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BY CATHERINE FAVORITE
It is laudable that UK Prime Minister David Cameron will be signing the Council of Europe’s convention, which will include legislation that criminalizes “unwanted verbal, non-verbal violence and physical” sexual harassment against women, particularly as yesterday was International Women’s Day. This may include criminalizing some forms of street harassment, as the convention lays out a definition of sexual harassment as any act “violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”
Rather predictably, this has raised stir among those who can best be described as street harassment advocates, the idea that women might be anything but grateful for receiving the “gift” of unsolicited attention from lecherous creeps is apparently distressing. As others have quite rightly pointed out, though:
“Harassers needn’t worry too much that they’re going to hear sirens the next time they shout obscenities at a woman, and fears that building sites across the land will now be raided at the first sign of a puckered set of lips are probably unfounded.”
Despite widespread claims that the convention will outlaw “wolf whistles” and comments of “Heeeeey sweetheart”, Prime Minister Cameron’s spokesperson has apparently “downplayed the issue of sexism and street intimidation, saying ‘we have harassment laws in this country’ already.”
Unfortunately, since the news broke there has been a collective media fail. Many news outlets have run sensational headlines, leading with rumors of criminalizing catcalling, while crying freedom of speech abuses, leaving a sentence or two at most to mention the legislation that will more strictly monitor issues of forced marriage, forced genital mutilation and the ability to prosecute British citizens who have committed acts of rape or sexual assault abroad.
Regardless of what types harassment ultimately become criminalized, our friends in London rightly observe:
“Whether it’s leering, catcalls, shouts or whispers from strangers, defending this behaviour is a gateway to the cultural acceptance of much more serious crimes across the spectrum of gender-based violence. Dismiss the smaller issues, and the bigger issues go unchallenged too.
It’s hard for some people to get their heads around, especially those who have never experienced it, but these seemingly harmless interactions with strangers on the street can build up a well of resentment, internalised shame and guilt in the people who live with them.”
While this may be a mere political ploy to garner more female supporters, David Cameron and the European Union are at least giving some long-deserved attention to the culture of violence directed at women worldwide. Maybe next year, they’ll devote an entire week to us.
There has been a rash of men throwing out endearing terms of “slut”, “prostitute” and “whore” lately. While America’s worst radio personality has been receiving the spotlight, there is another story currently unfolding:
On Tuesday, eight women (current and former members of the military) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. military as a result of its “high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks” and for “discouraging victims of sexual assault from coming forward.”
One of the women, Arianna Klay, has been at the forefront of the lawsuit against current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, as well as the former SoDs Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. While her experience is particularly upsetting, the courage she has in standing up against a protected culture of misogyny is inspiring.
Within just a few days of being assigned to the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., junior Marines began calling Klay a “slut” and a “whore”. Then, “in December 2009, four months after her arrival, Klay formally requested deployment to Afghanistan. The request was denied—as were three subsequent ones. Seven months later, she says, a senior Marine officer and his friend came into her home, a block from the base, and gang-raped her.”
When people think it’s okay to call women whores and sluts as a way of taking them down a peg or two, they unknowingly participate in the acceptance of sexual violence against women. How an institution or individual handles derogatory comments or hate speech might serve as an strong indicator for how they will handle claims of rape and sexual assault, as this case involving the Department of Defense reveals.
Among some of the court papers, the Marine Corps investigation of Klay’s case stated that “the behavior she called ‘harassment’ was sexual attention she’d encouraged by wearing makeup and exercising in running shorts and a tank top.” They also stated that her claim of gang-rape was actually just “consensual group sex”.
As Jesse Ellison of the Daily Beast/Newsweek reports:
“According to its [Department of Defense] annual reports, just 2 percent of reported sexual assaults result in a conviction. Ninety percent of those who report an assault, meanwhile, are involuntarily discharged, often after receiving dubious diagnoses of “personality disorders.”
Arianna Klay has also commented regarding her former military base: “it’s a base that was founded in the 19th century, and that’s where their attitudes toward women have remained.” Pair the above statistics and these women’s experiences with the Defense Department denial of responsibility: “the military doesn’t tolerate sexual assault” and it becomes impossible not to question the mixed messages we continue to tolerate concerning sexual harassment, assault and rape.
Here at Hollaback!, we are proud to be apart of the longstanding tradition of women fighting street harassment. In the early 1920s, a group called the Anti-Flirt Club stood up against street harassers (or as they were called then, “Mashers“). In the 1960s and 70s, femininists again spoke out about the impact of street harassment on women. Today, in honor of International Women’s Day, we ask that you celebrate the accomplishments of these women — and those of our 150 site leaders from 44 cities and 16 countries — by sharing your story of street harassment.
Your story has the power to change the world. Each time you hollaback, thousands will read it and your story will shift their understanding of what harassment means. Some will walk away understanding what it feels like to be in your shoes, others will feel like they are not alone for the first time, or that it’s not their fault. Combined with on-the-ground activism, your story will redefine safety in your community—it will inspire legislators, the police, and other authorities to take this issue seriously – to approach it with sensitivity, and to create policies that make everyone feel safe. Your story will build an irrefutable case as to why street harassment is not OK. A case strong enough to end street harassment once and for all.
BY HOLLABACK! BUENOS AIRES
This may sound strange but to celebrate International Women’s Day in Buenos Aires Hollaback! decided to talk about men. Inspired by a Hollaback Webinar on “Engaging Men”, we asked our followers to submit their street harassment essays to “Desist & resist: Ending street harassment, cues for men” with a promise to publish the top three entries nationally and internationally. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of the entries we received.
Romina Zamborain sent us a thoughtful essay exploring the nature of the “piropo” (catcall) and its expected response in the macho culture of the Buenos Aires streets. She proposes to a male audience that they rethink their assumptions by asking themselves a number of questions, starting with the fundamentals:
“¿Pero qué pasa cuando una mujer transita en el espacio público? ¿Percibe estas palabras como un halago, necesita escucharlas? ¿Con qué frecuencia le ocurre y qué tipo de cosas escucha en cada situación?”
(trans: “What happens when a woman walks through public space? Does she hear these words as compliments; does she need to hear them? How often does it happen, and what kinds of things does she hear in each situation? “)
She continues her thought experiment probing ever deeper, finally proposing a world where we make a concerted effort to see the other person’s perspective. Read the essay here.
We also received a video entry, crafted by Amelia Rébori, who made this poignant stills-video with a resonant message; Women are not objects & objectification is not OK! See the video here:
Janet wrote us in an informal style to tell us her story as a tourist in Buenos Aires aires, recalling all the positive experiences she has had meeting people on the street in Buenos Aires – and how that has differed substantially in her experience of street harassment. Read her entry here.
BY VICTORIA TRAVERS
In February we had the pleasure of welcoming Jenn Sayre and Marigail Sexton of Green Dot into the Hollaback! office to discuss collaborations and share success stories. Green Dot is a violence prevention strategy that gives everyone the skills needed to stop rape, partner violence and stalking, while also imparting how we can promote safety our own communities. And what is even more fantastic is that they are collaborating with Hollaback!. Jenn even made an appearance in our Saturday Webinar to discuss how bystander intervention can be used to end street harassment.
The organization is dedicated to measurably and systematically reducing violence within any given community using research and training. It operates under the vision that every time a form of abuse occurs or is ignored a red dot appears on a map, but to counteract this each time a any behavior, choice, word or attitude that promotes safety occurs a green dot appears.
Jennifer M. Sayre, Ph.D. is the Director of Training and Development for Green Dot. Under Jenn’s direction, Green Dot provides training and consultation to universities, non-profit organizations, and military installations across the globe inspiring and mobilizing people to act on preventing personal violence within their own communities:
“I become more certain each day that as a direct result of our work, rates of power-based personal violence will go down.”
Jenn worked as a therapist for over a decade before her work with Green Dot where she was frequently met with the devastating consequences of power-based personal violence. Prior to Green Dot Jenn believed that:
“The best I could do was help glue shattered people back together.”
However, after learning of Green Dot Jenn admits that this belief changed dramatically:
“Hope was awakened in me and I have since been propelled into this work with a sense of urgency and optimism.”
Jenn is adamant that the organization’s work in bystander intervention and the reeducation of communities is directly responsible for the decrease in personal violence. Recently, Jenn’s youngest daughter gave her a pin that read “My Mother is a Goddess,” which she admits:
“Inspired me to have the audacity to believe that I can and will be a part of making this world safer.”
Jenn is a graduate of Dartmouth College and obtained her masters and doctorate degrees in Clinical Psychology from the University of Virginia.
Marigail Sexton is the Director of Communications for Green Dot and despite spending many years completing work in this field Marigail “never once believed that what” she “was doing could really end violence,” but that was before Green Dot. Marigail says:
“I have been reignited by Green Dot, as have many people across the country. I am honored to be a part of this new approach to violence prevention and look forward to the new-found freedom it will bring us all.”
Marigail has 20 years of experience in sexual violence and associated fields and was instrumental in the initial development of the Green Dot violence prevention strategy. Her previous professional roles include : Communications and Program Development Coordinator for the Violence, Intervention, and Prevention Center at the University of Kentucky; Executive Director of Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs; Program Coordinator with the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Services; and Project Coordinator for the UK Center for Research on Violence Against Women. Marigail was also active in sexual violence prevention work in Virginia.
“You cannot be free, if you are not safe. This statement, I love.”
Marigail confesses that her “intense desire” for what she describes as “full and complete freedom” for everyone is what drives her in her life and in her role at Green Dot.
BY EMILY MAY
Hello Hollaback! supporters! Check out this week’s news and updates from the exciting world of Hollaback! and our endeavors to stamp out street harassment.
Out and About: We met with students from Rutgers and NYU to discuss our forthcoming campus harassment initiative. I also met with Councilmember Chin’s office to talk about street harassment in Lower Manhattan.
Support: We are extremely grateful to the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation for supporting our national movement-building work.
Hollaback! Around the World: Hollaback! Bogota participated in the SlutWalk Bogota, Columbia. Hollaback! Twin Cities got a shout out on the University of Minnesota Women’s Center Blog written when their site leader Ami Wazlawwik stepped up as a guest blogger. In celebration of National Women’s Day on March 8th, Hollaback! Winnipeg made it in to Uptown. Hollaback! Istanbul was on the front cover of Turkey’s Today’s Zaman.
Thanks for another fantastic week of fighting street harassment — you make this all possible!
HOLLA and out!
BY CATHERINE FAVORITE
West Coast Rapper, Too $hort, came under fire recently for the outrageous “fatherly” advice that he gave in an interview to hop-hop publication XXL Magazine. The singer gives tips to young boys on the “mind manipulation” of young girls, the content of which makes for very uncomfortably and inappropriate listening, particularly for the young audience at which it is aimed.
In response to the incident a coalition of Black and Latina activists have formed called We Are the 44% to counter sexual violence against teens. They issued a statement condemning the interview, and offered a list of demands, which include that both Too Short and all Harris Publication staff members participate in education and sensitivity training on sexual assault/rape, as well as the sacking of XXL Magazine Editor-in-chief Vanessa Satten. (Trigger warning: You can read the transcript of the interview for yourself here).
Initially, Too Short appears to have flip-flopped around his comments, first offering an apology cloaked in denial of responsibility. Yet, in a newly added layer, Too $hort approached feminist writer and member of We Are the 44%, Dream Hampton, to conduct an interview with him to set the record straight in Ebony.com. Some may consider Too Short’s apologies too little, too late, or question the authenticity of his change of heart, but the conversation leaves him in better stead than in his first response to the backlash. It shows that it is possible for a person to alter their dehumanizing attitudes towards women and that if we continue to hold people accountable for hateful speech, there can be a ripple effect of change. In the following extract, Too $hort discusses what he has learned from this incident and responds to the backlash:
“…when I taped the XXL video, my goal was that this was some kind of comedy piece. So I am sitting there and the thing that I am saying’s actually reminiscent of when we as little boys were being bad and (what) we were doing something or learning or practicing. But know I’m understanding that it’s actually it’s a form of sexual assault. And it’s crazy that I’m just now understanding this.”
I’m not going to lie to you…my eyes are opening just from reading the comments, the stuff that is coming from people. They say stuff like, “Does he get it?” I’m reading it and I am starting to get it. I am looking at this and I am looking at all the stuff that they put out, completely from the entertainment industry, from the movies I watched when I was a kid. A rape scene in a movie was pretty normal. They don’t really do it that much anymore, (but) back then a guy would take it and the girl would enjoy it. They put those images out there over and over again and it’s like so much society is ok with the images of aggressive male and female sexuality. I’m just reading this and I’m reading that, and I’m like I am so much a part of that whole “man” thing.”
Whether or not the magazine ultimately decides to fire Vanessa Satten, we can only hope that in the future, their editors will pay closer attention to the content they are implicitly promoting and that musicians in the spotlight, who wield a tremendous potential to influence young people, will consider if they are advocating a culture of violence against girls of color.
“We need to be able to have conversations about what Too Short’s and XXL magazine’s actions perpetuate in our society, but not without rejecting smoke-screen rhetoric. Violence Against Women (VAW) continues to destroy the fabric of our society and men must step up and stop scapegoating women to save themselves.”
Here is a challenge, men: Step up and journey to un-learn all of what you think is cool about what is really VAW from places like Men Can Stop Rape, people like Jackson Katz and films like Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. It is never too late to start, only shameful if you choose not to.