Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia MO, Columbus, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, East Lansing, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Los Angeles, Muncie IN, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Plattsburgh, Richmond VA, San Francisco, Tucson, Twin Cities
Boston university students verbally harassed me. I am a trans girl and they were making fun if my Halloween costume calling me, “he and him.” They said I looked like Gene Simmons of KISS.
Walking down the street, two men shouted “You look good, baby!” at me.
I’m 27 now and these are few things that happened many years ago. One instance was more than 18 years ago and another happened about fourteen years ago. They’ve stuck with me and they still make me cry whenever I think of them.
The first instance happened on a Friday, I remember because my dad got paid that day and we (my mom, siblings, and I) were going to go grocery shopping at a shopping center a few minutes from our house. We were hungry so my mom took us to a McDonald’s in the shopping center and we sat in our car to eat before going into the grocery store. My mom was in the front seat and my sister and I were in the very back. A homeless man came up to our car and asked my mom for some money. She gave him some change and apologized saying that that was all that she had to give (we didn’t have very much money). He then angrily told her something in Spanish and my mom responded back to him and tried to roll up the window as fast as she could, but the homeless man threw the change at my mom before she could completely roll up the window. We were scared and my Mom was crying/upset. My mom then found the security guard that was supposed to be in front of the store and told him what happened and he said they called the police. We waited and waited in our car for what seemed like forever, but the police never came and we just went home. When we got home we told my dad and brothers what happened. I remember my sister and I telling them that we thought he asked our mom for some of our food before he threw the money. I now know what he said to my mom. She said that after she gave him the money and apologized he said, “then give me one of your daughters” I don’t remember when I found this out, but that incident still haunts/disgusts me to this day to the point where I will not go to that shopping center/area of the city anymore. It scared me so much that I won’t give homeless people money.The one time I gave someone a couple of dollars a few months ago, I had my brother give it to the man while I was in the car with the doors locked and the windows up.
The second time I was in junior high and walking home from school when it happened. I passed by an apartment building that was down the street from my house. The street was pretty lonely and there were construction workers on the roof that started saying things to me when I passed by. The word “chica” was used a lot in conjunction with the stupid “ch, ch” sound. I just ignored them and walked even faster then I was already walking just to get home as quickly as possible. I was to scared to tell my parents what happened at the time. I felt so disgusted and ashamed of what happened. Now I realize that I shouldn’t feel that way, those assholes should for acting the way they did.
Those things taught me that if something does happen, I’m going to do my damndest to fight back. Thank you for this site/movement and for listening.
I bartend, and one night a man entered who was chatting and flirting with me. He proceeds to offer, after I deny his offers to go out with him, fifty dollars to both my manager and the other bartender in exchange for me. Both were weirded out and decided I needed to leave. Upon leaving he decides to leave too and begins to follow me home. Thankfully my manager called me to alert me to the fact he was following me, but no woman should have to worry about that. I still see him at work sometimes.
I finally called the WMATA harassment hotline and reported the constant street harassment I’ve been receiving outside the New Carrolton Metro station, by the kiss-n-ride bus stop. It’s a gauntlet of leering, mouth-flapping assholes from the escalators to the crosswalk. I get on my best bitch-face, but it hardly ever helps.
The officer on the other line was very understanding, which eased my anxiety in calling. They took my complaint, told me they would be alerting their evening shift of the problem, and if I ever feel unsafe, if I call and let them know I’m on my way to the station, an officer will be placed outside. I asked if it would be possible to place some anti-harassment posters on the bus shelters, because if these guys are going to be standing around waiting for their buses, might as well educate themselves on how to (not) talk to women who just want to get home. My comment was acknowledged, but no affirmative was made.
Street harassment was a rude awakening for me. Much of my life, I had been very heavy, and while I experienced harassment going about my day to day life, it was mostly to bully or shame me about my weight, with the occasional spattering of comments on my shapely posterior or legs. It wasn’t very common, and I felt relatively safe walking around (though very insecure about my appearance).
Then I started losing weight. About 40lbs down, I started getting noticed more. The cat-calls increased in number and frequency. The “dayum gurl”s, the “hello sexy”s, didn’t seem so bad at the time. Low self-esteem and hunger for acceptance played a role in my tolerance. I stopped to talk to people, I was flattered, I was excited! When guys called out to me on the street I would respond positively. It quickly became uncomfortable. Walking home from the gym the day after Valentines 2011, I was stopped at a street corner by a group of men standing outside an apartment complex. I was happy to talk to them at first, about bicycling and life as mostly-pedestrians in the District. When I indicated I should continue home, the man who called to me originally began to try to get me to come inside. I politely declined, and in desperation, he offered me $500 to “keep him company”. I left quickly.
Two blocks later, I was stopped again by a different group of men, asking me to be their Valentines.
This was becoming a serious problem.
From then on, it never stopped being a problem. It was a cut that got infected. It’s now gangrenous and a constant force in my life.
Street harassment was a rude awakening. Over the course of 2010-2011, I lost 100lbs and had skin removal surgery. With every progressive step in my weight loss journey, the level of harassment I experienced continued to rise. Sometimes, when it gets bad, it makes me want to bury myself in boxes of pizza and tubs of iced cream and get so big I never have to leave the house again. But I can’t. I don’t want to let the harassment run my life, and I am certainly not going to let some dickbag who can’t keep his words/hands to himself ruin all the hard work I put into my weight loss and happiness I feel with my husband and our new home together.
It’ll be two years in September since my surgery. Street harassment colors my life outside the house like it never has before. My anxiety level has sky-rocketed. Anytime I leave the safety of my home, car, or office, I’m on guard, on alert. Walking by or through groups of men, I wonder if they’re going to say something. For a while, I thought it would be best to just ignore it. Keep walking, pretend I don’t hear them, because I didn’t want to confront them and face the possibility of physical assault. But just like playground bullies, silence gives them power. My shame and meekness gave them power. Because street harassment isn’t about whether they find you attractive or not, it’s about control, power, and dominance of women in public spaces. It’s a constant reminder that you don’t belong, that you are only there like a piece of meat to be examined and commented upon, like I’m there for their fucking eye-pleasure.
Having hardly experienced this prior to my weight loss, my tolerance for this disruption to my life and habits didn’t take very long to reach the point of confrontation. A few weeks ago, I began calling people out for their harassment using the simple phase “STOP HARASSING WOMEN”. I steeled myself and made it a point to fire back at anyone who thought it was okay to harass me. The anxiety is hard to deal with sometimes. I walk by and through strangers on the sidewalk and wonder if anyone is going to say something. I repeat the words in my head, and constantly reaffirm to myself that I will tell them off if they harass me. Someone walks by me and coughs, or clears their throat, or begins talking on the phone or to their neighbor and my heart jumps into my throat, only to settle when I realize what’s going on and leap again at the next person. It’s a rollercoaster and I want to get off it, right the fuck now.
Last night, I was harassed again leaving the metro. It was too dark to wear sunglasses, which I don whenever I can to avoid eye-contact. Judging by the number of men waiting for the bus, I considered walking through the kiss-n-ride to the sidewalk and avoiding the bus stop entirely. I told myself no, because I shouldn’t have to fear the bus stop. So I looked straight ahead towards the crosswalk and marched forward. I had almost made it through the gauntlet, past the first two bus shelters, rounding the corner, when someone decided to open their god damn mouth with a “oohhhh hey sexy” *leer*. So I told him off, “Stop harassing women!” He made a laugh, a derisive dismissal, so I continued. “It’s called street harassment. It’s unwanted sexual advances.” Was the only thing I could push out of my mouth as the heat filled my face and my heart threatened to choke me. He made a whatever and I continued, picking up the pace to the crosswalk.
He walked the same path. My worst fear- it looks like we’re neighbors. He walked into my community. I remained quiet and kept walking behind him. He would look over his shoulder to see if I was still there. Finally, he asks, “You live here?” In a confused way. When I affirmed, he apologized! I was.. shocked! I said OK and kept walking. He walked down the same hill I usually walk to get to my house, but still feeling pretty uncomfortable, I decided to walk one more street over and take that hill down instead. I was actually about to tweet that this guy apologized, holy shit guys, but then he yelled out as I walked away “Bye sexy!” and I wanted to bash my face repeatedly into a wall.
When I made it to the bottom of the hill, he was walking up the same block I live on. I waved at my neighbor next door and rushed into my house. I was safe. I was home. But all the joy and excitement from nailing the Extended Butterfly in pole class, the happy highs of my friends at the gym, had vanished. I moved from anxiety to rage, and ranted extensively about street harassment and rape culture to my husband.
I paced around angrily for a while. I showed my husband the Extended Butterfly, and ate dinner, still mad. By the end of dinner and the glass of wine, I was still angry, almost shaking, so I self-medicated. And I felt better by the end of the bowl.
But I shouldn’t have to do this. I shouldn’t have to fear walking from the metro, or from my office to the grocery store. I shouldn’t have to deal with the gauntlet that is the New Carrollton kiss-n-ride. No woman should. We deserve respect and to be left alone. Me leaving my house ≠ inviting strangers to comment on my body and make me feel uncomfortable.
The WMATA Stop Harassment campaign is a good start. I hope the transit authority takes my request to put the posters in the bus shelters seriously. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I decided to write the First Lady to see if she can lend a voice to this pervasive problem. It’s a pie in the sky that she may read my letter, but street harassment needs to become a regular part of our national conversation on respecting women’s autonomy.
She may never read my letter. The guys I tell to stop harassing me may continue to dismiss me. WMATA may never put up those posters in the bus shelter. But I, for one, refuse to be silent about harassment. I will keep telling men to stop harassing women, though I fear violent retaliation. Because silence helps no one.
Maybe if more people, men and women alike, speak up against street harassment, the cultural attitude will change. If children and teens are taught about harassment and consent, if women, men, the media, celebrities and people in authority decry street harassment and make it socially unacceptable, things will change.
Change is slow. But like my husband says – culture and the status-quo is a very large boat to turn around. Progress is slow, but the great thing about large boats turning is that once it starts to turn, it’s very hard to push it back around.
Today is my birthday. I am 29 years old. I will stand up to street harassment. Maybe if I keep standing, and keep fighting, and others keep fighting, we can turn this culture boat around so everyone can walk home without fear of harassment.
I was getting pizza with my friends and this drunk sorority BU girl in her early 20′s intentionally called me, “Sir,” when I am clearly not a sir. I am a trans girl and the comment really bothered me. I responded, “GIRL IN THE PURPLE SHIRT, WHEN YOU MAKE TRANSPHOBIC COMMENTS, THAT’S HARASSMENT. DON’T DO IT.” My friends backed me up and also called her out. She seemed embarrassed afterwards.
I was 18 at the time, and I was helping out a friend with her car wash to raise funds for a trip to North Africa by holding up a sign at the end of the block asking people to stop by. An elderly man stopped, and I walked up to his car window to talk to him.
He asked me, “How much?” I thought he was asking how much the car wash cost, and I responded that it was free but donations were encouraged. He added, “No, how much for you?” I was shocked, and all I could respond was, “I’m not for sale, so maybe you should leave.” He just leered and drove away. I was afraid he might come back, but I didn’t tell anyone about it. It frightened me that he didn’t seem to care how old I was; for all he knew I was underage.
BY SAMUEL CARTER AND EMILY MAY
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last installment in our Women’s History Month series of posts highlighing our living history. As our history is still in progress, we hope you’ll give us feedback so we can strengthen our work. These posts are also cross-posted on Feministing.com.
Any advocacy nonprofit can tell you that you must continually work to maintain energy and accrue wins to stay in business. But movements must also continually modify strategies and change courses. The Hollaback! that exists today will more than likely look dramatically different than the Hollaback! of two, five, or even ten years from now. And the leadership of the organization will have to adapt quickly to keep up.
Movements start by people sharing their stories. This part is usually the easiest. It brings people who typically felt isolated in their experience and helps to build collective dissent to social problems that are normalized.
The sexual violence movement has done a great job with using story-telling for social change. “Take back the Night” marches—which started in the 1970s as a way for people to publicly share their stories of sexual violence in a supportive environment—have spread like wildfire to campuses across the United States, bringing tremendous energy to the movement. And like Hollaback!, the workplace harassment movement also was inspired by a powerful narrative.
In 1975 in Ithaca, New York, Carmita Woods, a 44 year-old administrative assistant at Cornell, quit her job after becoming physically sick from the long-term stress of fighting off sexual advances. The perpetrator was a famous Nobel prize winner. So famous in fact, that his name is omitted from all accounts of incidents. After being turned down for unemployment, Carmita was outraged and found her way to a community-oriented women’s project on campus. They decided to hold a public speak out in her honor.
Carmita and the organizers, Karen Sauvigne and Susan Meyer, expected maybe a handful of women to show up. You can imagine their surprise when 275 women came to the speak-out. Through their tears and anger, attendees described work place stories of being teased, grabbed, propositioned and fired. Organizers Karen Sauvigne and Susan Meyer went on to found the Working Women’s Institute, which has been credited by many in the movement to end gender-based violence for coining the term sexual harassment.
Like with street harassment, the problem was widespread enough to garner attention from policymakers pretty quickly out of the starting gate. In 1975, Eleanor Holmes Norton, then the chair of the NYC Commission on Human Rights was holding hearings on women and work. Working Women’s Institute staff scheduled to testify about sexual harassment with great trepidation fearing they would be greeted with skepticism and ridicule. However, Chairperson Norton treated the issue with dignity and great seriousness.
But hearings alone didn’t do the trick. According to KC Wagner, the former counseling director of the Working Women’s Institute, research was the tipping point for the workplace harassment movement. “It shifted the conversation from sexual harassment as experience of the ‘hypersensitive female’ to sexual harassment as part of ‘what it meant to be a women in the workplace.’” Research changed the conversation by putting hard data behind individual stories.
This is key—because efforts to consistently minimize the importance sexual harassment have dominated the conversation with shocking power. Off-handed comments like, “oh, he just thought you were pretty,” “calm down,” or “relax, he didn’t touch you,” silence victims by making them think that their emotions are irrational. On the nonprofit side of the equation we hear, “I understand that street harassment isn’t OK, but is it really the biggest problem that we face?”
We aren’t the first ones to hear this. During the women’s suffrage movement, people said, “Well if you don’t like the way your husband votes you shouldn’t have married him!” Not so long ago, segregation was “just they way things are.”
Once the stories are being told and the decentralized leadership base is underway—the next steps are more tactical. Oftentimes, although not always, research and thought leadership start to come into play, and pave the way for policy initiatives. Then after many years of work—there is an Anita Hill or Rosa Parks moment that penetrates the mainstream so deeply as to forever change culture.
BY SAMUEL CARTER AND EMILY MAY
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth installment in our Women’s History Month series of posts highlighing our living history. As our history is still in progress, we hope you’ll give us feedback so we can strengthen our work. The next post will be released tomorrow, stay tuned. These posts are also cross-posted on Feministing.com.
From the beginning, Hollaback! set forth a bold vision:
“Whether you’re commuting, lunching, partying, dancing, walking, chilling, drinking, or sunning, Hollaback! believes you have the right to feel safe, confident, and sexy, without being the object of some turd’s fantasy.”
And then when we transitioned from a blog to a nonprofit, the negative feedback came dribbling in. “The right to be sexy? I mean, is that really a right?” or “Turd? Your call to action includes the word turd?” Interestingly “turd” was chosen after a long debate over was the most gender-neutral but still empowering way to describe a harasser. “Jerk” implied a man, “crazy person” implied mental illness, but “turd” didn’t imply a thing. Except, well, turds.
And so we thought about it – long and hard. And although we agreed our tagline needed to be shorter, we didn’t agree with the attacks on our vision. Because for everyone who hesitated because we were doing it unconventionally—there many, many more with whom this fresh approach resonated.
When we first turned Hollaback! into a nonprofit, we thought we could get away with our marketing plan consisting of a logo and a press release or two. We turned to our friend Clara Flikstein, a marketing strategist, for help on the logo front. Apparently, a logo isn’t just a logo. A logo needs a target audience. A logo needs a brand. A logo needs a vision.
We had watched leaders like Martin Luther King and Gloria Steinum enough to know the power of a vision. Simon Snek describes this vision as the “WHY?” in his TED talk. Snek argues that there are three ways to describe a brand: the what, the how, and the why. He uses Apple as an example. The “what” is computers, iPhones, and other electronics and software. The “how” is beautiful, intelligent, design. And they “why” is Apple’s tagline, “think different.” Snek argues that when we buy Apple, we always rationalize it with “I needed a new computer” or, “it was pretty,” but that’s not why we actually bought it. We bought it because we wanted to be part of a growing creative class—because we wanted to “think different.”
Hollaback! was about the right to be who you are, no matter who you are. It’s about the right to be a girl or to be gay. It’s about the right to be a hipster or a soccer mom. It’s about the right to be happy or to be sad. Hollaback! is about the right to be exactly who you are in public space, and to never have to apologize for it or made to feel unsafe.
With our why statement out of the way we moved onto target audience. This should be easy, right? Emily quickly responded “everybody.” Clara said no. That “everybody wasn’t a target audience. Fine: “women and LGBTQ individuals.” “Nope, try again,” Clara said. “Ummm… women and LGBTQ individuals?” I responded. Clara said I couldn’t pick a target population that was over half the world’s population. We didn’t have the budget for it, and, “besides,” she said, “if you try and speak to everyone you will speak to no one.” We set the target to women and LGBTQ individuals between the ages of 16-30.
We figured if we were going to piss people off, we might as well do it with intent. So “a culture of badass” became one of our core organizational values: “We believe that everyone has a right to be their most badass self, and that the movement to end street harassment will be led like all the other movements that have come before it: by badasses who redefine the status quo ‘rules’ and create revolution. We embrace bold ideas and encourage risk-taking. We aren’t afraid of our own individual strengths and we aren’t afraid to use our collective power to make the world a better place.”
A core question lingered for me: what would a world look like without street harassment? Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech” certainly answered this question for the civil rights area – and his answer was so compelling that it still gives us chills today. But what was our answer for the movement to end street harassment? It’s so hard to talk about what a world without street harassment would look like without talking about street harassment. The only answers that we could come up with would start with “there would be no…” groping, flashing, comments, gestures, fill-in-the blank. That stuff is fine, but what would a world without street harassment make possible?
On Emily’s way to work every morning, two men would say “good morning.” At first, she was afraid that even something as simple as “good morning” would escalate, as it had many times for her in the past. So she ignored them. They persisted, and after a couple weeks, she started to hesitantly nod, secretly wishing they would just stop. Another week goes by and Emily quietly responded, “good morning” back to one of the men. He smiled. And then the most amazing thing happened: nothing.
So the next morning, Emily respond with “good morning” a little more confidently. Still, she’s safe. She tries it with the other guy. Still safe. Emily now says good morning to them every morning, and they are the nicest guys. They make her feel safe in her neighborhood, but it’s sad that she was trained by past experiences to ignore them. And she’s not the only one. Hollaback! shows there are thousands of women who thought “good morning” was just too much in the context of these violent streets.
And as sad as this story is, it is also an opportunity for vision. Those men reminded us that in a world without street harassment, good morning will never mean anything other than good morning. And that this simple phrase would re-unite communities driven apart by fear. Under the safe umbrella of “good morning,” children will be able to play freely in the streets, and the nice guys will come out of the woodwork. Silenced by a fear of being “one of those guys,” they will be able to say things like “you look nice today,” and their compliments will be just that: compliments.
If you don’t give people hope, a promise of a better world, they will stop working for change. And we’re not talking about something that easy to fix here. In fact, street harassment has existed since the advent of streets and its long been deemed hopeless. It’s our job to turn that conversation around, and to make people believe that the social issues formally known as “impossible” are in fact very possible. After all, culture changes every day. In the past 60 years the United States has gone from a country where people of color drink from different water foundations to a country were we’ve got our first black president.
Now that path wasn’t easy. What stood in during those 60 years was the hard work of committed activists and visionaries working day in and day out to make that dream a reality. But the point is: they did it. And we too can tackle stubborn old social issues. But we first have to give people hope.
That’s why we made one of our values: Making the impossible possible. In the words of Clara, “When I walk down the street and some guy is trying to get me to sign a petition – I think to myself ‘I’ve got ten things wrong with my life, do you really need to tell me about number eleven?’ With a cloud of messages in the world, I don’t want to hear what’s wrong. I know what’s wrong. I want to hear what’s possible.”