
Women are just as much to blame; the social power dynamics have shifted and while employment may be regulated by male approaches dating definitely has a blurred line.
I seem to fairly often be a victim of somebody grabbing or slapping my behind, I have had my testicles cupped and on many occasions experienced inappropriate contact and remarks.
This weekend a young lady pinched my behind while I stood at the bar in the Victoria pub, Birmingham, I turn around and give her a filthy look and ask her to stop but as I turn back to the bar she decided to grab me again; this time when I turn all of her friends are staring at me and making remarks like ‘hey handsome’ or ‘hello cute ass’
Unfortunately as a man I have little support so when I open my mouth to criticize I am immediately set upon by the eyes of every person in the room and offered tokens of aggression by some woman and men who stand up, but why?
Because the power dynamics of a 6″3 athletic man standing over four much smaller females dictates that indeed I should be the aggressor.
So I am oppressed twice simply for buying a drink and standing up for myself.
Power dynamics exist in many facets and social normality, especially for the socially responsible, is damaged when certain power dynamics are ignored; the main reason I wrote this.
The truth is a lot of this is about social molding and in my experience, women can be just as bad as men because they realize how strong the social power dynamic is in supporting them.
Because I’m always late to work, and I always like to wear lipstick, I often find myself applying makeup on the bus en route to my job. Usually I just get a few glares for primping in public, but last week, it got nasty. I was sitting on the bus (22 outbound) and two middle-aged men sat down near me – one across from me, one in the seat beside mine – and immediately began harassing me. “You look real good tonight, honey” said one. The other: “That’s some sexy red lipstick.” I turned to him and calmly said, “please don’t talk to me” while making eye contact.
Immediately their tone changed. “Ugly bitch!” “My sister told me pretty girls know how to take a compliment and only the ugly ones don’t!” I responded, “It’s funny how as soon as I speak up, I go from being beautiful to ugly.” One scoffed and said “Oh, you’re trying to be funny, bitch? Shut up.” I just kept glaring and eventually they moved but were still within earshot and continued complaining to each other and other passengers about how “rude” and “ungrateful” I was. It really rattled me and I had to call a friend to calm down, but once I got off the bus I felt really good that I had spoken up. Thanks Hollaback!
BY JULIE LALONDE, DIRECTOR OF HOLLABACK OTTAWA
excerpt from Being the Change since 2007
Ottawa had its own SlutWalk and you better believe I was there. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I was asked to speak at it, too. But that’s where it ends, for the record. I’ve never organized a SlutWalk, have no part in organizing future ones and quite frankly, spent 5 minutes at the Ottawa one talking about systemic violence against womyn.
I must admit that I was initially a little apprehensive about the whole thing. I’d heard about it in its planning stages and felt that it might have been a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to highlight an issue.
But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
It seems that people want to talk about sluts, sluttyness, slut-shaming, slut-positivity and all things slutty. People love sluts, other people love to hate sluts and some people hate that they love sluts.
And that’s the fucking point.
See, the organizers knew that if they organized another “Take Back the Night” or “Anti-Sexual Assault” or even a “Stop Victim Blaming” march, you’d get the same little handful of diehards, maybe a blip or two in the media but not much else. The unfortunate reality is that the average person and media outlet doesn’t give a flying fuck about violence against womyn and sexual assault. Because only sluts get raped, and womyn falsely accuse men all the time and feminists are whiny and don’t know how good they have it and on, and on and on.
A name like SlutWalk catches people’s attention, provokes a reaction and is just downright impossible to ignore. The sight of stiff journalists on the nightly news saying “And now, let’s go to Marcie who is over at SlutWalk” can’t help but solicit raised eyebrows.
And once again, that’s the fucking point.
Whether you want to reclaim the word ‘slut’ or not, you can’t help but perk up your ears when you hear the word being used in mainstream, every day conversation by your average folk. And the organizers knew that. They knew that the only way to ensure this cop’s comments didn’t go unnoticed was to shock people into reacting.
They hoped maybe a couple hundred people would show up, they’d find some solidarity and be able to sleep better at time. Instead, thousands of people showed up, an international media machine was started and there are Satellite SlutWalks around the world. Not bad for a handful of novice organizers in Toronto.
But what about this reclaiming business?
That part is tricky and complicated.
Many womyn of colour have commented that it’s not easy for them to do, considering how slut-shaming and labeling is so tied into racism, colonialism, etc. Makes sense.
Others (including myself) think it’s also classist and rather ‘in-crowd’ to assume that everyone can safely embrace the label. Tell that to poor, 16 year old rural girls who are just trying to survive gym class.
But that’s okay. See, SlutWalk isn’t really about everyone embracing the label Slut because like most things in life, if everyone is one, then nobody is.
But you can embrace the name on a political level while still recognizing how problematic it is at the individual level.
Example: We can embrace Ottawa’s annual “Dyke March” while recognizing that a 16 year old high school girl has no desire to embrace the ‘dyke’ label that is thrown on her daily.
Ideally, everyone who identifies as ‘dyke’ could choose to do so and others who don’t could escape the labeling. But we’re not there yet, although we’re working towards it.
SlutWalk is not an end, but a means to an end. It’s a way to rip open the universal covers on sexual assault and to expose the deeply entrenched stereotypes that enable it to continue at epidemic levels. It’s meant to prompt discussion, to test your knee-jerk reaction.
You don’t want to call yourself a slut? – Why?
You don’t think it can be reclaimed? – Why?
Regardless of what your answer is, it got you thinking and that’s the point.
As someone who has been doing anti-sexual violence work in Ottawa for close to 8 years, I’ve been to every conference, march, demonstration, letter-writing campaign kick-off, red tape cutting, award ceremony, you can imagine. I’ve been there, I’ve spoken at them, I’ve shaked my head at them and I’ve marched in them. And none of them had the turn-out that SlutWalk did.
Ottawa is an extremely conservative city with a small, (too) tight-knit feminist community and here I was, standing amongst a thousand other people, many of which I had never seen before. The crowd was diverse in age, background, gender identity, ethnicity, etc. And despite what you might have read or seen about the celebratory nature of SlutWalk, it was a rather sombre event. People were angry, not laughing. As they should be – sexual assault isn’t funny.
So you’ve got a conservative community out on a Sunday afternoon, talking about womyn’s sexuality and sexual assault in a constructive and meaningful way. Regardless of how you feel about reclaiming language, you have to be impressed by the power it had that day in Ottawa.
(Say it with me) and that’s the fucking point.
I have no desire to call myself a slut. None. My reasons for this are many but include the fact that I don’t want to define myself by my association with other people (ie: how many people I sleep with, who I sleep with, etc). It’s also difficult to call yourself something when a definition doesn’t exist. We know that a slut has something to do with sexuality but ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers.
I was called a slut for holding a pro-choice sign at an anti-choice rally.
I was called a slut for attending a new school in grade 10 with no friends or history in that city. A rumour was started that I was chased out of another town for having slept with someone’s boyfriend. The truth? I was a virgin who’d had to move for her dad’s new job.
Hell, I was called a slut for defending SlutWalk. (The irony.. it hurts…)
But even though I do not long for the label doesn’t mean I fail to see its importance. As Jaclyn Friedman so amazingly said, we must all stand under the banner of ‘Slut’ and recognize that when it is used against one womyn, it is used against all womyn. Because we can all be called a slut by someone at some point and in many cases, the sting of that word not only offends us, but decides whether or not our rape is convicted properly, whether we get access to housing, a job, a promotion, a reference, or even someone’s Facebook friend request.
So even if you don’t want to call yourself a slut, learn to respect those who do.
“Female Jogger Attacked ~ Fights Back!”
I’m adding a Part Two to last week’s column, which was titled, “Female Jogger Attacked.” That was a discussion of the phenomenon of women not being safe in public spaces, while doing what they have to do to stay healthy. I know all of us have been there before ~ You know, it’s midnight, but the moon is out, the pavement is still hot from the 85 degree day, and you still have plenty of energy for a bike ride ~ but most of the time you stop yourself because you want to live to bike again another day. This is the cold, hard reality of being female in an urban setting. Although I know plenty of guys who wouldn’t want to risk getting jumped at that hour either, but come on, we all know that the risk is greater if you are of the female persuasion.
With that said, taking certain precautionary measures while exercising in public settings is not only wise, but essential to your well-being. The A-#1 thing I can advise any woman to keep herself safe in any setting, is to take a class in self-defense. And by this I mean a course of classes, not just a one-time workshop, because it takes repetition of the techniques to acquire what’s called muscle memory. That means that with consistent practice, the movements become ingrained, which prepares you to quickly react out of instinct in a dangerous situation. So the muscle memory that you work hard to acquire while practicing a kick for example, or an elbow to the face, might possibly save your life or being otherwise harmed. Practice these type of self-defense movements preferably with a partner, to feel the actual weight, timing, strength, and most importantly, presence of another human being. It’s so shocking to have someone attack you, especially when
you least suspect it. The least you can do is to adequately prepare yourself if that occurs.
And it’s not just knowing how to handle yourself physically when you’re feeling threatened, it’s most of all becoming more sensitive to and aware of your surroundings, both human and otherwise. It’s really about accessing your internal strength, which every person has, regardless of how they look on the outside. I know with absolute certainty, that it was my own years of martial training in Tai Chi, not just Tai Chi for health, which helped me to handle the situation with that creep on the subway. Luckily, he did not continue to force himself upon me, or I would have had to defend myself more than verbally, but I was certainly ready, willing, and able to do so if it had come to that. I want you to feel as ready and confident as well, and know that you are walking, jogging, or biking through the world with a hidden arsenal at your disposal ~ your ability to mentally and physically defend yourself.
You think studying in the middle of a common study area wouldn’t turn guys on.
I had my face buried in a book, studying for my finals in two weeks. (I had read your website some weeks before, so I was ready!) He walked in front of me and when he was just out of range, I heard, “Girl, you gorgeous.” I was sure it was for me because there was no one behind me, or on either side. I was so surprised and indignant at his remark I blurted out “Excuse me?!”. Then I realised I had just started something I might not be able to finish. He turned around and I got a good look at his face. He was 25-30 years old, 5’6″? We exchanged in somewhat-friendly conversation, and I told him that he didn’t know me and shouldn’t call me gorgeous. No heated argument, but what surprised me was that I was studying… With 5-10 people in the same room! Why was it his business to tell me I was good-looking? Or to interrupt my studying?
What was the thing that made him pick on me? Was it my shirt? my hair? my face? Not cool creeper!! I don’t think he’ll pull another stunt like this after our conversation.
I was walking home from work along N. Rampart. I was talking on my phone to my mother and munching on an apple. I noticed a younger guy walking slightly closer than normal to me along the same route. As we were the only people walking on the street I turned my head towards him, nodded and smiled in a greeting. He didn’t really respond. I continued walking and talking to my mother (from Canal St.). He was on my left side about 5ft away, slightly behind me. It was mid-afternoon with lots of traffic so I assumed it was just an uncomfortable coincidence that we happened to be walking down the same street at the same time. Then we reach my turn (St. Phillips) and I make my turn left and suddenly he was MUCH closer than I thought and I nearly bumped into him. I was startled and looked up quickly and said “sorry” and kept going. A few steps later I felt a hand grab my entire ass and dig into my anus and kind of hang on. I jumped and turned around there he was, smiling at me. He couldn’t have been more than 14. I yelled at him “what the fuck are you doing. What makes you think that is okay.” He got kind of pissed off and turned to leave but I was MAD! He couldn’t just get away with that! I rocketed my apple into the back of his head where the apple split open. -ooooh was he pissed. He turned around and I suddenly noticed how much bigger, stronger and faster he was than me. Shit. but I couldn’t give in and now he was pacing back and forth having picked up 1/2 of my apple and staring angrily at me so I just looked back. I knew if I looked away or tried to get away he would come after me for revenge and I would be done for. So I just looked back at him and asked him why he thought that type of behavior was acceptable. After a few more moments he turned and left. I called my 911 and reported it, then called my mom back and continued home. I saw him on the same street a few more times. He was always menacing.
It was a chilly St Louis Sunday evening in March and I had just finished up a meeting with some local LGBT activists at my favorite cafe, Coffee Cartel. One of the people I had met with offered me a lift home, but I said I was ok walking since my apartment was just a couple blocks away.
As I was crossing Lindell, a car full of high-school-age boys pulled up to the intersection and I heard them yell “Hey, whore! How much?” Since I’m unfortunately used to being holla’d at, I flipped them the bird and kept walking, but they just shouted “Yeah, whore! Stick that finger up my butt!”
I was too shocked to look back at them, so I never got their license plate number, but next time something like that happens, I’ll be sure to report them.
I was nine or ten. It was summer and a friend who lived behind my house had called to invite me to go to the pool with her family. I changed into my bathing suit (a one piece), put a towel and a few things in a backpack, and set off for their house. In order to get their I had to run down one hill, across a creek and some bike trails, and up another. There was a group of men on a bridge, luckily I didn’t have to go on it, but they saw me. They began yelling things like “Come on over here girl” among others. I ran to my friends house. I’d never run up that hill so hard. My friend’s mom (who saw it and made sure I was safe) reminded me that I needed to be careful, that because I looked older people didn’t realize how young I was. She called my mom that night and told her. When my asked me about it I cried half in anger, half in shame. I told my mom I wanted two really big dogs that would go with me everywhere, one on either side, so no one would ever mess with me again. I didn’t know I could HOLLABACK.