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In our modern, global society sexual abuse exists as the most colossus impediment to gender equality. Street harassment, in particular, is a human rights issue that it serves as a daily, tangible reminder of the disparity between male and female power and freedoms.
Street harassment is not something restricted to a single culture or one concentrated area of the world. A recent study concluded that street harassment affects 80% of women worldwide, one in five women in the UK and similar figures in the U.S.
Street harassment can be defined as any unwelcome sexual behavior, be it physical or verbal. Catcalling is street harassment. Unwanted sexual looks or gestures are street harassment. Whistling or winking is street harassment.
Street harassment primarily affects women and limits their access to public places in volumes inexperienced by the opposite sex.
Women are forced to change commuting routes, only go to places accompanied, change jobs, quit hobbies and even move neighborhoods in order to avoid further harassment. And even with such radical measures; there is no guaranteeing that sexual harassment will ever stop.
StopStreetHarassment defines the endemic as:
“An invisible problem.. Dismissed as being a “minor annoyance,” a “joke,” or the fault of the harassed person.. it’s a human rights violation that must be addressed”
One of the major misunderstandings with street harassment is that it only comes in physical form. Both men and women largely misapprehend this. Not all forms of abuse come in touching or groping; verbal street harassment is equally as destructive as physical harassment. Just words can be enough to exercise power over somebody.
Sexual comments about women’s clothing, anatomy, or looks, referring to women as “babe”, or “honey”, kissing sounds, howling, pressure for dates, whistling, cat calling and asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history are all forms of verbal sexual harassment.
Studies have shown that street harassment can have severely negative implications on the well-being of young adult women, some even going as far as to blame themselves or not leaving their homes in order to avoid it. Public transport is particularly ridden with street harassers since there is nowhere for women to escape to.
An innovative resistance project labeled ”Stop Telling Women to Smile” launched by Brooklyn based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is aimed at curtailing prevalent street harassment in Harlem, New York. Fazlalizadeh places portraits of women, defiant and impactful, in the very spaces where strangers have hounded her. She describes:
“The project is saying that street harassment is not okay. That feeling entitled to treat and speak to women any type of way, is not okay. That demanding a woman’s attention is not okay. That intruding on a woman’s space and thoughts is not okay. That women should be able to walk to the train, to the grocery store, to school – without having to cross the street to avoid the men that she sees already eyeing her as she approaches. That making women feel objectified, sexualized simply because they are women, is not okay”.
Fazlalizadeh’s street posters reflect a wider sentiment expressed by women all over the world that street harassment is simply not a compliment.
Among many things, street harassment is an inconvenience and frustration. Above all else; it is an infringement on women’s essential rights and a derailment of gender equality progression. Sweet Machine best explains this abuse of rights:
“If you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. Street harassment indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.”
For women who are dealing with a daily barrage of physical and/or verbal assault another key issue is at play; there is no telling who is a dangerous perpetrator.
As expressed in my article on Rape Culture in the Feminist Wire, our current milieu is a harrowing one; women are constantly victimized under a culture of physical, emotional and sexual terrorism. This constitutes a culture of rape that maintains an environment of sexual assault so that rape is viewed as normal, and even inevitable.
In this case, a rape culture does not allow for women to differentiate between dangerous and non-dangerous assailants since assault is so prevalent. Any male approaching you can be regarded as a threat, until proven otherwise. Women are forced to remain alert and on-guard, fearing the worst and discerning possible threats from street harassers. This undoubtedly exasperates the magnitude of street harassment.
Male collaboration is absolutely imperative in ending sexual harassment. This is not to say that women need male protection from street harassment — this would be a perpetuation of patriarchal ideals depicting women as helpless damsels and re-enforcing erroneous conceptions of masculinity.
Instead, I am calling for male allies: men who accept that street harassment are endemic and are willing to act on and educate others on this knowledge. Here are some examples male allies expressing their angst towards the problem:
“Harassment is never about complimenting women, and it never has been. You may respond, “But I’m not trying to bother her, just be complimentary.” In that case, see above; it doesn’t matter what your intent is, it matters how what you do is received by her. This can be hard for us as men to hear, but intent doesn’t matter in this case.”
Joe Vess, Former Director of Training at Men Can Stop Rape.
“As men, our silence is deafening and we continue to ignore the canary in the mine which says our community needs to deal with issues of gender and power. Until we see street harassment as the problem that it is, we’ll continue to live in our neighborhoods like the miner who labors in a mine with a dead canary, until it’s too late to get to safety.”
Dr. L’Heureux Dumi Lewis, Assistant Professor at the City College of New York.
Street harassment is ultimately a deplorable method at objectifying, sexualizing and trivializing women. There are many ways for you to act against street harassment.
Educate everyone around you on the importance of refraining from harassment and rally male and female peers to act against it. Sharing a story or joining anti-street harassment organizations is another imperative move towards raising awareness. We won’t end worldwide street harassment, but local initiatives have national impact and slowly but surely, we will erode the street harassment mentality.
What is Sexual Harassment? Facts and Outlines: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/whatissh.pdf
Stop StreetHarassment is a nonprofit organization dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/
Femme De LaRue: A powerful documentary on street harassment: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xsknaq_femme-de-la-rue-sexism-in-the-streets-of-brussels-english-subtitles_webcam
HollaBack is a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world: http://www.ihollaback.org/
Everyday Stranger Harassment and Women’s Objectification (2008) by KimberlyFairchild Laurie A. Rudman: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/KimberlyFairchildStreetHarassarticle.pdf
A man in a pickup with a female passenger honked and whistled at me as I waited to cross the street.
Exiting the commons when some man comes up behind and says “hey shawty, suck my dick?!”
A guy in my classroom at UB, is constantly on his laptop, with his hand down his pants. I even noticed two of the guys blushing in class, when they realized what he is doing. Nobody has said anything, because the professor is talking, and it makes me uncomfortable every Tuesday and Thursday in Park Hall.
(Not So) Blurred Lines
This song was one of my favorites this summer. I loved the beat. Sure, I had read the lyrics. I completely understood what the song was saying. A girl was saying ‘no’ to a guy’s sexual advances. However, because she was dancing with him and wanted to ‘hug’ him, the song says the girl is giving mixed signals–blurred lines. She’s a good girl, you see. Yet she’s an ‘animal’ and it’s in her ‘nature.’ Right. The lyrics proceed as this:
I know you want it. You’re a good girl. Can’t let it get past me. Gotta have it.
I even saw the video of the naked models being surrounded by predatory men, who are fully clothed, dancing. Robin Thicke, the singer, blows smoke into the model’s face and brushes her hair. You know, because, women are not really human. They are objects to be had and abused.
Okay, so I worked out to this song. It’s on my phone. I liked the beat. I laughed off the meaning because, well, I had never been in the situation. At least, I hadn’t been in that situation in a VERY long time. Anytime a man became too friendly, ‘no’ was usually enough for them to leave me alone. If not, I would call over a male friend and that would take care of the problem. This has not happened to me in such a long time, that I had lost a bit of my edge. I even listened to a song that I wouldn’t normally listen to because I had become complacent. I’m not a raging feminist (or maybe I am?) but I am not for women being treated solely as objects of a man’s sexual desires. All the women I have ever met, seen or known have been breathing, comprehending human beings.
Then I moved to the big city of Madrid and everything changed. If this can happen to me in a relatively ‘safe’ city, it can happen anywhere to anyone.I have had some very scary incidents since being here. None of them were because I was being careless or not aware of my surroundings. Nor did I do anything to provoke them yet I found myself in tense situations because of these so called ‘blurred lines’.
I will explain two that have happened to me personally. Let me also make the readers aware that these incidents happened in broad daylight with many people around; I guess you are never truly safe.
I was meeting some friends for drinks one day. It was a warm day and we all agreed it would be nice to share some sangria and tapas. So, I went to meet them. I went to the main metro station in Madrid called Sol. This is by far the busiest metro in Madrid. There were people everywhere, all scurrying to catch the next train. I walked down to Line 3 to catch the train myself. I was on the escalator down when a man on the escalators coming up waved at me and said, ‘Hello beautiful!’ in Spanish. The way he said it made me think he was familiar with me. When I glanced up, I didn’t know him. I thought he had mistaken me for a friend of his or someone he knew. So, I went on down to wait for the metro. Then I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around. It’s the man. I was standing against the wall and he proceeds to put a hand on either side of my head, pinning me to the wall. ‘Hello, my name is Juan. I like you a lot. You’re beautiful. Your body drives me crazy. Let’s go get a drink.’ He said this in quick succession, trying to grab my hand.
‘No, I am meeting friends and I have a boyfriend. I am not interested. Thanks,’ I replied. He shook his head.
‘You don’t understand, I like you VERY MUCH. Let’s get a drink.’
‘No, I don’t want to. Like I said, I have a boyfriend and am meeting friends.’ I had to lie about having a partner as I thought this would make him leave me alone. He grabs my arm and people are now starting to notice what is happening. My heart is beating quickly and I can feel the panic in the back of my throat. This man was around 6’3 and at least 220 pounds of muscle. I had to think quickly, so I blurted out, ‘I am going out tonight, let me take your number and I’ll call you and we will go out.’ If someone is crazy enough to pin me in broad daylight with hundreds of people walking about, I didn’t know what else he was capable of. He says, ‘Okay! Here…’ and tells me his number. I show him I am saving it. He bends down to try to kiss me. I duck. Mercifully, the train comes at that moment. I look around me and there are curious faces looking at me as if to ask, ‘What is going on?’ I jump on board quickly and mutter to myself, ‘Thanks for helping guys.’ Needless to say, I never called him and deleted the number. I was still shaky when I met up with my friends.
Then, this past week, when I was walking to pick up a Western Union transfer from my local post office (Correos), I came across two men seated on a bench. They made some typical remark ‘Hey beautiful! How are YOU doing today?’ I wasn’t feeling well because I had bronchitis and thus, I ignored them. This time, I had a fake wedding band on my hand. As I am walking, I hear footsteps and a bit of shuffling and whispering behind me. I hold my purse tighter and keep my head up. It’s broad daylight, again, with lots of people walking the streets. I glance behind me and it is the two guys from the bench. ‘Hey, gorgeous, come here. Talk with us!’ I keep walking. I think in my head ‘This cannot be happening again. I don’t even look nice and I’m sick.’ It was all I could do to get out of bed. Then as I stop to cross the street, the one named ‘Johnny’ came up to me. ‘I like you! You’re gorgeous. I love your body, honestly. You’re driving me wild. What’s your name? Where are you from?’ I say flatly, ‘I am married,’ and show my ring, ‘and I am not interested. Please leave me alone.’ He shakes his head and smiles, ‘No pasa nada, linda, I am married too! I still want to get to know you.’ I walk. His friend disappears but Johnny keeps walking along side of me, stating all the reasons I should get to know him. He’s a good guy, he works here legally, he’s a good lover, etc. I say nothing other than ‘I am not interested, leave me alone. I am meeting friends. I have a husband.’ Because I was going to pick up money, I start to become frightened again. This man will not leave me alone. I, again, have to think quickly. I see a cafe and had told him I was meeting friends. A lie, but I couldn’t tell him I was going to pick up money. I say to him, ‘Fine, Johnny, go to that cafe and get a pen and paper. I will take your number.’ He does so, leaving me with precious minutes to devise a plan. I walk up to a table of friendly people and explain my situation. They tell me not to worry, they will pretend to be my friends and they will make sure this man goes away. Johnny comes back with his piece of paper and I say, ‘These are my friends. I’m staying here.’ The people look at him without smiling. He smiles a bit and says, ‘Okay, see you later! Please call me beautiful!’
We watch him as he leaves. The one girl, Ana Rosa, tells me when has finally left and gives me a hug. She tells me I can stay with them if I want and drink a coffee. I stay and chit-chat with them, and eventually exchange numbers with the two girls. I tell them thank you so much for saving me and am on my way. I take the bus on the way back, so I don’t have to walk by those guys again.
These are two very real incidents that have happened to me. In both examples, I have clearly said ‘no.’ It wouldn’t matter if I was dressed in a dress cut down to my navel, if I said ‘no’, I mean ‘no.’ There are no blurred lines when it comes to a woman saying ‘no.’ If we do not want to your advances, pushing them will not do you any good. Anything that is not consensual is wrong. Sex without consent is rape. Pinning a scared woman against a wall is perverse and horrid. So, I disagree with blurred lines. The only way to know if she ‘wants it’ is to ask. She is not an ‘animal’ she is a human being. She is to be respected, not to be had. If she says ‘no’ then she means no. Needless to say, I no longer find the ‘Blurred Lines’ song by Robin Thicke funny or even entertaining. It is a degradation to all women who have been put in these types of situations.
This was from my personal travel blog: www.bridgetswanderlust.wordpress.com
Please check it the post and share on twitter, tumblr or on Facebook so we raise awareness and stop the harassment.
Saw a bit of a freak masturbating looking into bedroom windows of the uni dorms up Far Gosford Street. He had long dark hair down to his waist and really long nails. Also quite greasy.
This week Hollaback! was featured by Metro News, Greatists, Stop Street Harassment, The Seattle Times, Time Magazine, Ottawa Citizen, PRN Newser, Purposefully Scarred, The Post (Ohio University), Metro News and The New York Times Hollaback! took part in the Creative Time and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum presentation, Between the Door and the Street, a major work by the internationally celebrated artist Suzanne Lacy. Thousands of members of the public came out to wander among the stoops of Hollaback! and dozens of other organizations, to listen to what they were saying and form their own opinions on gender politics today – The New York Times blog and the Wall Street Journal covered the event.
In commemoration of Anti-Bullying Awareness Month, our ED, Emily May, spoke at Outten and Golden’s “The ABC’s of Bullying: From Academics and Business to the City Streets” on Tuesday. Emily’s interview for the book “How Will You Create Positive Change” was also available for free download for Kindle via Amazon earlier this week. Emily also attended a community meeting hosted by the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault about our priorities in addressing sexual violence over the next year and featured HollabackPhilly‘s ad campaign and Julie’s Draw the Line campaign.
Debjani, our Deputy Director, spoke on a panel on Tuesday hosted by Council Member Crowley and Assemblyman Miller for Domestic Violence Awareness month.
Here’s what the HOLLAs around the world have been up to:
Hollaback! Appalachian Ohio hosted a self-defense workshop and presented to a Cultural Diversity in Education class at Ohio University about grassroots activism and “teaching to transgress” social justice issues.
The letter is a partnered project with a handful of amazing organization including the Sexual Assault Network and the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre. The impressive Julie LaLonde of Hollaback Ottawa has been honored with a 2013 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case for “making a real difference in improving the lives of women and girls through her work to end sexual assault and sexual harassment.” Congrats, Julie!!
Hollaback! Boston hosted their first volunteer bystander intervention training, and trained 13 new volunteers! They also hosted their third Take Back The Bar event in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile tour stopped by and featured a few Hollaback Boston members her wheatpaste artwork, check it out! They also partnered with Elevate to include the issue of street harassment in conversations with Boston mayoral candidates. Hollaback! Boston and Hollaback! LA Site Leaders attended the #femfuture retreat at the Omega Leadership Institute.
Hollaback! Appalachian Ohio hosted a self-defense workshop this week and hosting a Halloween Photo-Booth event this Saturday. Participants will hold signs with slogans like, “My costume is not consent,” it’s great way to make a statement against street harassment during Halloween.
Whoa, what a week! HOLLA and out!
-The Hollaback! Team
I leave school around the same time that the boy’s football team heads to practice everyday. I’ve never had a problem before, but today I had a random guy run up behind me a slap my ass, and continued to run. The rest of the guys burst out laughing and cheered until I started yelling at them, even then they were still laughing while saying “oh, yeah no, that wasn’t right.” I asked for that guys name from the rest of the guys, and no one would tell me. I have no clue who did it, but I was just as hurt at the fact that out of tons of guys who were there, no one bothered to help me. No one stuck up for me. I just stormed off to my car. I didn’t know what else to do. If it happens again, hell will be raised.
I was on break from class and I walked with four other friends to a store down the street to grab some drinks. I fell behind and told them I’d catch up in a minute. I was walking by myself for literally about 60 seconds, and five cars in a row either had a driver or passenger who yelled an obscenity at me , honked at me, or made gestures at me. I dropped my phone and the fifth car (thankfully, the last one) stopped in the middle of the street. They were holding up traffic, but they didn’t care. It was worth it to them to harass me. They pulled over to the side of the road and kept taunting me and glancing at my breasts and butt, pointing at different parts of me while whispering to each other. They said they wouldn’t leave until I bent over and picked up my phone. I said “no” and told them to “f*** off”, but they were extremely persistent. My anxiety levels were too high and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I finally gave in. When I reached down to grab it, I looked up and they were intently staring down my shirt. I saw one of them pull out his phone and I was assuming he was about to take a picture, so I quickly stood up and starting yelling at them as loud as I could. They laughed at me, flipped me off, and sped away. This all happened in a matter of about a minute or two, but it felt like hours. Five cars in a row with none in between that I received harassment from…this is far to big of a problem and needs to end now.
Check out this video where two women turn the tables on street harassment, Holla’ing at men on the street. Katie, one of the writers of the video, says:
“We wanted to turn the tables and see how men would feel if we “holla-ed” at them! Our parody pulls from real life experience and we hope that the video brings attention to the inappropriateness of cat calling. It’s time for men to get a taste of their own medicine, but in a light-hearted, funny way (even though cat calling is a serious issue!)”
Check it out below!
What do you think?