Lighthearted Terms for Harassment Impede Progress


I was living in India during its last festive season, which includes the celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, arguably the most important holiday in the nation.  We (the other Westerners with whom I was living and I) were warned by our Bengali counterparts to be careful. Diwali, after all, is commemorated with flashing lights, and it’s a common practice, we were told, for “Eve-teasing” to be taken to another level: sometimes, to show their interest, festive men will throw lit firecrackers at women.  I figured that if I could survive Dengue Fever (which I suffered twice), I could deal with second-degree burns, but the frequency of “Eve-teasing” in India is, honestly, something I never actually got used to, despite its pervasiveness.

I recently learned that the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) released a statement, quoting that a survey of 1,000 teenage boys in Mumbai “showed that the overwhelming majority viewed the practice of Eve-teasing as harmless and inoffensive,” and I wasn’t at all surprised.  I forwarded the report to my English-cum-Indian roommates with the headline “Sneaky Gropes,” which is the term we fashioned to describe the crime.  But why wouldn’t boys take it more seriously?  Used as a catch-all term in Southeast Asia to describe what we would call harassment and assault, “Eve-teasing” sounds innocent and playful, and therefore implies that it’s all in good fun, like stealing kisses on the playground.

Unfortunately, what Eve-teasing in public places really is, is street harassment.  “And sexual harassment on the street,” Aisha Zakira, Director of Mumbai’s local HollaBack!, says, “is a gateway crime that creates a cultural environment which makes gender-based violence okay.”

But what I can tell you from personal experience is that the practice of Eve-teasing is not okay.  Once, in a rush to meet my friend for lunch, I forwent my usual rickshaw ride for a bus, and what happened there left me rather distraught: one of the employees on the bus reached under my shawl and groped me – an unmistakable, no-way-that-was-an-accident squeeze – twice!  I pushed him away the first time; the second time, I jumped off of the bus and walked the rest of the way to my stop.  Looking up, I saw the man hanging out of the doorway of the bus, yelling at me, as if I were the jerk for not being receptive to a little jovial fun.  I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if the assault was my own fault.  But, truthfully, there is no fine line here between avoiding ethnocentrism and demanding respect: the beauty of the country of India is easily undermined when you’re being groped repeatedly under your shawl on a bus, or when a man grabs your ass on your way onto a rickshaw.

Fortunately, women and men in countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan are starting to find a voice, and they are using it to shout back against street harassment.  In Bangladesh, the High Court recently ruled that the term Eve-teasing demeans the severity of the action, after activists demanded change.

If we can change the vernacular, then we can change the attitude.  Similar to men in the United States swearing up and down that their lewd comments are “compliments,” men in Southeast Asia calling harassment “Eve-teasing” is nothing but a misnomer.  Let’s start calling it what it is, and calling it out on being wrong.


Melissa A. Fabello lives in New England, where she volunteers for various feminist organizations and runs the lesbian blog and community ToughxCookies.


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Midtown Hard Hats New Hollaback Heros


If you’ve never gotten a “Hey baby,” then perhaps you’ve heard a “Yo mommy” called out in your direction by a man who is getting paid a lot of money to be doing an actual job, and not trying to solicit a blow job.

An old comedian friend of mine, Liz Laufer, has a great joke she used to tell on stage about street harassment. She’d say, “I went to London recently and over in the UK, construction workers are a little different than here. There, they actually build stuff.” (more…)

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To Be (Anonymous) or Not to Be (Anonymous): Women in Technology


“I know, rationally, that random insults are exactly that,” says Grace. “But I still find it hard to brush off. Maybe I’ll grow that thick skin, but I don’t feel that the onus should be on me to do so.””

“The first rule is: try to avoid pronouns.” A tall order, especially when it comes to the basic act of writing. And taller still given that Brittany (whose full name and publication she wishes to remain anonymous) has worked in editorial media for several years. “I mean, of course you end up using them. But if it’s on Reddit or The Guardian online—anything with comments or feedback—it’s the same: you’re going to get shit if readers figure out you’re female.”

Since the internet’s explosion into the mainstream, the idea of harassment has been thrown into the same semantic cyber-danger pot as “chatroom predators,” “identity theft,” and “Craigslist personals”. But as online experiences which have long been solitary become increasingly community-based, receiving abuse via interactive technology has become, it would seem, a given—and widely-absorbed into women’s online routines.

“Even the most explicit online mud-slinging is easy to kind of ignore or just not internalize. But there’s this feeling, from everyone from the readers to the active commenters to your real, flesh and blood editors, that if you get creepy responses, you were sort of just asking for it– just by mentioning you’re female, or offering a ‘female’ perspective on something that doesn’t have an exclusively female following.” – Kim Pittman

Kim Pittman is a level-designer for Toys For Bob, an Activision studio based in northern California. In addition to working in the game industry, she is herself an avid gamer: “I got into gaming because of my mother and my brother,” she says. “My first conscious memory is of a video-game. I’ve always played them. It was just a family thing at my house.”

Pittman studied at the Guildhall at Southern Methodist University, which has offered an accelerated graduate program in video-game development since 2003. “As a designer, it’s kind of my job to study new games. So I try to spend thirty minutes to an hour every day playing something new: everything from Facebook games to iPhone games to Xbox 360 games. But most of what I play for my own pleasure – not deconstructing anything – is World of Warcraft.”

Blizzard Entertainment’s massive multi-player online game World of Warcraft has gained notoriety in the past decade for its die-hard, often socially reclusive fans, coupled with massive commercial success. But Pittman remains conscious of the stigma attached to advertising gender within its gameplay. “You do not share the fact that you’re female,” she states. “Despite the fact that I play solely female characters, everyone assumes that you’re male. And when you play these games, you just let people assume you’re male, because it’s easier. You don’t have to worry about ‘creepies’, you don’t have to worry about people ‘falling in love with you’ – it’s just easier. Then when you get to know people, eventually you reveal yourself. You can say ‘Well, you know, I’m not really a guy,’ and then you have to combat the initial disbelief. People think you’re just trying to get something out of them. I actually played with a guild in World of Warcraft for over a year, and we finally got a vent server and were suddenly all like ‘Oh God, you really are a girl!’ I’m just said, ‘I’ve been telling you that for over a year now!’ They didn’t believe me.”

A 2006 statistic from the Consumer Electronics Association revealed that women ages 25-34 were out-playing men in “casual” (non-console) games by 30%. Three years later, a Nielsen report would find that women over age 25 make up the largest constituency of gamers in the United States. And in the UK, women have been projected as made up 48% of World of Warcraft players. “It’s a little relieving to not be singled out as that odd girl doing something she shouldn’t be,” Pittman explains. “Video-games still have that kind of stigma – that they’re for children, or that they’re a waste of time. Over the years, as I’ve met more and more people, I’ve begun outing myself as an actual female. And more often than not speak with people you thought were male — and they’re not. Suddenly they’re like ‘Oh thank God, another woman!” and suddenly you build these friendships where you’re just clinging to each other like someone drowning clinging to their life-jacket.”

The irony and self-perpetuation of online anonymity is not lost on female gamers and new-media users. “I went to PAX — the Penny Arcade expo up in Seattle – and it was an eye-opener. Up til that point I saw myself as something of a unicorn,” a metaphor Pittman finds particularly apt, and returns to often, “being a female gamer. At something like that there are going to be thousands of other girls running around, just as nerdy as you, if not drastically more so. It kind of reached this point where I thought, OK, this isn’t abnormal; we shouldn’t be having to hide online, and this is unfair. I should be able to tell people I’m female and not expect crazy to come out of it.”

But out of this unsettling trend has come comfort in the form of the ever-useful screenshot: FatUglyOrSlutty.com, launched early this year, allows gamers to share the creepy, comical, inane, and often deeply disturbing feedback female gamers receive, most often via the chat functions in the World of Warcraft and Call of Duty franchises.

“I shared some of the messages I had received with GTZ [co-editor Grace*] and other friends,” explains Ashlee, a co-founder of FsoU, “and we were all laughing about them. I said something like, ‘Everyone is the same. I’m always either fat and ugly, or a slut.’ GTZ said I should make my own site in which I just post all of the messages I get, and our friend Marcus suggested we call it FatUglyorSlutty.com. It started out as a joke, but we quickly realized it would be an awesome idea.”

One “whisper” reads: “wow retard r u on ur rag or somethin.” In a Call of Duty chat-log: “you fat fuckin tomboy go kill yourself.”

“I really like the fact that we’re taking away peoples’ anonymity,” says Jennifer, ie “OMGitsFEDAY,” the third of FUoS’ editors, “which I think is a huge reason why people think sending these kinds of messages is OK — because they can get away with it. Not anymore, suckers! And we’re also helping showcase an actual issue that many people don’t even realize happens, though it’s a part of life for any female who’s ever played an online game and had the audacity to reveal her gender.”

The site has received widespread media attention since its launch, including profiles in Kotaku and GamrFeed, and news aggregator Reddit, which launched an extensive discussion among both male and female gamers. One Reddit user contributed: “I never realized how bad it was until my girlfriend got into gaming. She started with L4D [Valve’s Left 4 Dead] on the 360. She would constantly get bombarded with disgusting voice messages and lewd comments. I’ve been playing online games for a long time and never experienced anything close to what she has to deal with. I’m not even talking about comments like ‘lol a gurl, get back in the kitchen’, I’m talking about extremely vile things. Like the little kid who voice messaged her that he was going to chop her up into little pieces and have sex with all the pieces. I mean, seriously?”

Like all areas of waking life, women in online media are caught somewhere between indignation and the frustration at having to be indignant: the distress of being targeted, and the backlash at discussing factors which still allow women to be targeted – particularly in ways which many view as vestigial of a time long past.

“I know, rationally, that random insults are exactly that,” says Grace. “But I still find it hard to brush off. Maybe I’ll grow that thick skin, but I don’t feel that the onus should be on me to do so.”

For Pittman, her history of harassment in gaming doesn’t begin and end in the digital world. Since entering the Guildhall in 2005, she has left an internship because of a co-worker’s obsessive behavior, and been asked by a previous studio’s human resources department to delineate her own definition of workplace sexual harassment (“because,” she explains “it wasn’t so much a question of if and by what circumstances it would happen, but when it would happen, and I think they wanted to be prepared”). She also shares a story about being kicked out of a guild by a female leader upon realizing that she—Pittman— was also a woman: “You know it’s funny, I’ve never encountered anything even remotely close to that in a game of Call of Duty. I played Team Fortress 2 quite a bit, and even in that it was like, ‘Oh you’re a girl? Big deal – HEAL ME!’”

“There is no reason we should have to hide our gender to play games,” says Jennifer. “I’m not going to go all Mulan and cut my hair, deepen my voice, and wrap my boobs. The comment we get a lot is: ‘Just don’t talk or let people know you’re a girl.’ And it’s bullshit. We shouldn’t have to hide. We like games, so get over it.”


Arianna Reiche is a writer dividing her time between the east and left coasts. Visit her online at www.ariannareiche.com.

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Voices: Girlfriend and Girlfriend, Actually


“The difference between being hollered at as a woman and being hollered at as a lesbian is simple: in the former, men are trying to obtain you; in the latter, they’re trying to change you.”

We were at the county fair—me, with my long, flat-ironed brown and pink hair, skinny jeans, and gray pumps; her, my girlfriend at the time, with her blue plaid shirt over a sparkling gold tank top, and her perfectly applied makeup. Holding hands, we sauntered through the crowd on our way to rollercoasters and strawberry-topped funnel cakes, when suddenly we heard, hollered behind us, “Are y’all girlfriend and boyfriend?” (more…)

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Review: Dimitri The Lover? I Think Not.


Not only do we already have societal victim blaming and violence against women, now these issues are compounded by play acting that trivializes both the seriousness of misogyny and its effects on society as a whole.

Remember Dimitri the Lover? Well, he’s making a movie. James “Dimitri the Lover” Sears became an internet sensation in 2008 with his abrasive, bizarre ju-ju voicemail message to a woman named Olga. Currently on YouTube is a teaser trailer for a feature film starring Dimitri that is being developed by producer Brad Goodman of Borat and Bruno fame. The film ostensibly would follow Dimitri’s inane pick-up artistry and his attempt to create “real men.” Will this movie come to fruition? Based on the relative age of both his teaser movie trailer and YouTube interview with producer Brad Goodman, I hope not. (more…)


Op-Ed: Who’s the Misogynist Now?


Photo by Jack David Savage

“…for all the moaning about Islam, the West’s cultural practices vis-à-vis women leave a lot to be desired.”

Over the last few years I have watched as the Spectre of Islamic Doom has been steadily broadcast across Western society. The result has been less than helpful, to say the least. In Europe the effects are even worse than in North America: laws have been passed either by legislative bodies or by referendum restricting what citizens can wear or even build, lest it be too ‘Islamic’ in appearance.

Whipped up by media using fear to sell more newspaper or TV advertising and accuracy be damned, the majority of the populace has approved of these measures. Sadly, they fail to see that due to the universal nature of the law, they are subject to them as well, and that ominous legal precedents have been established.

In North America it seems there is a similar popular reaction to this patently false fear-mongering, but the Constitutions of both Canada and the United States thankfully prohibit – or will eventually strike down – arbitrary laws that dictate what an individual is allowed to wear.

One of the key messages of this anti-Islam onslaught has been how terribly oppressed women are by Islam. And one only has to look at the record of say, the government of Saudi Arabia, or the ghastly former Taliban regime in Afghanistan to recoil in horror.

And you’d think that would be enough for me too. I was raised by an ardently feminist mother and all I can say is that a lot of it rubbed off on me. For more than 20 years now I’ve been a pro-choice activist, and I hope most of my women friends can say I’ve treated them with the normal respect any human being deserves.

“…if I walk into my local Blockbuster right now, I can rent any one of over 200 movies which feature young women being raped, stabbed, shot, beheaded, torn in two, crushed, chopped up, eaten, burnt alive and eviscerated. For entertainment purposes.”

But this message about Islam oppressing women just doesn’t cut it for me. While I concede that Islam treats women like second-class citizens, so do nearly all religions. The other Abramic faiths certainly hold this in common with their younger cousin. And in many of the regions where Islam is now dominant, before it came along things were generally much worse for women; Islam was a definite step up, and it at least recognized women as full human beings precious to Allah, and deserving respect.

Of course there is more to any society than just its religion. Cultural practices and mores can persist from very ancient times, alongside and even in opposition to widely-practiced faiths (for example, female genital mutilation, which many imams oppose). I suspect the position of women in Afghanistan would not be much different if that country had remained Buddhist or become Christian along the way.

And here’s the thing; for all the moaning about Islam, the West’s cultural practices vis-à-vis women leave a lot to be desired. In France they pass coercive laws to ban the hijab, a headscarf worn in observance of the Koran’s instructions for the faithful – both men and women – to dress modestly. Yet the message to women in the West to be sexy and flirtatious is non-stop. In France, where the State threatens to forcibly strip women of their hijabs, the President’s wife is a former model, with plenty of nude pictures of her available for all to enjoy. Here in North America we see girls asking daddy for a boob-job for their 16th birthday. In the West there is freedom for all to make some degree of sexual display. But who could deny the great cultural pressure to do so as well?

Are those kinds of cultural demands any better than an obligation to cover up? And not only are women expected to be on constant display, Western society demands they play another role as well – victim.  This is what I mean;  if I walk into my local Blockbuster right now, I can rent any one of over 200 movies which feature young women (correction: sexy young women) being raped, stabbed, shot, beheaded, torn in two, crushed, chopped up, eaten, burnt alive and eviscerated. For entertainment purposes.

The horror movie industry, which is considered perfectly mainstream, makes fat profits feeding us images of women being murdered – again and again and again. No one is forced to see a film like that – people voluntarily hand over their money so they can have those images imprinted into their minds forever.

To me that speaks to something so profoundly misogynistic it’s hard to find the words for it. That the victims in these films are being punished for their overt sexuality (which the audience is both savouring and conflating) only reinforces the stark hate behind these images.

The easy commodification and consumption of images of torture, rape and murder seems a far worse thing than a woman wearing a hijab in public. Yes, it’s quite possible she doesn’t want to but her family is making her wear it. But it is equally possible she wears it because she is proud of her faith. Or feels naked without it. Or she wants to de-emphasize sexual attributes so men will  just deal with her as a person with a brain who deserves respect.

In fact I’m not a huge fan of organized religion. I don’t have much of a spiritual sense, and if religious prophets have spoken words I heartily endorse, time and again organized religion twisted and betrayed those words. But there is no doubt in my mind that we are experiencing an alarming upsurge in public Islamophobia. Several times I’ve even been forwarded fearful e-mails claiming all Muslims are planning to kill us infidels. I can only roll my eyes at that.

That’s because I live in a thoroughly Muslim area and most of my neighbours are Pakistani or Afghan. There’s a big beautiful mosque two minutes from my door. It is clear to me, in my daily contacts with Muslims, that they are as kind, as grumpy, as open and as blinkered as anyone else walking this Earth. The constant demonization and discrimination is unacceptable. Especially not from a self-righteous society that claims to value equal rights but gets off on watching women being turned into hamburger.


Nick Van der Graaf is a writer living in Toronto, Canada. This article appeared on his blog, neodemokratia, on February 15, 2011.

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Op-Ed: What Is International Women’s Day, Anyway?


Today marks the 100th anniversary of a universal holiday that has traditionally been hardly acknowledged in the United States, let alone celebrated: International Women’s Day.

Since its inception in the early 1900s in Europe and the late 1970s in the US, International Women’s Day has taken a back seat to larger, more popular holidays. But it’s taken a back seat to even the most inane ones, too. How do we know the anniversary of Pacman and Thomas Edison’s Birthday without knowing about Women’s Day? One word: Google.

Google changes their logo for almost anything, but in the past few years, March 8 has come and gone without so much as a nod from The Google. This is not to slam Google, it is my understanding that because today marks the holiday’s 100th anniversary, they do plan on changing their header. What does it say, though, that we need a Google header to realize it’s Women’s Day? Surely I should have learned this in my all-girls Catholic high school.

It is common to give gifts and flowers to women on March 8th around the world and in certain countries, Women’s Day is a national holiday that entitles women to a day off of work. But in the United States, while other newer holidays like Earth Day are woven into the academic school year and publicized in advertisements on subways, buses, and media, Women’s Day has remained largely unnoticed.

I polled some of my friends and a few strangers for an unscientific look at what Women’s Day means to some people. The answers were varied: “Never heard of it” and “Why do we need days like Black History, LGBTQ, Women’s days when we should all be appreciated and honored every day for who and what we are” and “I wish I could say that it meant more, but it doesn’t.”

It’s not hard to understand the lack of celebration around Women’s Day in the United States when we consider the ongoing assault on women’s rights as a whole in our country. You cannot open up the newspaper, turn on the news or open your Facebook feed without hearing of continued political attempts to revoke, amend, and regulate our rights. We’re being assaulted in government as well as in our schools and on the streets. From the now removed billboard attack on African American women in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood in September to the continued fight for federal funding for Planned Parenthood, to a Georgia state representative’s attempt to redefine the word ‘rape’, in the United States, women’s rights are under seige.

In the United States and around the world women are treated as second class citizens right off the bat. Add other variables like race, religion, ethnicity, disability, weight, sexual orientation and a woman’s rank in society goes down yet a notch further. But serious progress has been made, and movements like the anti-street harassment movement prove that we are changing. In the words of a friend, our country is ripe for a revolution. So who is ready to take that stand?

I’ve often lamented that I wish that I had the gall of our foremothers who walked out of garment districts demanding better pay. I wish I’d been there as we demanded our rights to vote, demanded the rights for contraception, and won the right to choose. I look at pictures of women of varying ethnic groups standing shoulder to shoulder in black and white stills of the marches on Washington and wonder if this generation is ready to make the same amount of real noise as those women. Not just Internet and Facebook noise but real Noise. Burning your bra Noise, mega phone Noise, in your face NOISE! The Women’s Movement may have ended but if we aren’t celebrating Women’s Day in a big way nationally, the fight is not over.


Erika K. Davis is the writer and founder of Black, Gay, and Jewish and lives in New York City.

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