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The first time I remember being harassed was when I was about 12 years old. I was walking along 7th avenue in Brooklyn, NY and a man yelled at me that he would love to pop my cherry. I was with my mother at the time and she reassured me that the harassment was not personal, elaborating that even my grandmother gets yelled at. Though she did not encourage me to confront the man or speak up for myself it was immensely helpful that she told me not to internalize it. I continue to wear whatever I want even though I now live in an area of the city where I regularly get commented on 2 to 6 times during my five block walk to the subway each day.
I feel very privileged to live in a city that holla’s back. The October hearings against street harassment were inspirational regardless of the public backlash. Especially in my neighborhood I regularly see sassy badassy women delivering loud retorts to men who comment on their bodies. Seeing other women speak up gives me the courage to do it too. What really gives me hope is the idea that very young girls will follow our example and no young girl will ever have to bear street harassment is silence if she does not want to.
This idea that women of all ages can start a movement and impress upon very young girls just what it can mean to be a woman has started to guide me more and more in my actions. Recently a group of five female public health students at Hunter College (including myself) made a short film following young women activists who are leading actions to combat the sexualization of women in media and on the streets. These young women work with organizations such as The Line, Hollaback, Hardy Girls Healthy Women, About-Face, and SPARK and are doing great work; I recommend that anyone interested in issues of objectification, sexualization, and harassment check them out!
Submitted by Rebecca Pisciotta
Written by Liz Dolfi, one of Hollaback!’s freelance badasses (or, as some people call them, volunteers)
Many kinds of gender-based violence are still are part of our culture. While tremendous progress has been made in women’s rights in the last century and many forms of violence against women are illegal, rape, domestic violence, and discrimination are still frequent occurrences. We condemn these things through our legal system and education and awareness programs, but resources for survivors are far from sufficient and many people still deal with shame and stigma after experiencing gender-based violence. The various forms of street harassment that many people experience as a part of their daily lives are indicative of this culture.
Women in the United States are often raised to be deeply afraid of sexual assault in public places (despite the fact that you are much more likely to be assaulted by someone you know), and as a result, most of the women I know go through a mental checklist before they leave their homes. Do I have a cell phone and mace? Does someone know where I will be? Can I afford a cab home or find someone to walk with?
Personally, I throw shapeless, baggy clothes on before I go outside, even on hot days because creeps on the subway seem to think that I get dressed for them in the morning. I’ve woken up my partner and my roommate to walk me from the subway at 2:00am when I have gotten stuck with the late shift at my job. I won’t do laundry without a friend because of the lecherous men who sit on the stoop by the laundromat, spending the day groping and hollering at women. I peer into windows as the subway rolls into the station to make sure that I get into a car where other women are sitting.
I think that many people who experience street harassment frequently deeply internalize these compulsive attempts to keep ourselves safe. Some of us learn these behaviors through years of harassment, and some of us were raised with a deep sense that we are unsafe in public spaces and our parents spouted nonsense safety tips like “always have your keys in your hand when you are walking through a parking garage – you can use them as a weapon and get away quickly.”
I would like to think that some of the victim blaming that seems to occur every time someone shares a story about sexual assault or harassment is the result of the safety rituals we perform. When we hear than someone was assaulted when walking home alone at three am, our response is a horrified “what?! Why were you ALONE? And at 3am!!!”
This response is understandable, given how deeply we have internalized the idea that it is UNSAFE (picture that in five foot letters and orange flashing lights) to walk alone at three in the morning. But, and listen carefully here because this is important, WE NEED TO CUT IT OUT.
Today, right now, everyone who thinks that street harassment and sexual assault are unacceptable needs to make a commitment to curb that culturally imprinted response and make sure that the first that thing comes out of our mouths when we hear about an incident of harassment or violence is “this is WRONG.”
Harassment and assault are the fault and the responsibility of the person who decided to treat the person they harassed or assaulted as less than human, end of story.
This is not about what we wear so we need to stop telling our stories by saying “I wasn’t even wearing anything cute,” “it isn’t as if I looked slutty” etc. If I choose to walk down the street naked, that does not negate my rights over my own body or somehow imply that I am walking past you for the sake of your sexual satisfaction (I’m talking to you creepy Laundromat guys). This is not about why we are on the street in the first place. We need to stop staying “I was just trying to get to work” as if we need to justify our existence in public places. If I am a sex worker looking for consensual sex at a negotiated price, I am NOT asking for unwanted sexual advances and harassing me is unacceptable.
If we allow our own fears to shape the way that we talk about incidents of gender-based harassment in public places and sexual assault, we end up blaming victims, and ultimately ourselves, for something that is not our fault, and we encourage the people who genuinely do blame the victim to continue to discuss these issues in that way.
So, I would like to recommend being careful with our language and ditching the qualifiers when describing assault and harassment as the official small feminist activist action of the day. Let’s cut out the language that can imply victim-blaming and put blame where it is due.
I’m a sucker for a good TEDtalk, but this one from TEDwomen takes the cake. Thanks to Erik Kondo who writes the Street Harassment Disruption blog for passing it along.
written by Liz Dolfi, one of Hollaback!’s many freelance badasses (or as other people call them, volunteers)
One of the most common points made about Hollaback! by critics is that it “doesn’t do anything.” “Ok well, so you took a picture of this guy and maybe if you are one in a thousand victims this will help the guy get caught, but nothing really changes.” This is a common refrain in blog posts and articles written by people who don’t really get what Hollaback! is about.
The toughest thing about this street harassment is that there is nothing to be done. Certain legal changes would be great, but it would be impossible (not to mention unwise) to criminalize many behaviors that characterize street harassment. Street harassment is a no-win situation for those who experience it. Saying something to the person harassing you, even something polite, can lead to escalation and potential violence, but ignoring it and walking away also have a price. In my experience, it can be really damaging to internalize this stuff day after day. What we need is a major cultural shift. We need to create a social environment where yelling sexual comments at people on the street is considered unacceptable, and people speak up when they see someone being harassed. For this kind of change, we need a movement, and that is what Hollaback! is trying to build.
I have spent most of my life in cities, and these things (men yelling on the street, groping me on the subway) started happening to me when I was very young. As a fourteen year old being groped on the tube in London, it was very clear to me that no one was going to help me, and so I internalized what was happening and learned to be quiet and get out of the situation. Now, as an adult, I have a really hard time even getting out the words “don’t touch me” or “leave me alone” because that instinct to be quiet and get away is so strong. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn last year, I stopped doing laundry without my partner so that I wouldn’t have to walk past the guys who sit on the stoop of a nearby building shouting at women all day. I wore jeans in 95 degree weather in the summer because I was more comfortable to sweat it out than to deal with the extra attention that came with shorts or a skirt. Street harassment is part of many women’s daily reality and it isn’t enough to ignore it and walk away day after day, week after week, and year after year.
So why does posting stories about harassment on a blog change anything? Well, if nothing else, Hollaback has changed my life and the way that I cope with street harassment. Using your camera or camera phone is subtle way to take some kind of action when you feel powerless. Of course, the Hollaback! blog is only part of what this organization is doing, but it is a powerful tool. Submitting your photo and story to Hollaback! 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.
I may not always respond to street harassment the way that I want to, I don’t always manage to get out my cell phone, and being harassed on the street or the subway still feels awful, but just knowing about Hollaback! ameliorates the sense of powerlessness that used to be so overwhelming. Hearing other women and LGBTQ folks who experience harassment based on perceived gender performance tell their stories helps me to know that harassment is a cultural disease – it doesn’t have to do with me, the way I look, or the way I dress. I no longer blame myself for smiling on a beautiful spring day when some guy takes that as an invitation to ask for sexual favors, and I am getting better at overcoming the compulsion to be apologetic and polite.
Hollaback! has changed the way I experience street harassment and I am not the only one. It has made me an activist for this cause. So when people ask “what good does it do to post a picture on a blog?,” I say “are you kidding?! We’re building a movement!”
We found this little gem here. Maybe next time I’ll try handing this to the turds on the street.
Anti-harassment sentiment is heating up all over the world, and our latest good news comes from the middle east, where a Jordanian grassroots campaign called objecDEFY Harassment has launched with a bang!
With their own YouTube channel and a whole host of PSAs in both English and Arabic featuring unsavory characters and snarky captions like “Seriously. You’re going to let these idiots ruin your life?” and calling for women to take action, we couldn’t be more excited.
With recent headlines calling attention to a Mizo gang rape case and a popular Delhi actress not keeping silent about being groped in public at a half marathon, India’s press is taking a much closer look at the situation on the front lines.
Mid-Day’s “A Tale of Two Cities” is chock full of interviews with psychologists, sociologists, government officials, and women who are sick and tired of being unwilling participants in a war they’re not interested in fighting.
“Their eyes show how much they respect women. Even men who are old enough to be your father don’t feel ashamed to pass lewd comments or touch inappropriately,” says one of the article’s sources.
The ultimate nightmare: being trapped in some sicko psycho’s taxi cab and no one knows you’re there. With things like Facebook’s check-in feature and Foursquare, something that allows women to check into a cab and simultaneously register the car number and driver information should not be light years away. If you’re working on a solution such as this, please let us know.
And it sounds like someone is. Take this quick 10 question survey and hold your breath for something on the market soon. It takes less than 30 seconds and will let its creators know that we want it! CAB SAFETY SURVEY
In the meantime, please help Hollaback collect some information on this subject by sharing your taxi cab experiences in the comment section here.
Due to budget cuts, the city is planning to reduce its Runaway and Homeless Youth expenditures by almost a million dollars this year. Street Outreach Services will be reduced by half and completely eliminated next year. Among the agencies affected is the Ali Forney Center, one of Hollaback!’s partners in New Yorkers for Safe Transit.
Balancing the budget on the backs of NYC’s most vulnerable youth is unacceptable. Citywide, 3,800 teens are homeless; among those 3,800 forty percent are LGBTQ youths. Forty percent! If we want to walk the walk of Dan Savage’s “It gets better” campaign, we have to provide the resources to make “better” possible.
It’s time to take action. On Monday, December 6 at 2pm the City Council is holding hearings on the proposed budget cuts at City Hall. This is an opportunity to have our voices heard, to voice opinions and concerns about the budget cuts. For more information, or if you have any questions, please call LGBT Liaison, Erik Bottcher, at 212 788 5646.