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I always wanted to be the progressive man— strong enough to open all of the pickle jars yet sensitive enough to cry during Toy’s Story 3. I joined the Men against Patriarchy group on my college campus, attended panels about the experiences of women, was one of two men in my Feminist Psychology of Women class, and wrote my senior thesis on the destructive properties of Black heterosexual masculinity in American society. By any definition, I was on track to become an ally, or at least a man that feminists love.
However, social change cannot occur without action. Even though I have attended panel and read books, I have not consistently used my power to support the equity of women. I have sat silently while witnessing sexual assault in public in the name of sustaining the code of heterosexual men. Where do I even start? Before chaining myself to abortion clinics or fighting suspected aggressors on the street, I needed to identify how I contribute to our patriarchy.
Around this time of introspection, the infamous “10 hours walking around NYC as a woman” captured the attention of millions. Women effectively carved space for productive dialogue by sharing their personal encounters with street harassment. Although the video has its flaws—it ignored the racial and socioeconomic implications of framing white women as the victim and lower class men of color as the perpetrator—it illuminated a stark contrast between my experience and those of millions of women interacting with public space in New York City [NYC]. It further proved that headphones, novels, cellphones, “bitch faces”, and even significant others are no match for the male need to express admiration for physical beauty. I am guilty of this as well, constantly thinking of clever ways to interrupt the morning commute of attractive women across NYC.
Recognizing my participation, I wanted to reverse my Pavlovian response to seeing a “beautiful” woman; how could I stop salivating long enough to notice that women are more than their beauty? Brainstorming with a close friend about this problem, I suggested doing a social experiment, in which I would document how often I referenced or thought about the physical appearance of women for seven days. She pushed back, suggesting that I make it public and attach a financial stipulation. Together, we transformed this desire to change into a tangible goal.
For one month, I would track any thoughts or references about a woman’s physical appearance, donating $1 to an organization fighting against the effects of street harassment and violence. For accountability, I created a mobile spreadsheet for consistent tracking, enlisted several friends to check on me, and announced the challenge to my Facebook friends. Instead of growing my mustache for Movember, I decided to spend my month examining a large part of my masculine identity and checking my male privilege. November felt like the longest month of my life. From post-Halloween photos, cologne advertisements, alcohol commercials, food commercials, music videos, book covers, bartenders, cashiers, mothers, daughters; I found myself throwing money away. I second-guessed every word to make sure I created genderless conversations. Although difficult, it made me realize the importance of preserving another person’s humanity. Everyone is fighting for acceptance based on his/her character rather than physical appearance. It made me work harder to connect with and learn about the values of others. It made me seek out the experiences and personal stories about harassment and the concept of beauty. At the end of the month, I had made 95 references or thoughts. I decided to round up to 100 and split the money between Safe Horizon, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, and Hollaback!, given each organization’s role in supporting survivors of sexual harassment and assault.
Even though the month is over and the financial stipulations are gone, this work is not done. Although my eyes have been opened recently, I know that women have been grappling with these concepts for centuries. As a man, it is time for me to start listening and to stand behind those who have been on the front line all along.
As you finish reading this post, know that this challenge is for you. It is everyone’s duty to assess his/her participation in the system. This challenge may not be as trendy as ice water buckets, but know that the consequences are just as jarring. If we do not call for change, the rights and safety of women will continue to depend on the benevolence of a man.
New York City, NY (15th December, 2014) – Two years ago, subway passenger Jasheem Smiley watched a man enter the subway, sit down next to a sleeping woman, put his hand up her skirt, and assault her. Smiley told The Gothamist “…When he started touching her that’s when I turned my camera on. My jaw dropped. I had never seen anything like this before.” The film went viral, however, despite the virality of the story, the woman in the video remained anonymous, until now. Today Elisa Lopez is coming forward with this video (also embedded below) telling her side of the story.
Lopez says, “My goal is to bring attention to how dangerous it is to be a bystander. I just want to tell my side of the story because all anyone saw was a drunken-skirt-wearing-Latina who ‘shouldn’t sleep on the train.’ I was a human being that was violated and no one bothered to intervene.”
The perpetrator is still at large, but today, Lopez has broken her silence and come forward with her account. She shares her story not only of what it was like to come to terms with her assault, but to have to contend with the eruption of media coverage that resulted in Smiley releasing his recording. Lopez didn’t know she had been assaulted until she saw the media explosion over the recording.
Lopez concludes the video to thank “anyone who has ever told their story because it gave me the strength to tell mine.” Hollaback!, the anti-street harassment organization mentioned at the end of the video, has collected over 8,000 stories of street harassment since their launch in 2005. Hollaback! has been working with Lopez over the past six months.
Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!, says, “What Elisa has done today in sharing her story is so powerful. We hear her, we believe her, and we are working alongside her to stand up to the harassment and assault so many New Yorkers face on a daily basis. While Elisa’s story is shocking, it is not unique. We all need to take a stand against street harassment and assault and work to make our streets safer for everyone.”
If you recognize Lopez’s assaulter, please contact Crimestoppers at 1-800-577-tips.
Elisa, thank you for your courage in coming forward to share your story. Hollaback Vegas supports you!
You can watch Elisa’s video below. **Trigger Warning** Sexual Assault
Happy Friday Hollaback!’ers!
Hollaback! sites around the world have been busy with fundraising, launching and panels.
A huge thank you for the enormous progress we have made on survey entries. Remember, the last day to take the survey is December 15th! So now more than ever, we need you to spend the word for the final push.
Also, Hollaback! embarked on it’s End of Year Campaign with the ambitious goal of raising $15,000 by December 31st. The funds from this campaign are part of what makes it possible for us to train and launch new sites free of cost! With every $500 we raise, we are wheat pasting elementary school student anti-street harassment art work and sharing the photos on Twitter and Facebook. Please feel free to share and re-tweet these.
New Hollaback! sites are launching left and right, and with that is an increase in press attention.
Hollaback! New Orleans was highlighted in WGNO ABC and in the Uptown Messenger. They also hosted a launch party at NOLA Brewing Company. During the party, donations were collected to benefit the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children, a local non-profit that offers provides counseling to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and stalking, as well as shelter and legal information and advocacy. Metro Center also shared information about the services they offer. Party-goers shared their definitions and experiences of harassment and took home “Creeper Cards,” cards to hand to harassers as a passive yet direct response.
Hollaback! Las Vegas was in the Las Vegas Review Journal. From the Las Vegas main page: “We kicked off the movement to end street harassment in the Las Vegas community over this past weekend by having a booth downtown at First Friday on December 5th, and celebrating with a launch party at The Gay and Lesbian Community Center on Saturday the 6th. We spent the launch party discussing the issue of street harassment here in Las Vegas, sharing stories, doing interviews, and decorating superhero capes!”
Great job this week team!
HOLLA and out!
– The Hollaback! Staff
This Friday afternoon whilst trying to cross the road outside my street, a white van slowed down and stopped in the middle of the road in front of me to whistled at me and shouted slurs like ‘sexy’ and ‘hello love’. When I responded with a grimace because I felt offended by these slurs, I was cursed at by them, calling me ‘pussy’ and a ‘bitch’. I felt embarrassed, unsafe and vunerable, and this is the road where I live.
As a student, I commute everyday through public jeepneys here in the Philippines. Considering that jeepneys are open vehicles, people outside are able to see the passengers inside. Every single day, I get to encounter a few men giving me insulting signals or whistling at me whenever I’m inside the jeepney. I usually just ignore them, although the first time I experienced it I got really scared and uncomfortable. But this one time really struck me that even the littlest types of harassment such as this, has got to stop.
It was 9:00 in the evening and I’m on my way home. The jeepney was stuck in traffic, and I was sitting at the other end at the back of the jeepney, and beside me was a middle aged man. I assumed he was sleeping so I didn’t really mind at first, but then I noticed that his head was slowly moving closer to my chest. So I shuffled a bit, which woke him up, so I politely told him to move a little farther away. He just smiled, which made me uncomfortable. A few minutes later I noticed that it was his hands that were moving closer to my thighs, so I quickly asked the driver to stop the vehicle. As I was gathering my things, the man quickly covered his head, because maybe he thought I was about to punch or slap him. Which made him even more guilty. I just walked the whole way through while crying, hoping it would never happen to anyone again.
“Hold my dick” he says, standing across the street with the two other guys that just left the taxi van with him. The other jokes “What?” To which the first guy says, “No, not you,” nodding in my direction. As they start to cross the street, the other one says “Damn girl.”
I am prepared to destroy them all.
In the summer I was 17, my parents left me alone for two days. We lived in a quiet subdivision, and I was accustomed to taking evening walks. On this one, I felt I was being watched. A block later I decided to stroll through the power line field. Bad idea- I was isolated, and then he came out and approached me, menacing and masturbating in the dark. He told me not to move and he came closer. I pulled out my phone and he ran. Weeping, I called my best friend and her mother took me to the police.
Everyday in the early morning I have to walk a few blocks to the bus stop that my uni bus picks me up. One early morning when there were hardly any people on the street. I saw a guy staring at me in the gas station. Like any other time I ignored him. While I was walking I felt I was being followed and I walked faster. Then when I tried to bring my backpack from my shoulders behind, I felt a hand grabbed my butt. I yelled what the f*** is wrong with you!, the harasser ran to the alley on my left and he looked back smiling, right after he touched me. There weren’t anyone on that block when it happened. And months after the incident I saw the guy not sure whether it was him or not at first. But after seeing him more than twice (I think he lives near my area) I’m sure it was him.
I’ve had a number of encounters with harassers, which I distinguish from men who just say “hi”, smile, wave or just move on. The first truly terrifying encounter I had was when I was in my twenties and living in a small Northern California town in the Sierra foothills.
Two of my closest girlfriends and I were walking down Mill Street on our way to some ice cream. It was high summer and we were dressed in cutoff jeans and sleeveless shirts. We heard the roar of a car engine, honking, and shouts and looked up to see a trio of young, shirtless men in a convertible with the top down coming up the street toward us, shouting, waving their arms and pointing at us.
“Three!” they yelled, pointing at themselves. “Three!” they repeated, pointing at us. While impressed that they could count so high, we shook our heads in unison and kept walking.
“Wanna go to the river?” they persisted. “We’ve got beers!”
“No thanks!” one of my girlfriends called. “We don’t drink!”
We kept moving and figured they would too. But no. The driver spotted a parking place up the block and his companions shouted, “Stay there! Stay there!” “Come to the river!”
We assured them we did not want to go to the river—shaking our heads and making emphatic gestures that were lost on them. (Maybe they thought we were signaling “no catch”—which was essentially correct, but in the wrong context).
We didn’t stay there, of course. We walked faster and ducked into a clothing store at mid-block. Behind us, the car pulled to the curb with a squeal of tires.
My last glimpse of the guys before I slipped into the shop was of all three jumping out of the car. We scurried to the rear of the store and tried to disappear behind the clothing racks. The guys loped by the front of the shop asking each other “Where did they go? Did they go in there?” They went up the street a few stores, then turned and came back, this time slowing to peer through the window.
My friends and I scooted into a changing room and pulled the curtain closed.
So eager were these guys for our company that they came into the store and asked the clerk if she’d seen three girls come in or walk by. She had seen us, but she shook her head no. “Sorry,” she said.
The guys wandered off at last and we emerged from the changing room only when we had heard their car engine rumble out of earshot.
Several summers later, the same friends and I were at the river for a girls’ day out, lying in the sun at a secluded pool. As we chatted drowsily, we heard a shout from the trail about twenty feet above us.
“Look!” cried a man’s voice. “Bitches! There’s bitches!” I looked up to see several young men in cutoff jeans looking along the trail for a way to get down to our beach.
We didn’t hesitate. We grabbed our shirts and shoes, dove into the river and swam to the opposite side. By the time the bitch hunters had reached the sands, we’d hidden ourselves in the rocks on the opposite bank.
“What do we do if they come after us?” one of my girlfriends asked. There was only one answer we could come up with; each of us picked up a rock.
We were lucky—they didn’t come after us. They didn’t know the river as we did because they were from out of town. I know this because one of them said, in disgust, “We oughta go back to Oakland if it’s gonna be like this.”
Years have passed. Not that long ago, my husband and I were waiting at a Southwest airlines gate for a flight when a group of about four college-aged men in shorts, tank tops and sneakers rambled into the waiting area. When they plopped into seats near where I and my husband and I were standing, all the hair on my body stood on end and I wanted to bolt and run. I was seized with a bizarre, visceral, completely unexpected fight or flight reaction to their presence.
I did not connect this to the first two incidents until I began to write my story down. But they are connected. I am afraid of groups of young, white men to this day.
As an afterthought, it occurs to me to wonder why any man would think a woman would find him attractive when the first thing he says to her or about her is “Look! Bitches!”
I was walking a few blocks to a friend’s house one evening. Immediately a man crosses the street, runs up to me, and asks if I have a man. He walks beside me all the way there, saying he would be my teddy bear and keep me warm at night. I don’t say any thing, because it’s night in the student ghetto. He gives me a hug when we arrive (yuck) and laments that he’ll never see me again because I won’t take his number.