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BY EMILY MAY
Check out the article, “Get Angry. Go Viral. Use Social Media for Change!” in this month’s more magazine! The article profiles our friends at Harassmap in Egypt, as well as our friend Deanna Zandt who wrote “Share This! How you will change with world with social networking” (if you haven’t read it yet, get on it). The article also gives Hollaback! a little shout out:
As technology grows more sophisticated, the sites will too. iHollaback.org, a U.S.-based precursor to HarassMap that takes advantage of the latest software, enables women to punch an icon on their smartphones, choose whether to take a photo of their harasser and later share the details of the abuse—-information that is then uploaded to Hollaback’s website, along with blogs, tips and news. “Change has always been about telling our stories,” says the site’s founder, Emily May. “But now we can map our stories. We can photograph our stories. We can tell our stories on blogs.” And produce concrete results: In 2008, after months of pressure from Hollaback members [EDITOR'S NOTE: This done in coordination with New Yorkers for Safe Transit, of which Hollaback! is a member], New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to plaster antigroping signs in the subways, and now the city council is considering more aggressive action against harassers. “All of a sudden we’re not just talking to our friends online,” May says. “We can use our stories to talk to people in the community, talk to legislators and spread the word.”
Ultimately, though, what draws women to these sites is something deeper: a camaraderie of the pissed off and the passionate. As one woman posted on Hollaback: “Using your camera phone is a subtle way to take some kind of action when you feel powerless . . . [It] connects you to an entire community of people who collectively say this is awful, it shouldn’t have happened to you, and it wasn’t your fault. When people ask me, ‘What good does it do to post a picture on a blog?’ I say, ‘Are you kidding?! We’re building a movement!’ ”
Gotta love that end quote. Pretty much sums it all up.
A Manhattan judge recently dismissed the case against former director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Khan, due to the District Attorney’s decision to drop the charges of sexual assault against him. The prosecution essentially stated that Nafissatou Diallo’s inconsistencies in her recollection of events damaged her credibility to the point where her account could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Yes, folks, the prosecution decided that it, and not a jury, would decide the fate of this case. Not to be outdone, the media certainly did its share to discredit Diallo, drudging up federal forms she filled out in the past and even introducing the option of deportation as a result of perjury on these documents.
In a classic case of the justice system treating the victim of sexual violence as a criminal, we are yet again faced with the harsh reality that system’s glaring, inherent flaws. Now I am not presuming that is DSK guilty, not at all. I am saying, however, that the structure of our justice system was leaning heavily toward his innocence before he ever stepped foot inside of that hotel. I’m saying that “the law” is not colorblind. In fact, it is just as sensitive to race, to gender, to class, as those who make it, enforce it, and interpret it, and until we part with the myth that there is such a thing as “equal protection under the law,” this will always be a problem. Diallo, then, was not failed by the justice system, she is collateral damage for the sexism, racism, classism, and religious discrimination that it is steeped in. If the outrage and sense of betrayal this decision produced can be used as a catalyst for reform there, then it is not in vain. But if we have only gathered to cry out for Strauss-Khan’s head, then we will be back, and soon.
Hi, my name is Alex and I’m a college student who interned at Hollaback! this past summer. I am, of course, elated to be a part of the blogging team and hope some of you can hear echoes of your own voices in my writing. I’m new at this so any comments or suggestions would be more than welcome!
BY EMILY MAY
In spring 2009 I was accepted into the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices Program with nine of the most impressive women I’ve ever met. At the front of the room was Katy Orenstein, founder of the Op-ed project, a project designed to increase the amount of women writers on the editorial pages.
Katy was pushing us to identify as “experts.” Media people love “experts” (read: talking heads) but women tend to shy away from it. We fear the “so what makes you an expert?” question like the plague, and to be fair – we’re much more likely to get it than men. The more Katy pushed us to identify, the more we wiggled in our seats and pushed back with over-intellectualized arguments that reasoned if every one’s voice matters – what was so special about ours?
What Katy did next changed my life. She told us to imagine that everyone in the room had cancer. Then after a long pause she told us to imagine that we weren’t sure – but that we thought we had a cure. She asked us: do we speak up?
We responded in unison: of course.
So, she said, “what’s the difference? The world has problems, and you all have answers. If you’re not speaking up you’re silently complicit in other’s pain.”
Those words hit me hard. It made me realize — once and for all — the power of what we had created. We had a huge international platform from which to end street harassment. We also had a me, who didn’t want to lead, write books, or pursue media for fear of making it all about me. And in the process, I had made it all about me. Hollaback! hadn’t even come close to realizing it’s potential because I was scared to lead, and in that moment I realized that this wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about my fears, feelings, hesitations or career goals. I had a choice: I could lead this thing or I could sit back, go with Plan A, and delay progress.
We all know what the end of the story is, but my point is this: every day each of us face moments where we can speak up or shut up. I’m not gonna lie, speaking up is one the scariest things you’ll ever do. You’ll open yourself up to criticism and ridicule. If you speak loudly enough someone will tell you you’re fat or ugly. When we make the mistake of thinking that we speak up only for ourselves, shutting up becomes an obvious choice. But when we remember that our voices can speed the pace of progress -whether it’s ending street harassment, promoting peace, or preserving the environment – speaking up becomes so much more than an outlet. It becomes a responsibility.
BY ANNIE BOGGS
It’s easy to feel hopeless about the world when we are constantly barraged with the media’s continuing fascination with Sarah Palin, sexist JCPenney shirts for girls (although it was promptly removed from their site), and other depressing news like zero job growth. It’s easy to feel that you can do, well, nothing.
In one of my college courses we are reading the influential “Feminism Is For Everybody” by bell hooks. In the final chapter, she ends on a positive note by reminding her readers that feminism can be advanced on a personal scale; anyone can take a stand against sexism.
“That work does not necessarily require us to join organizations; we can work on behalf of feminism right where we are,” she says. “We can begin to do the work on feminism at home, right where we live, educating ourselves and our loved ones.”
This was refreshing to me, as I feel there is a lot of pressure on self-described feminists to stir up society at large. Of course, that always causes the most instantly recognizable change, but questioning someone you know on a racist or sexist statement they made can also stir up change. Making just one person question their viewpoints can be just as important and “radical.”
There is a project called Microagressions which aims to do just that. People send in short remarks that reveal how privilege persists as a defining force in their everyday life, in settings like the doctor’s office or their own home. It just shows that acknowledging hurtful, commonplace comments about sex, class, race, gender and other factors is the first step to creating change. Hollaback! is another good example of this- sharing your story of harassment is one of the first steps to creating broader change.
Whenever someone around me makes a discriminatory statement, even if it’s seemingly normal and not meant to be malicious, I try to correct them and acknowledge that their statement is Wrong. But to be honest, I don’t take the plunge every time. I’m going to try to be more critical, however, and acknowledge these “microagressions” in everyday situations. It’s the easiest way to provoke change in the world, however small your community is. Will you?
As the start of the new school year rapidly approaches, some girls are dreading having to go back. They have been subjected to severe sexual harassment by other students in the form of explicit comments, slanderous graffiti, and inappropriate touching. As a result of this unwanted attention, they are often ostracized by other girls, and can fall into depressive and self-destructive behaviors. Sadly, this is not as unusual as it might sound, because girls today are living in a world that has forced them to become sexual much earlier than at any other time in American history. And by “sexual,” I don’t mean just making babies ~ as we know, girls were married at extremely young ages a hundred years ago, and already had large families by their late teens ~ no, instead, I’m referring to the exploitation of women’s and girls bodies as objects/commodities, and way before they have a chance to attain emotional and intellectual maturity. But I digress ~ there are so many underlying reasons for this problem, which we’ll have to explore at another time. Today’s discussion is about the prevalence of sexual harassment in public schools, and what can be done about it.
According to AAUW (The American Association of University Women), an astounding 83% of girls have experienced sexual harassment. Just think about that ~ When we walk out onto the street in New York City, or even take public transportation (known breeding grounds for harassing behaviors), most of the time we expect not to be harassed, and are rudely shocked out of our happy place/complacency by some jerk that sees an opportunity to take our power away. But girls in public schools, according to this report, might fullyexpect to be abused, just by showing up in that environment. It is one thing to endure a one-time violation by an anonymous stranger whom you’ll never have to see again (except maybe in a police line-up, or in court), but another thing entirely to endure repeat abuse at the hands of someone you have to encounter on a daily basis. Shocking isn’t even the word, and actually invites comparisons to torture. This summer, I completed a course in the Human Rights of Women at Columbia University, in which we exposed domestic violence and other forms of continual abuse as a form of torture, because of the ability to take one’s autonomy and power away through repeated episodes of sexual violation. I believe that if there was this understanding of the seriousness what girls are going through in the schools, more direct action could, and would, be taken against it at the school administrative level, if not higher.
So, in the absence of regularly enforced policies, what can girls and their parents do? For starters, it’s about setting boundaries. This blog, and much of the Hollaback! website seeks to empower women in all situations, so that they can escape, or ideally, prevent harm from coming to them. The same principles apply in the school environment, as out on the street. The word “No!” is a powerful ally in self-protection. Standing up to one’s aggressor/bully is never easy, and not always the safest thing to do, but in the right circumstance, can dissuade an abuser from seeing someone as an easy target, “worthy” of repeated acts of abuse. Since sexual harassment of girl students seems to happen most often on school buses (a closed environment, think “subway car”), changing classes (the “hit and run,” when a student is focused on getting to class), or obviously, in the gym and locker room environment, a girl must always be alert to who is in close proximity to her. Getting changed in a bathroom stall might not be convenient, but does work to allow some privacy. And as for riding on the bus, sitting closer to the driver is always the safest option for students being subjected to harassment. But just as in the case of harassment in the workplace, there should be some type of “paper trail” to describe the nature and time lines of individual complaints, if there are repeated incidents, even from different people. School officials cannot readily ignore written complaints without opening themselves up to liability.
Now, let’s look at a scenario where a girl’s complaints might fall on deaf ears, and her school, for whatever reason, refuses to bring a timely and appropriate remedy to the situation, by either limiting contact with the abuser, or taking disciplinary action. Sadly, name-calling and even inappropriate touching is seen as “normal teenage behavior” by many school officials ~ many of whom grew up in a very different, more sheltered time and place, and who therefore seem to lack the sense of empathy needed to protect a vulnerable student. If a harassment situation gets this far, parents have a powerful resource in the Title IX Act Education Amendment of 1972, which guarantees every child the equal right to an education. This has been used successfully in many instances, but not everyone knows about it to take advantage of it. The mere mention of invoking it may actually trigger the appropriate (albeit overdue) response from school officials. But at heart, this is a problem of education ~ just as there are now seminars and school assemblies that openly discuss the problem of general bullying, there needs to be more said about sexual harassment, which seems to be almost exclusively a problem for girls. Public school must be safe if learning and growing is to take place, and more and more girls in recent years have been driven out of this environment towards more expensive single-sex, private institutions. Let’s see how we can deepen our empathy for girls, not only by teaching them how to protect themselves, but by creating safer places where they never have to fear being violated just by showing up. Because, frankly, that should be the very last thing on their minds this September.
BY ANGELA DALLARA
It’s always encouraging to see criticism and internal dialogue within movements for equality—conversations that constantly question whether activists have the best priorities, are being as inclusive as possible, and are making a positive impact. I think one of the most admirable things about the modern feminist movement is the way we are always educating ourselves and each other, remembering that feminism is about equality for everyone regardless of their sex, gender, race, ability, and other factors—and asking whether our perspectives are complete and fair.
But I wish to see more of that healthy debate in the mainstream movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality today. Dialogue among LGBT activists often takes a more tense, accusatory tone about which goals are the most important, which queer community suffers more than the others, and which organizations aren’t good enough.
One of the clearest indications of this is the classic “debate” over how transgender issues fit within the broader LGBT circle. No matter how increasingly educated and informed we become about trans people and the issues surrounding trans communities, it seems like every couple of weeks there’s a new op-ed or forum debate or Twitter fight or public service announcement about whether the “T” should really be a part of the “LGBT” acronym. It never fails: just last week openly gay news anchor Don Lemon made that question a large portion of a panel of transgender celebrities he hosted on the Joy Behar Show. (The segment was extremely problematic, as Lemon is clearly not versed in trans conversations in any way; but promising in a larger sense, as I blogged about elsewhere).
Why is the “T” part of the “LGBT”? I hope that for feminists the answer is rather obvious. The stigma surrounding transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people is the same stigma that people who aren’t straight must confront: They’re not expressing themselves according to the strict rules and rigid binaries that society has created for us, where there are men and women; men are masculine and have sex with women; and women are feminine and have sex with men. The trans community confronts these most fundamental notions of what the world tries to tell us about gender.
And this has devastating impacts. Transgender women make up 44% of all victims of violence against LGBT people. People of color make up 70% of the victims. It’s worth repeating. Transgender women of color are the single most targeted group in the LGBT community. But gay men, lesbians, and other groups are also regularly harmed—usually not for their sexual orientation, but for their expression of their gender; for “looking” gay.
“There isn’t much that compares,” said advocate Ja’briel Walthour in the Huffington Post yesterday, to living life as a transgender woman of color. “To face discrimination and biased attitudes is one thing; to stare down the barrel of a loaded weapon is another.”
Feminists are beginning to recognize the integral importance of speaking up for and protecting our trans sisters (and brothers), and why it’s relevant to them. But it remains an issue for many LGB and straight people who continue to ask “Why should I care?” The fact that they think this is even debatable is scary. The answer is glaringly obvious to me.
BY YASHAR, cross posted from the current conscience
The other day, my friend Dina was talking about her experiences of being catcalled—street harassment is a more accurate term—while walking around the streets of New York.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard about the epidemic of street harassment. Many of my women friends have remarked about experiencing and dealing with this kind of harassment and how unsafe it makes them feel.
For Dina, one particular instance of harassment on the streets of New York was cemented in her memory. She was walking alone, during the day, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, when she heard a man taunt her, “Hey baby, you’re lookin’ good…”
“Don’t call me baby,” she responded.
He looked her up and down and said, “…fucking dyke.”
For the record, Dina is straight—not that it would have been okay if she weren’t.
This wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time Dina faces street harassment. She has been harassed in public places, and on a number of occasions, followed by men. Many studies indicate that almost 100 percent of women will face some sort of street harassment at one point in their lives.
Most men don’t even realize street harassment exists as a very real, serious problem. Yet, many women see this kind of harassment as part of daily life. For the few men who are aware of it, they assume the extent of street harassment is something akin to harmless, or at worst, annoying flirting, which still problematic if that attention is unwelcome.
The reality of street harassment is far worse than what most men think or believe. In cities large and small, women have to contend with comments that range from the mildly offensive to the disgusting. Beyond being verbally harassed, many women are followed and some women are even forced to deal with the same harasser on a daily basis. And for some women, this “harmless” harassment leads to assault.
But I realized, as Dina was telling me her story, that I have never actually been witness to the kind of street harassment my women friends tell me about. If a woman is walking down the street with me, other men generally won’t engage in any kind of harassing behavior towards her because street harassment, like all forms of harassment, is about attacking the vulnerable.
And despite what some readers of this column may think about my gender, I will never know what it feels like for a woman to walk down the street alone. How am I to fully relate to the pain, fear, and humiliation of street harassment when I have never witnessed its full form and lack the the personal experience of being harassed on the street?
Street harassment is simply one issue that plagues women in their everyday life. They are constantly barraged with discriminatory obstacles that we don’t even see as obstacles.
To read the rest the of the article, click here.
A new t-shirt marketed to tweens and teens contains this message:
“I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.”
Hey, JC Penny: It’s 2011. Your sexist t-shirt messaging sucks. Big time.
That’s right, let’s keep telling young women that their looks are more important than their brains or than doing homework. Maybe they’ll just start believing it.
Sign the Change.org petition to let JC Penny CEO Mike Ullman III know that his paying customers don’t appreciate being disrespected like this and that our daughters will not be wearing sexist propaganda. Ask your friends to do the same.
Thanks to your quick response, JC Penny has pulled the offensive t-shirt from their website and issued this statement:
jcpenney is committed to being America’s destination for great style and great value for the whole family. We agree that the “Too pretty” t-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale. Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to our customers and are taking action to ensure that we continue to uphold the integrity of our merchandise that they have come to expect.
BY ANNIE BOGGS
Deciding what to wear on a night out is usually a matter of deliberation and accomplished with the help of my roommates. In my college town, as in a lot of other areas populated with young people, there seems to be much more pressure on female students than their male counterparts to dress to the nines and look “cute.” Annoying, sure, but is this harmless or damaging sexism at work?
In this recent New York Times piece, writer Lisa Belkin contrasts the equality college women have achieved in the classroom to the lack of respect they seem to receive in social settings. Mainly using examples of fraternities, she describes a setting where largely “men set the pace”, and the “he chases, she submits” way of thinking seems to be ingrained in college culture.
Of course, sexist fraternity members aren’t representative of all college students. It is true, however, that many think that because we’ve reached certain statistics and quotas that demonstrate equality, we can stop caring about it and stop working toward change. That just isn’t true. Women compose more than half of college students, but that doesn’t mean the same old gendered power division doesn’t exist outside the classroom.
A defining factor, I think, is believing you have the choice of what to wear and how to act, independent of others’ expectations. As a young woman, I was taught that I can wear anything I want (and sometimes I think back in disbelief to the days before women could wear pants!). This sometimes includes short dresses, but I don’t like to think it’s dictated by a societal trend that takes away my agency.
The generation of women in college have the most freedom women have ever had, and therefore more expectations, so I can understand the writer’s frustration with the current college culture and definitely think it should be further discussed. Do older generations just not “get” this new kind of female empowerment, or did women’s equality truly get lost in the shuffle somehow? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section!
BY ANNIE BOGGS
If you’re like me, you distrust the summer blockbuster season for its general obsession with superheroes, mindless violence and sequels. With the exception of “Bridesmaids” and the somewhat controversial “The Help”, this year was no different. The end of the summer brings some optimism, however, with several upcoming movies covering uncharted territory (read: women’s and LGBT issues, here and abroad). At a screening of “Another Earth”- a wonderful film I would definitely recommend- I saw the three following film previews that peeked my interest and reinstated my faith (a bit) in the movie industry:
And finally, this trailer was released a few days ago and takes a look at the, ahem, accidental history of the vibrator during the Victorian era, titled “Hysteria” for the illness doctors were attempting to cure. No release date set for the U.S. yet.
Awesome, am I right? Films that actually reflect lives of those who are not white, male and wearing superhero suits are a plus in my book. Support films like these and maybe, someday, blockbuster season will be filled with diverse stories of women (a girl can dream!).