On my way home from getting groceries after work today I was walking along a very busy street with one side being redone resulting in the erection of a janky, narrow two-lane temporary sidewalk. A man walked towards me innocuously and as we crossed paths he reached his hand out and cupped my breast. I stopped and the chicken cutlets in my grocery bag gently hit my thigh. I thought, did I imagine that?
I turned around and watched the man in the hooded sweater continue walking. The man had just touched my breast as if he were pushing the crosswalk button and now I was letting him walk away. But what could I do? It seemed the moment had passed. The barely perceivable moment of shame had passed and I was the only witness and no one would fight for me. I suddenly remembered the same feeling of helplessness mixed with fear flooding over me when I had been a student in New York my freshman year in 2009. I had been on my way to tutor at Tompkins square middle school on the east side of the notoriously shady Tompkins Square park and I had been texting on my blackberry half watching where I was walking. On a similarly deserted side street in a popular neighborhood, a man, jerked his arm into my breast sending my sad little blackberry flying out of my hand and onto the sidewalk. I stood there stupefied not knowing what to do. I even remember wondering how I could have provoked his fury. As I now watched the man who bore so many parallels to my faceless aggressor from the lower east side I realized very quickly that while they may have not changed, I had. Here I was in my law firm work clothes, I was grocery shopping, no longer mooching from Weinstein and Kimmel! I pivoted on my toe and began clop clop clopping in my kitten heels towards the faceless man who had just touched my breast. He glanced back and kept walking straight. I yelled after him “Pourquoi vous m’avez faites ça?” He began to pick up his pace. He was picking up his pace and now I was pursuing him, how rich! I yelled again, “Pourquoi vous m’avez faites ça?!” We turned off rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, out of the janky temporary sidewalk, and onto the heavily populated Boulevard de la Villette. My heels were not letting me catch up with him and I yelled a third time “Pourquoi vous m’avez faites ça!?” A young boy in a suit around my age, and a mother pushing a stroller with two little girls hooked to her waist looked at me, then at him, then kept walking. The man was speeding up and I could not catch him. I had spent a minute of my life chasing this coward down the street and with my thoughts boiling over and my limited French I could only think of one final succinct phrase to yell at him: “Vous êtes un lâche!”
I stopped and my chicken cutlets hit my thigh again. I was shaking badly, the adrenaline was rushing, but I was smiling. I turned around to walk back towards my apartment. I crossed the mother I had passed and she seemed to understand what had happened and asked me if everything was okay. I told her, Yes.
My Maman had always told me if there was danger, to go away from it. Her favorite anecdote is that of the safety lesson the plane stewardess gives the cabin before takeoff. Should there be a problem with the air pressure, the stewardess instructs you to first put on your mask, then and only then, may you help others. With my Maman’s blunt twist, the moral of the story is summarized as such: You can’t save anyone if you’re dead! So I apologize, Maman, for going towards the danger. But you see, the danger turned out to be a ruse. Admittedly, at the moment I pivoted I didn’t know what I would do. I had imagined so many times before, following other street-slights, crude looks and creepy words, “I will slap him so hard”…But this man was not in slapping distance. He was far away. I didn’t imagine I would run to catch him and start a fight. What provoked me to keep going was his reaction. He ran away. The moment I refused to be the victim and hand him the aggressor role I found him deflated of the initial danger he had posed to me. In fact, as he picked up his pace, I realized exactly what these faceless street aggressors are. Shameful cowards who believe their nearly imperceptible act will go unpunished. I have never been harassed by a pack of boys or men. I have only been shamed in silent incidents like this in which their often-complicated retelling seems to be completely imbalanced compared to the time and place in which they took to happen. Perhaps this is why they continue to occur.
In yelling after this man I called attention to myself and perhaps a normal Parisian would have never done this. But I called attention to him as well. I dragged the moment of shame to hang over both of us and as far as I’m concerned I no longer have anything to be ashamed for. For so many words used about this incident, I could have just as easily summed it up here: that piece of shit had no right to touch me. Not the first one on the lower east side and not this one in the 10eme arrondissement of Paris. The faceless man doesn’t have the right to touch you, and you weren’t dreaming. He does it because he thinks you wont act back. As if you ought to feel shame for being on the street and buying chicken cutlets for dinner. No. This is for my girls. The faceless creep is universal and he is not worthy to touch you. The only shame is in letting the moment pass.
I was walking home when a man pushed me into the wall and started kissing my neck and pulling at my clothes while his friends watched.
Was walking past a Toys R Us when a middle aged man in a truck yelled, “You definitely look like you’re going into the wrong toy store.”
On Tuesday morning, I was walking from my job to the bank (that is only three mins away by foot) to drop off my job’s deposit. This was 9 in the morning, and as I was walking, a man in his car pulled up to me and asked if I wanted to watch him “jerk off”. I was so shocked and upset and afraid, that I quickly yelled, “No! I’m calling the police!” Sadly I didn’t catch his license plate, but be careful out there! This can happen to anyone so please protect yourselves and use the buddy system.
We’re back with our HOLLA-Who series, profiling the amazing site leaders who take on street harassment in their local communities. In the HOLLA-Who series, we learn about what street harassment is like around the world, and what activists are doing today to push back and fight for the right to equal access to public spaces.
Today we’re talking with the amazing Lauren from Hollaback! Alberta (Canada). Hollaback! Alberta launched in 2010/2011 and has accomplished AMAZING work on the ground in Edmonton and throughout the province. Today we’re chatting with co-director Lauren.
Why did you start the Hollaback! site in Alberta in 2010 – & what inspired you to join on?
“I was sick of being silenced when I voiced my frustrations regarding street harassment. I knew of too many people who were harassed in public spaces and I felt their stories helped me speak out.“
What’s a HOLLA-fact about your city?
“On the first day of summer Edmonton enjoys 17 hours and three minutes of daylight. The sun rises around 5:00am and sets after 10:00pm.“
Say you’re the Queen for a day. What would you do to end street harassment?
“Make it mandatory for school curriculums to include proper consent education, inclusive sex ed, and discussions of mental health surrounding gender roles.“
What was your first experience with street harassment?
“Hard to say- around 12 years old I remember a guy calling me “sexy” from down the street. Around the same age I was at a public pool and had a random man grab my face try to kiss my cheek. Totally freaked me out!“
Given that you’ve had years to perfect it, what’s your signature Hollaback!?
“Totally depends on the situation.“
We’re all about the right to define yourself. What’s your Hollaback! on-the-ground style?
“Fluctuates with my mood but varies between casual gender-neutral to funky and femme.“
What’s your super-heroine power?
“The power to annihilate gender roles.“
Serious question time. Would you rather have a dragon or be a dragon?
“Have a dragon would be cool I guess… although alpacas are more my thing.“
What is your proudest HOLLA-Moment so far?
“Tough to pick just one- but in general it is the response & engagement from people in my community that make me proud of my City. There are so many organizations and municipal groups working with us to address street harassment.“
If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be?
“Treat others the way they wish to be treated.“
What are you excited about for 2015?
“A new project developing between Hollaback Alberta and the Edmonton Transit System!“
What inspires you in this work?
“My family, my beloved friends, and all the badass Hollaback! leaders around the world“
And finally, in the year 2020, street harassment will be…
“In the year 2020, street harassment will be an embarrassing act that rarely happens and is not accepted in society.“
A big thank you to Lauren, co-director of Hollaback! Alberta!
Holla and out!
I ran up to the corner store to grab a couple things. When I left the store it started raining a little bit so I was getting ready to start my jog home. As I left the corner store a man opened the door for me. So I thanked him for the kind gesture. I started to jog away when he shouted “Uh huh get it nice and wet for me!”
It’s been an exciting week here at the HQ. This week we welcomed three new interns for the summer: April, Eunie, and Julia. The interns are excited to be helping out with Hollaback!’s communications and programs, including HeartMob.
We filmed our final two vlogs of the series this week and will be releasing them soon! We stepped outside of the office this week to visit City Hall in New York to take the 6th Annual Father’s Day Pledge to End Gender Violence. Organized by CONNECT and Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, the participants pledged to end violence in our homes, schools and communities.
And here’s what Holla’s around the world have been up to:
We have our eye on the proposal of a new anti-catcalling law that could make street harassment punishable by fine. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. In the meantime, check out the work of Hollaback! Buenos Aires as they work to end street harassment in their city.
Hollaback! Alberta attended the first annual Women & Trans Festival at the 35th Edmonton Pride. It’s so awesome to have Hollaback! represent during such an important time for the rights of transgender people!
Hollaback! London will be co-hosting Holla::REV London in just less than two weeks! Join us on June 23rd to hear speakers and performers including Laura Bates, Emily May, representatives from Sex Worker Open University, Bisi Alimi, Susuana Antubam, Samayya Afzal, Bryony Beynon & Julia Gray, Sauna Youth and more!
Great job this week across the globe, team!
Holla and out!
–The Hollaback! Staff
saw this d-bag catcalling women as they passed by.
I was harassed by a man who followed me around Target while I was grocery shopping alone, who was trying to get my attention by following me and yelling at me in the store. He came up from behind me after following me down an aisle, grabbed my arm and tried to pull me around, and before he could do anther hunt else, I elbowed him and ran to the front of the store.
I’ve been sitting in a park, crying on a bench under a tree, for the good part of an hour. A young man a few blocks away did something that shouldn’t evoke this level of response in me. He made dog yapping noises at me. He was good, at first I thought it was actually an annoying Pomeranian. When I start to frown he said, “Come on, at least I got a smile out of you.”
I immeditately responded by telling him he didn’t, that he should never do that to anyone ever again, and how what he was doing wasn’t nice. It felt weak against his and his friends’ laughter. “Yeah but it was funny!” It was to them. “Hey babe I’m a bad boy!” – he shouted to me as I kept walking.
I was so irritated that a few moment later I walked back, to tell them how horrible it felt to have someone do that to you. I honestly didn’t think he knew. He had walked off, so I continued on a few blocks. What happened next I didn’t really understand. I began crying, stomach tense and short of breath. It was as if years of being called at and put into situations I really didn’t want to be in with my body were pouring out of me. My body, at times, had not felt like it was for me. It was for others to look at, to judge critically or to enjoy. They knew nothing of how it gave me scarlet fever once for a month, or how I was so grateful that it stayed strong as I led a rock climb for the first time in ages, just a week earlier. They didn’t know that I can dance, or hate running, or how yoga can be painful if you don’t do it regularly. They like the shape, the size, the color… These are such meaningless things to me, unless something’s out of reach.
I don’t know the best way to stop this invasive behavior. I feel very weak against it. I think slowly, personally, by responding as best I can to demoralize any street caller’s actions is the best route for me. The next time you find yourself commenting on an actresses’s weight or appearance when the situation really calls for her skill, remember the last time you were cat-called. The next time you wear something you don’t want to wear, to please others, remember to keep your own power. Your body is for you. It is for no one else.