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BY VICTORIA TRAVERS
I always like to start the New Year with plenty of laughs, so 2012 brought me the pompous, misogynistic, racist, not to mention archaic inner thoughts of Texas Representative and more scarily potential Presidential candidate, Ron Paul, in the form of his 1987 book “Freedom Under Siege: The US Constitution 200-Plus Years”.
The book is punctuated with several million “say what?!” moments that are guaranteed to leave you speechless.
Firstly, take a look at Paul’s stand on sexual harassment in the workplace:
“Employee rights are said to be valid when employers pressure employees into sexual activity. Why don’t they quit once the so-called harassment starts? Obviously the morals of the harasser cannot be defended, but how can the harassee escape some responsibility for the problem? Seeking protection under civil rights legislation is hardly acceptable. If force was clearly used, that is another story, but pressure and submission is hardly an example of a violation of one’s employment rights. “
So, if a colleague comments that you have ‘nice rack’ in the dulcet tones of a Tony Bennett sound-a-like it’s fine, in fact, but if it does upset you then you should just leave the company! What brilliant advice! If only Anita Hill had thought of that. If that is not enough to make you take to the streets shouting “Ron Paul is a prize plonker,” then more interesting is Mr. Paul’s take on equal pay:
“The concept of equal pay for equal work is not only an impossible task.”
End of conversation. Next the debate on whether “women have the right to join men’s clubs. What do you think Mr. Paul?
“Women obviously have a right to apply for membership in any group they wish, and a club has a similar right to exclude anyone it wishes.”
Paul goes on to use an example of a woman that sued the Boy Scouts because she ‘claimed’ she had a right to be a Scout Master:
“Women may want to be scout masters, but where did they get this “right” to coerce a private organization to change its rules regarding members and leaders?”
In one fell swoop Ron Paul managed to offend and alienate just about everyone, from AIDS victims to the computer age, what an achievement! And he is a possible presidential candidate?
For your delectation I have selected some more choice lines from the liberal fearing Mr. Paul:
1. “Physicians are sued for less than normal children.”
2. “The twentieth century has delivered a society totally void of standards.”
3. “Liberal theologians promote worldwide socialism and even communism in the name of love, human dignity, and rights, while fundamentalists retaliate by offering economic prosperity for those who believe in the literalness of the biblical message and contribute appropriately.”
4. “Young people, as a result of the welfare ethic accepted today, are not disciplined in the work ethic.”
5. “Every year new groups organize to demand their “rights.” White people who organize and expect the same attention as other groups are quickly and viciously condemned as dangerous bigots.”
6. “The Computer Age is now upon us, and this technology could easily eliminate completely the privacy that should be cherished by all freedom- loving individuals.”
7. “The individual suffering from AIDS certainly is a victim – frequently a victim of his own lifestyle – but this same individual victimizes innocent citizens by forcing them to pay for his care.”
8. “To the majority of Americans, the concept of responsibility for one’s own actions, has been replaced by the belief that someone else must pay those who demand a handout.”
In Ron Paul’s defense, when questioned by ABC’s This Week’s Jake Tapper he replied:
“There were some very bad sentences put in. I did not write those, I did not review them. It was an error on my part.”
Is Ron Paul saying that he did not read his own book? Now who is relinquishing responsibility?
(we’re blushing up a storm over here after that Hollaback! shout-out!)
BY VICTORIA TRAVERS
The lull between Christmas and New Year is the perfect time for reflection, you’ve consumed four times your body weight in turkey and paralyzed on the sofa you are forced to think of this year’s events. Was it, for instance, absolutely necessary to reiterate the rules of Monopoly to your family in such an abrupt manner? Also, given the substantial bundle that you spent on that spectacular NYE dress that you can now neither pull past your knees or your shoulders, was it essential to buy enough food to feed you and a large army twice over in the event of a nuclear holocaust?
Amidst these important ponderings hopefully you had time to contemplate Hollaback’s State of the Streets Report! It is truly awe-inspiring to see the movement grow from a tiny sapling to a beautifully flourishing revolution. This year Hollaback! has inspired international leadership by training young women and LGBTQ individuals to build their own grassroots movements centered around street harassment, they have managed to shift public opinion and have gained international press from the NY Times to the BBC.
Hollaback! has engaged the attention of numerous elected officials, as well as organizing the first New York City Council world hearing on street harassment. But most importantly Hollaback! has encouraged you the readership to find your voices and speak out on street harassment. To date the organization has published over 3,000 stories of all varying forms of street harassment. But the action does not stop here!
We still need your help! We need to keep spreading the word and educating the masses about what behavior is acceptable in public spaces and how to keep our streets safe. We still need to encourage the world to find their voices and Hollaback! for themselves and for other people. YOU DO HAVE THE POWER TO END STREET HARASSMENT!
My suggestion is that on December 31 you save the $200 you were going to spend on some pretentious club where they make you line up for 30 minutes, only to enter an empty bar, sporadically dappled by people in jaunty headwear that haven’t smiled since the mid 90s when it became unpopular to do so in photos. Save it and then donate it to Hollaback! There’s no better way to see in 2012 than joining a bloody brilliant revolution that involves everyone! 99 per cent of women will experience street harassment in their lives (Kearl 2010) and this study does not even include LGBTQ and Men. Street Harassment, in all its ugly forms, is something everyone on earth shares and together we can stop it. So let’s not procrastinate any longer get your hand in your pocket and donate to a truly worthy cause so the next generation won’t have to!
Happy New Year Hollabackers!!
Thousands of Israeli protestors gathered on the streets of Beit Shamesh, West of Jerusalem on Tuesday evening demonstrating against ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremism that caused the harassment of an 8-year-old Jewish girl on her way to school, as well as the systematic abuse of women all over the town.
According to the BBC, protestors sprang into action following a nationwide documentary, which revealed that school girl, Naama Margolese, was terrified of walking to school. Naama said she lived in fear of being abused in the street or even being spat at by ultra-Orthodox men that have been regularly protesting outside a religious girls school about the so called ‘immodest dress’ code of the children.
Naama’s mother, Hadassah Margoleese told the BBC that the school children were having nightmares about the daily abuse. She told reporters about her daughter:
“Whenever she hears a noise she asks, ‘are they there, are they out there?’”
The ultra-Orthodox minority is seeking to segregate men and women and to enforce a strict interpretation of religious laws.
In retaliation the people of Beit Shamesh have stood together in solidarity holding signs saying “Free Israel from Religious Coercion.” Israeli President Shimon Peres is supporting the protest telling reporters:
“The entire nation must be recruited in order to save the majority from the hands of a small minority”.
He called the protest a preservation of the state of Israel’s “character against a minority which breaks our national solidarity.”
Globally and in Turkey, street harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence, yet one of the least legislated against. Due to the prevalence of physical and verbal harassment in public spaces, Canımız Sokakat conducted research on the nature of street harassment in Istanbul. We wanted to see understand street harassment beyond the numerous stories we’ve received.
Here are our results:
One respondent to the survey explains: “Whether it is verbal or physical harassment, even after many years, unfortunately, one cannot forget it.” Another respondent echoes a similar sentiment: “It has been two and a half years since that incident, but I still feel fear and panic riding buses.” These feeling could be why 93% of our respondents consider street harassment an important issue today:
This research is only the beginning for us. We know there are hundreds of thousands undocumented stories of street harassment and that there are so many victims and bystanders who have been silenced by a culture that supports harassers. Research like this is one major step to understand street harassment in Istanbul and ultimately combat it. Any questions on our research, email us [email protected]. And help us out submitting your story of street harassment today!
BY EMILY MAY
Take one look at our State of the Streets Report and you’ll know we’ve had an incredible year. But here is the stuff that is never covered in the press, but it is the absolute backbone of every move we make: YOU (yes you) ARE AWESOME. Now we are asking you to be awesome again, and donate to our end-of-year campaign.
We aren’t a traditional nonprofit, and you aren’t traditional supporters. You are risktakers. In May of 2010 I jumped off the cliff to start Hollaback! and built wings on the way down. And you jumped with me.
I know that I get a lot of credit for launching Hollaback!, but it has never just been me. Then we built a board of another 15. Now we’ve got 150 sites leaders in 45 cities, 16 countries, and 9 different languages. And now we have 17 volunteers with titles in our New York office. Everything you see is made by them: the program, the 45 websites, the apps, our logo, our merch.
We wouldn’t exist without our voluteers – but we also wouldn’t exist without our supporters. In California, a young lesbian woman is tithing 10% of her income Hollaback! until her church accepts her. She works at Starbucks and makes approximately $500/month.
With every donation that comes through the door, whether it is $5 or $5000 — I think to myself oh my god — this is it. This is what fuels us. And I’m not just talking about the reality of financing. I’m talking having people like you in the world who feel so passionately about this work that they are willing to give anything to make it happen. That, to me, is revolutionary. Because it is what fuels the revolution. The revolution that everyone said couldn’t be done.
So thank you for being here. Thank you for being awesome. You sustain us, nourish us, and literally put the food on our plates that makes us able to continue to do this work.
Please support our work by making an end-of-year gift to us today.
BY EMILY MAY
There is nothing like a fresh batch of hate mail to get me motivated. Back when we first started Hollaback!, hate mail made me feel so crappy inside. What can I say? I was socialized to be a girl and make everyone like me — even the people I didn’t really like. It took a while for me to re-socialize as an activist and realize that you’re not making change unless you’re pissing people off.
Allow me to geek out on nonprofit-performance-management stuff for a second, but it is really hard to measure social and behavioral change in society. Is Hollaback! succeeding when we get more stories or less? How do we know when people have the “click” moment that makes them stop harassing? How do we know how we contributed to it? Hate mail seems like as good of a metric as any. So bring it, haters. We’re quite pleased with ourselves that our vision of a world without street harassment has made you so deeply uncomfortable.
And now, a message from our hater of the day. Typos were left intact. Oh, and I should put a RAGE warning on this:
“WOMEN KNOW WOMEN ARE ALWAYS TO BLAME. WOMEN ARE THE TROUBLE STARTER. WOMEN ARE ALWAYS GUILTY. WOMEN HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE ON THIS PLANET. YOU KNOW WHERE YOU BELONG. WHY DONT YOU LEAVE… I AM USA WASHINGTON DC CAPITOL DISCTRICT OFFICIAL. I AM USA LAW. I SEE STRAIGHT THROUGH THIS HOAX OF WOMEN. YOU WOMEN ALWASY ASSAULT AND BATTERIZE EVERYONE. YOU WANT EVERYONE TO BE YOUR SLAVE. YOU ALL ARE SO EVIL. OTHER THAN EVIL WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO? QUIT SLAVING THE POLICE AROUND THE TOWN LIKE CLOWNS.”
By Laurel Long for Hollaback Bmore!
In January of 2011, I started working on an undergraduate thesis on street harassment. This began with me reading everything I could get my hands on about street harassment. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of academic literature on the topic; what few articles do exist tend to be on the blogosphere, which is not a source a student can frequently cite for a paper. This shows street harassment, with its accompanying terror, is made invisible by the academy. Therefore, it is likely not mentioned in Women’s Studies or Sociology classes, limiting students’ likelihood of considering the subject of relevance. Yet, perusing academic literature, one can find articles on every aspect of sexual harassment in the workplace and school environments. Who benefits from street harassment being left off the table? Not women.
Anyone who has written a serious academic paper knows that it is your job to explain exactly why your findings are relevant. Clearly, street harassment is of importance because it (negatively) affects so many women, but it is also significant as it plays a role in keeping women subordinate to men. I believe it’s important to not just hold individual men accountable for their behavior, but to step back and look at what role men’s street harassment of women and other target groups plays in a patriarchal society. We need to ask: why is street harassment used as a weapon against women? In my opinion, part of the answer to this is that it keeps public space marked as male territory. It also is part of a larger set of male violence against women, as the reason women are afraid of what might seem like minor cat-calling to men, is that sexual innuendos are backed up by the threat of sexual assault. Many women, including street harassed women, are survivors of sexual assault, battery, and rape. As Turkheimer notes, “A hierarchy looks very different from the bottom than from the top.” Thus, in order to help women feel comfortable sharing their experiences of street harassment, I limited my groups to women only.
Several of my participants proposed “raising your kids right” as a way to prevent street harassment. However, children do not exist outside of the society in which they live. When there are rewards for harassing women—respect from peers, affirmation of a dominant, heterosexual identity—how one is raised doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It also doesn’t take into account that street harassment is one part of a male-centered, male-identified, and male-dominant society. Nor do parental actions do anything about the fact that there are zilch consequences for almost all street harassers. If men gain from harassing, and can do so with impunity, what incentive is there to stop?
Most women I interviewed did not think that legal measures against street harassment can be feasibly implemented. One reason for this is that street harassment is currently such a vague, subjective term. Yet, sexual harassment in the workplace and schools is prosecutable, although women do not monolithically agree on what constitutes sexual harassment. While I am also wary of involvement of the legal system, I do think having a law in place says that women matter and that we cannot be hurt in this way. Even having signs up about such a law might ward off some men from harassing women and other target groups. We need to remember that once issues such as incest and battery seemed overwhelming to deal with. Think how far we have come legally on these issues in a matter of decades. Then think where we can be in another few decades with the issue of street harassment. Re-starting consciousness raising (CR) groups to talk about street harassment and other issues that affect women’s lives would no doubt be helpful as well. As long as we keep quiet about street harassment, declaring it not important enough to talk about, it will never be defined as a problem. I am positive that we will figure out a way to deal with the problem posed by defining street harassment when working to end street harassment. Don’t take that to mean I need to be ordered to “smile, baby,” just because I am optimistic about the direction of this movement.
Note: You can find Laurel’s entire thesis right here.
We’ve had an incredible year, and we want to celebrate it with you. Without you, none of this would have been possible. With you, everything is possible. Thanks for everything. We can’t wait to see what we create together in 2012.
Forward by Emily May: I am not one for celebrity crushes, but boyohboy did I have one on Malcolm Gladwell. He was so cute! So smart! So breakthrough! And then one day he wrote an article for the New Yorker called “The Revolution will not be Tweeted.” Sigh. Like a ghost in the night, my little crush disappeared and was replaced by funders sending me the article and asking for a response. Gladwell’s article not only didn’t endorse the clear-and-present-revolution, it slowed us down by putting question marks in the minds of potential funders as to our efficacy. Thanks, Malcolm.
Enter Alex. A college senior, our 2011 summer intern, an incredible speech writer, interviewer, thinker, revolutionary and all around good guy. We were born in the same hospital in North Carolina, nine years apart. Alex wrote this piece for his class that takes on Gladwell better than I ever could. Read on, and rest easy that the next generation of thinkers is here. And they’re changing the way we change the world.
BY ALEX ALSTON
Street harassment, as defined on Hollaback!’s website, is a form of gender violence experienced overwhelmingly by women and LGBTQ persons. It can range from lewd comments to groping, to flashing or assault. It is also one of the “most pervasive” forms of gender violence in the world, and unfortunately, one of the least legislated against.1 Culturally accepted, street harassment is often thought of as something a woman should be proud of or at least accept because, “Well, that is what happens when you’re an attractive woman.” However, Hollaback!’s Executive Director, Emily May, is fighting for a world where everyone is safe and free from objection in public space. May has tapped into the power of social media and mobile technology so that victims of street harassment have an effective and safe response.
Stationed in Brooklyn, New York, Hollaback! started as a single blog on which harassed individuals could describe their experiences with harassment and even post photos of their harasser. Today, the organization has grown into a “young and sassy” world-wide movement led by grassroots activists from London to Jerusalem to Mumbai and the Czech Republic.2 Hollaback! site leaders, under the guidance of the New York office, tailor their sites as well as their involvement in the movement to end street harassment to their respective cultural environments, resources, and abilities. Taken as a whole Hollaback! is a network of separate but intricately intertwined activists who are voluntarily taking on the fight to make public space safe. New York City recently held the world’s first conference on street harassment, and May was invited to speak before the United Nations on the issue this past summer. What started as an idea among friends has grown into an unforeseeable global effort to create social change.
Of course, change rarely comes without tension and, speaking out against oppression is often just as risk-laden as it is subversive. The systemic implementation of this type of resistance invites even more backlash. Again, because street harassment is a culturally accepted form of gender violence, its challengers open the door for trouble from those invested in gender hegemonies. From individuals who consistently seek to bombard the site with negative and obscene comments (referred to as “trolls”), to those who would potentially visit physical harm on site leaders forcing them to remain anonymous, there are many threats to those involved with Hollaback! Indeed, some sites are located in areas of the world where women have considerably less social capital and power than they possess here in the West and speaking back against patriarchal oppression is downright dangerous. In these places, being involved with Hollaback! is what Malcolm Gladwell terms “high-risk activism.”3 Gladwell borrows Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam’s phrase “strong-tie” to describe the phenomenon of high-risk activism.4 This is a piece of his larger argument that social media cannot facilitate the type of hands on, high-risk activism that social change has always relied on. Focusing on examples of activism from the Black Freedom Struggle of the twentieth century, Gladwell charges that “we seem to have forgotten what activism is.”5 After reading his piece, however, Emily May thought one thing, “He hasn’t heard of Hollaback!”6
To the extent Gladwell’s strong critique of social media and its relationship to activism helps us dispel the myth of a twitter revolution in Egypt or calls into question the idea of inevitable progress through Change.org petitions, it is valuable, even vital. He quotes historian Robert Darnton who has written, “The marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past…”7 The narrative that “the new tools of social media have reinvented social activism” is, briefly put, misguided.8 Gladwell’s insight and critical interrogation of social media proves this. But the fact remains that Gladwell is simply too eager to lump all things “social media” into the categories of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, online petitions, donations, and the like. His well-intentioned skepticism of social media, (or lack of research) while illuminating, causes him to overlook any cases in which social media does in fact foster strong ties, high risk activism, and real social change. The case of Hollaback! is an obvious one.
“The evangelists of social media,” according to Gladwell, “…seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend…”9 He sets out to use the Greensboro sit-ins and the Freedom Summer in Mississippi as examples of how high risk activism is centered around strong human relationships. He cites the work of McAdam which maintains that there was correlation between the Freedom Summer volunteers who did not drop out despite the inescapable peril of their situation and those who had the most personal connection to the movement.10 His point, in summary, is that fighting for social change entails great risk at times, and a given individual is more likely to take that risk when he or she has a personal connection to what is going on. He does not see social media as capable of reproducing this type of connection. What Gladwell does not consider, however, is that one’s emotional stake is an issue is not limited to one’s circle of close friends. That is, no one is necessarily precluded from participating in high risk activism because they do not have a connection to an issue through another person. In the case of Hollaback!, street harassment is such a universal point of oppression for women across cultures, races, classes, and regions, fostering the personal connection (around the issue of street harassment), is a matter of articulating that shared experience. When asked about why Gladwell was wrong about Hollaback!’s brand of online activism May said, “He forgot that movement building has always been based on storytelling, and that storytelling creates great empathy. With empathy comes strong ties.”11 Even Gladwell himself would not argue that social media simply makes storytelling easier and more effective.
So then a forty year old working class immigrant from the Bronx can connect with an white Ph.D. student in the Czech Republic because both of these women know what it means to be degraded, embarrassed, or frightened in public by catcalls or groping. A common language is all these women need to feel the personal connection, the strong tie, (around the issue of street harassment) that Gladwell says is necessary for high risk activism. Hollaback! uses Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress for something other than what Gladwell is imagining when he says “online activism.” Bringing people with shared experiences together in safe spaces where personal connections can form and grow, where empathy can abound, is a vital part of social change. Strong ties are formed by shared experiences, not by immediate physical or social proximity alone. However, Gladwell is right in that immediate physical and social proximity (being a radical activist in Mississippi registering voters during the 60’s) are some of the factors responsible for shared experiences and the ensuing personal connection. Furthermore, a personal connection on an issue does not equate to being someone’s close friend. The examples Gladwell gives of the personal ties anchoring the Red Brigades in Italy and the mujahedeen in Afghanistan only tell half of the story. Those individuals, while clearly closely aligned around their method of political action, were not necessarily best of friends or even close acquaintances. So even if Hollaback! does not foster sprawling friendships it can still do the work of relationship building that is necessary to foment change.
Malcolm Gladwell’s second major point of contention with reading social media as a tool for social activism involves the fact that “Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies.”12 He uses the sit-in again as well as the Montgomery bus boycott as examples of how hierarchies are necessary when high-risk activism is involved because top down organization is essential. According to Gladwell, networks cannot function to make systemic changes. May simply thinks that he was unable envision a structure where people around the world who have never met would shift the paradigm from ‘think globally, act locally,’ to ‘collaborate globally, act locally.’13 He does concede that networks are the best structure for low-risk situations, citing Wikipedia as an example, but again, Gladwell is guilty of gross generalizations. His idea that networks and hierarchies are irreconcilable is almost purposefully polemical. When asked why, in her opinion, site leaders were willing to voluntarily undertake the work of Hollaback! without ever meeting its director, part of Emily’s response was:
They don’t have to hang out with me. I’m not their “boss” and most of them will never meet me. We built a platform so that people can take it and customize it to what they love to do — and what they think their community needs. Then they run with it — and when the work gets dangerous they know 150 plus [other site leaders] people around the world have got their back. That’s pretty powerful.14
Hollaback!’s structure is a network inside of a hierarchy. The Executive Director sits at the top and just under her is the International Movement Coordinator. The bloggers and site leaders are on the next rung of the ladder. From there, each site is led by one or more individuals who, aside from general Hollaback! guidelines, are free to approach the fight against harassment however they see fit. So if a site leader in France would like to participate in the local slut walk, no outside permission is necessary. This is the rule across the board (within reason obviously). If the site leaders of any given place can no longer keep it up, it simply “dies” with little to no effect on the others. The leadership style of the New York office is very hands off, and as a result the sites look to one another for advice and suggestions, but as equals. The Hollaback! community is very much a community. Finally, the idea that this community operating through social media is “not a natural enemy of the status quo” is something they might expect, quite frankly, from someone who cannot relate to the lived reality of gendered oppression as it pertains to harassment in public space.15
Street harassment is a result, not of sexual attraction, but of a power dynamic. In a patriarchal word, men exercise their power over women with embarrassment, intimidation, and violence in public places for all to see. Hollaback! is not a Band-Aid for battered egos, it is a movement to reconfigure the relationship between genders so as to end street harassment. Hollaback! would not be possible without the power of the nexus between social media and social activism. Malcolm Gladwell is not wrong, he simply wouldn’t know real social change being worked through social media if he saw it, and that is his point, it is rare. But it is happening.