Two young guys on a train in Boston, MA. They’re probably drunk, we’re probably heading from the same baseball game. They’ve been hitting on/sexually harassing some college-age girls on the same train car as me without getting any responses.
Next they start glancing over towards me, a butch woman with short hair, and I overhear one of them mutter about my haircut. The other speculates whether I’m a man or a woman. Then the first starts asking “are you a lesbian” first quietly, then a little louder and again, a little louder. Like he’s trying to poke me, force me to react.
I stay silent and plan what to do or say next. I estimate how drunk they are, how heavy they look, and whether I could shove one enough to knock him down if I needed to. My heart’s pounding and I realize this is the third time in as many weeks I’ve faced harassment or derogatory speech for being visibly gay. At the next stop, the guys get off the train and I am relieved, but still angry. I decide that when I get home, I will post this on Hollaback and hopefully my story might help others, or at least make me feel less helpless.
BY EMILY MAY
As I write this, I am sitting on a plane heading back from my trip to Cairo, Egypt, where I was at the UN’s Safe Cities conference. The Safe Cities initiative is working to establish a model to address street harassment and gender-based violence in public space in 5 cities throughout the world using a mix of research, evaluation, media advocacy, policy change, and community engagement. Their concept is that they don’t just want to respond to street harassment, they want to prevent it all together.
I’m not going to lie here – being at a conference exclusively designed to address gender-based violence in public space was pretty dreamy. When we started Hollaback! we’d never heard the term street harassment, and in our search to call it something more legitimate than catcalling, we thought we’d invented the term. We didn’t (the term has been around since 1981, and activists have been working on the issue since the 1920s), but mainstream conversation on street harassment was virtually nonexistent.
Being in a room with over 100 UNWomen staff talking about street harassment, as a legitimate –and solvable – problem made me feel like I was home. It could have only been made better by having our site leaders in the room, but since it was just me this time, I want to share with you some of the initial findings of the scoping studies that local UNWomen sites did to target the problem in their cities:
This research is preliminary, as they are still in year one of their five year plan, but I have high hopes for this initiative. Street harassment is poised to be the next big women’s issue of the coming decade, and these projects will be international models for what is possible.
BY EMILY MAY
I’ve been in Cairo, Egypt this week at the UNWomen Safe Cities conference – and what a week it’s been. There will be more blogging about it tomorrow when I jump on the plane, but in these final hours of the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign I wanted to tell you one last story: my story.
We’ve been sending personal responses to all our donors thanking them, and this reply really struck a cord with us. The writer anonymously agreed to share it with us.
Thank YOU for everything you do. I only wish I could contribute more. I live in New York City and when I was working in an office I would get harassed almost every day going to or from work. Now I’m a freelance writer and I work from home so I encounter it less on the street but have started experiencing truly frightening things in bars. In the last few weeks, I had a man walk in on me in a bathroom stall (the lock was apparently broken) in an empty women’s bathroom, and just stand there and stare at me for a good ten seconds. He didn’t say anything or act surprised that he’d walked in on me or that he was in the wrong bathroom, and then he just calmly left. A week later, I was at another bar with all male friends and a guy who was alone at the bar, only about five feet away from me, was turning around to look at me every 30 seconds. Sometimes he’d turn his chair around completely and stare for a solid five minutes and listen to what I was saying as though he was in the conversation. When I took my phone out at one point to check my texts and Facebook and such, he took his phone out and pointed it directly at mine, so that it was only like two feet away, and then immediately spun his chair back around as soon as I put my phone away. (That was one of the strangest things and really scared me.) He was completely undeterred by me and all of my friends and my very angry boyfriend giving him nasty looks, and he did all of this for over an hour until I was so uncomfortable that I had stopped talking completely because I didn’t want him listening to me and didn’t want to leave the bar for fear of him following me anywhere, even if I was with other people. I’ve lived in cities before, but have never experienced anything like this, or the level and frequency of street harassment that occurs in New York. I lived in Baltimore for college for four years. I was harassed on the street ONCE, and another man sitting near him got up and started yelling at him, “How dare you speak to her that way?! Have some respect!” So it actually ended up being a rather endearing experience. I’m constantly harassed in New York, always in front of plenty of people, and no one has ever come to my defense here. Not that I can’t fight my own battles, but the acknowledgment of others who witness it that it is not okay would be nice. (What a cruel joke it is that I pay SO much more money to live here than other places and I’m not even treated like a human being when I walk around the city.)
Sorry for venting all of this to you completely unsolicited. I just really hope you know how important this is to so many of us. If you ever have those days that are frustrating or hopeless, we appreciate what you do so much.
We are so close! With only one day to go (39 hours to be exact), we still need to raise a little over $5,000. The flood of supporters that have come through has been truly incredible, and we are so grateful. Just yesterday we raised over $6,000 from over 50 people. If we do it again today we’ll meet our goal. Do it on Thursday and we’ll exceed our goal.
To our supporters: thank so much for getting us this far, and let’s keep this campaign going through the final stretch. Be sure to let your friends and family know about the campaign if you haven’t already, and most importantly, thanks for having our backs. You know we’ve got yours too.
I’ve been scared to drive ever since I was little. So when I announced at the beginning of the spring of 2011 that I was going to get my driver’s license, my friends and family were in disbelief. Imagine their surprise a few months later when at the wonderful age of 23 I proudly showed off my official license.
The first time I drove with my older sister in the car, I pulled up to a stop light next to a black SUV. An ordinary enough occurrence, but when I looked over and saw four boys leaning out of the SUV and making jack-off and cunnilingus gestures at us. I was absolutely stunned at their lack of respect. So stunned in fact, that I unknowingly switched lanes once the light turned green and cut off the person in the red car behind the black SUV full of jerks. The boys in the SUV pointed and laughed out of their windows as the guy in the red car honked mercilessly at me. My sister started screaming at me, saying that she shouldn’t have let me drive. I told her about how stunned I was with the guys making rude gestures at me, and her only response was:
“You’re going to have to get used to it. Guys do that to cute girls.”
I drove the rest of the trip in silence. I don’t want to ‘get used to it’ and I don’t think it’s fair that women have to add one more thing to worry about on the road.
To help build a world where Sara doesn’t have to “get used to it,” donate here to support our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign.
Rare are summer days in Houston when the weather cools from the oppressively swampy to merely sultry. Whenever such an opportunity presents itself, few would blame me for wanting to slip out of my desk and into the sunshine. I didn’t take a lunch break, anyways. Nobody would mind if I ran to the bookstore for a metaphorical minute.
As I walk along Main Street, between its intersections with Lamar and Dallas, a stranger saunters up to me. His body now merely millimeters from mine, he demands, “Let me pick you up and carry you home. I have to carry you and take you home with me right now.” Loud enough for a 5-person band of onlookers to start quietly paying attention.
I panic. “GO FUCK YOURSELF!” Not the most mature of reactions, but fear and a desire to intimidate preclude creativity. Our audience continues staring.
He shrinks back, raising his volume and desperately whining, “But I have to do SOMETHING to you! I need to take you back to my home and do something. Let me carry you home and we’ll talk about this.”
“GO! FUCK! YOURSELF!” Finally, the man jerks his head away and turns to walk off in the other direction. My voice transcends my meager frame. Gives me power. Authority. A strength beyond whatever it is I’m bench pressing these days. “I AM NOT A PIECE OF MEAT, SIR!” rockets towards his back. Cliché to be certain, and not my proudest moment. But it gets the point across succinctly. A glare shot at the throng transfixed by our encounter. Lips pressed tightly into themselves. Eyes narrowed to nothing more than paper cuts, albeit obscured by prescription sunglasses.
They look away. Huffy. Bored. One man mutters, “Such language…”
Humiliation. An overarching sensation of dehumanization prickles my internals and externals alike. Saline stings the backs of my eyelids. A quaking, shaking blancmange of a thoroughly ashamed, embarrassed and just plain angry young woman. Deliberate encroachment onto my personal space, overtures of sexual violence and a complete lack of disrespect for my autonomy, agency and consent…and they take offense at the language I use to convey my flashpoint rage! He and I provided them with the day’s sensational entertainment, not a pathetic tableau of harassment. I question whether or not their apathy would have finally dissolved had this horrid man attempted to genuinely hurt me.
And I am incredibly fortunate he intended to intimidate more than actually injure, but all the same there exists no compelling justification for his actions (sorry, victim-blamers, but I was wearing a loose-fitting Muppets t-shirt and even more comfortable jeans that day). Nor those who saw fit to treat us as free, live theatre. Their silence gave this man permission to treat another woman with such a callous dismissal of her independence. Their chiding my self-defense enabled yet another incident of public harassment and verbal assault to end up an exercise in shaming the recipient. Of neglecting to change the rhetoric of gender-based violence.
But hey! It only takes something as easy and minor as the complete overhaul of societal perceptions towards street harassment, sexual assault and rape to reverse this attitude! Neither I nor anyone else deserves to inhabit a world where something simple like running to pick up a copy The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks ends up a disheartening lesson in how Americans react when confronted with very public verbal and physical harassment. Public places belong to the public, not just those intending to badger, bully or brutalize the innocent. And that is why those of us with stories to tell – all narratives, be they victim, bystander or a loved one hearing about everything later in the day – must ensure the populace learns of them. Education, not dressing differently or agoraphobia or constantly looking over your shoulder, remains just about the only truly effective, sustainable weapon in our stash.
What? Hollaback NYC is inviting community members and organizations to take a stand against street sexual harassment. For too long, women and girls have been victims of sexual harassment, assault, rape, socio-economic and political violence…. and silence has been the response in many of our communities. During these hot summer days, many look to affirm their “power” through constant street sexual harassment and inappropriate remarks made to women and young girls… If street harassment is “okay,” then other forms of violence are okay. Hollaback says “Enough is enough! It is not okay!”
It is our right to never let anyone make us feel any less than our confident and badass self, so on Friday, July 8th we will be sharing strength, looking to unite forces with community members and organizations to encourage women and girls to…. Hollaback!
Join us! There will be music and speakers….
When? Friday, July 8th, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.
It is time for community members and organizations to build unity and strength to create safer streets, where our women and men of all ages can walk safely and feel free of any type of harassment.
We’ve raised $11,355 and we’ve got over $13,000 to go in only 5 days. Do you have our back? Of course you do! So keep supporting us by asking friends and family to donate. And if you haven’t donated yet – do it now! Your donation will be matched by our generous board of directors.
Here’s a sample letter to send to your loved ones:
Dear Friends and Family,
I’m contacting you today because of an effort I truly believe deserves your support. Hollaback! is an international movement to end street harassment (sexual harassment in public spaces). Over the past year, this tiny non-profit has organized volunteer activists in 24 cities in 10 countries – to work to end street harassment within their own communities. Though street harassment is the most common form of violence experienced in women’s lives, Hollaback! is one of the only efforts to prevent street harassment.
A guy in a white car: The ubiquitous ‘hey baby,’ something else I couldn’t make out, a jacking off gesture.
To show Susannah you’ve got her back, please make a generous donation to our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign. Only 5 days until the campaign ends! And your donation will be matched by our generous board of directors.