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BY AISHA ZAKIRA, Director of Hollaback! Mumbai. (This piece is cross-posted from Hollaback Mumbai)
Our apologies for all the quiet on our end, but we’re back and ready for some serious snap, crackle and pop – HOLLAstyle. We have a lot coming up, but first, we wanted to talk about Umang Sabarwal’s initiation of SlutWalk Delhi, and the issues surrounding the first Asian protest of the movement against the belief that any aspect of a woman’s appearance might explain or excuse sexual violence. It’s an incredibly bold move. And before I start my spiel, I should say that my hat is off to Ms. Sabarwal for this incredibly brave leap of faith.
When a movement that was initiated in a Western country is brought to India, there will be an inevitable mélange of frenzied backlash, unbridled fervor and everything in between. Many a raised eyebrow have I seen. The main issue reiterated by the media is the use of the word ‘slut’ in the Indian context. As journalist Annie Zaidi said “on the street, it’s never thrown at you. You’re never called a ‘slut.’ It’s hard to reclaim a word that isn’t used.” She is absolutely right. The word is generally understood and used by those in the upper echelons of society who have a closer proximity to western culture. It isn’t like verbal expression isn’t used in the wide and wonderful spectrum of harassment (earlier today I was harassed by a group of men, one of whom called me a baigan, an eggplant) but the focus is generally on a woman’s body as a commodity in the present tense, rather than on her sexual history. It often feels like the focus is on how your body will be used, not how it has been used.
Moreover, SlutWalk is primarily about the desire to dress as one pleases, an issue that is often seen as irrelevant to the vast majority of Indian women in the face of more salient issues like basic workplace safety. The concern is that this will be a space accessible to wealthy women, but ideologically closed to women from every other strata of society. I also wonder about the accessibility of SlutWalk in a culture in which the honor and the – dare I say it? – morality of a woman is inextricably linked to the honor of her family and her community. I am concerned about the number of women who will not participate in SlutWalk out of fear of backlash from family and the wider community. To walk in public protest against attitudes that are so deeply ingrained into society is groundbreaking, but who has the power and space to actually participate? Will it be that the only women who can participate are those who have the economically privileged space to do so? What will that mean for those who do not feel they can participate? Journalist Bishakha De Sarkar argues that there is no reason why we can’t have many movements at different levels of society. I’m with her here; I do believe that different initiatives can act as threads that intertwine to form a stronger rope. My only concern is if one of the opening initiatives in this movement makes many women feel alienated from this discussion, then are we shooting ourselves in the foot from the get go?
I think SlutWalk needs to be one thread of a multi-stranded rope. It needs to take place in tandem with other movements to give all women a number of options by which to make noise about harassment. SlutWalk is an incredible movement, but all movements need to be localized. They need to speak to the needs of people in different cultures and contexts so that they can be as useful as possible.
But even if SlutWalk is not localized in name, the movement is ultimately about fighting the attitude that perpetuates harassment. I keep coming back to a quote from Umang Sabarwal, “the way the men look at you, you feel like meat.” This is what it comes down to: feeling like meat. Feeling ashamed and powerless. Feeling like you are not the sum of your ideals, your opinions, your experiences and whatever else you decide, you are just the capacity of your physical body as a sexual object. India is too quiet about street harassment. The world is too quiet about street harassment. And even though SlutWalk is primarily focused on women being able to wear what we want without fear of harassment or abuse, I have a feeling that Sabarwal would remind us that this is one aspect of a wider struggle against the attitude that says that women are less than, and should stay that way. For this reason, I’m all about SlutWalk Delhi. There are issues with this, but we need to start somewhere, and the prospect of women taking to the streets of India’s capital in protest of an attitude that has for centuries served to silence is undoubtedly a beautiful beginning.
Last Saturday, on June 11th, the Lesbian Group Kontra, Iskorak and Domine (an NGO) organized the first Gay Pride in Split, Croatia. The theme of was the right for the protection of same-sex couples’ family life. Around the 150 – 200 pride parade participants between 8000 – 10000 people gathered and proceeded to insult, threaten, and throw various objects and tear gas at the participants. Approximately 600 police officers were on duty, but they didn’t stop the insults and throwing of objects that have hurt several participants. Before and after Gay Pride several hate groups have organized throughout Croatia, threatening the LGBTIQ folks using public signs and the internet, and now they are calling for a new wave of violence at the Gay Pride that will take place this Saturday in Zagreb. The safety of LGBTIQ folks in public spaces in Croatia is currently under question.
TO THE ORGANIZERS OF GAY PRIDE IN ZAGREB AND SPLIT
HOLLABACK! and the global Hollaback! community wishes to express its support to all organizers and participants of Gay Prides in Split and Zagreb. The Gay Prides represent a peaceful civil gathering aimed at raising awareness of the discrimination against LGBTIQ people and fighting against the discrimination.
HOLLABACK shares with the Gay Pride organizers the goal of making public spaces free of violence and safe for all people, where everybody is able to fulfil their right for a peaceful public gathering and statement of their causes.
We condemn the violence against the Gay Pride participants in Split and all other types of violence in public spaces, and ask authorities to carry out their duties in the same, responsible way for all citizens, as well as to secure public space for everybody, regardless of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, race, beliefs or any other.
Please show your support for Hollaback! Croatia by leaving a comment on their blog.
Sexual Harassment as a Daily Work Hazard
Imagine having a job that exposes you to sexual harassment everyday, merely because you are wearing a certain uniform ~ and probably not a very revealing one, either. It’s the symbolism of it, that seems to attract the unwanted attention. If you’re a maid, you might have to put up with all sorts of inappropriate behavior from your hotel guests. Just look at the major cases in the news lately ~ former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar, former chairman of Egypt’s Bank of Alexandria both accused of similarly heinous crimes involving maids. Both of them powerful men, who no doubt felt a sense of boundless entitlement, especially in the presence of a “lowly” maid.
And for the record, maids actually prefer to be called room attendants, and there are more than 10,000 of them working in New York City every day. Considering the way maids are still viewed by a certain segment of society, it’s probably a wise decision to distance oneself from that term. The maid profession and maids themselves have long been the object of sexual fantasy, and you can find myriad websites devoted to this fetish. Mostly the sexual images revolve around being a scantily-clad “French” maid, which would seem to preclude harassment of the modestly dressed, modern-day hotel worker. But erotic obsessions die hard, and this particular one is probably a throw-back to french theatrical farce. The master of the household would chase the maid around the bedroom, who would (of course) succumb to his advances, many times against her will.
This show of sexual dominance, in the form of a cat-and-mouse game, is still romanticized in popular culture. Go into any sex shop, and you’ll find racks of french maid outfits for role-play. And in movies and TV, there are plenty of examples of women getting into a maid costume to spice up their sex life, like in Friends with Money and 30 Rock, both with Jennifer Aniston. So the prevalence of these images, normalizing maids as sex objects, definitely does not serve the safety of room attendants.
Peter Ward, the president of the New York Hotel & Maid Trades Council, told The Wall Street Journal that while cases involving outright sexual assault are rare, sexual harassment is a daily hazard of the job. Room attendants often endure exhibitionism from male guests who decide to “surprise” them when they come in to clean the room. Propositioning is also a common problem, making workers feel degraded and unsafe. And there is something in the psychological set-up of it, of a woman coming into a man’s bedroom, that may subconsciously invite disaster: the bed is right there, the door may be locked behind you, and most hotel rooms are sound-proofed now. It’s a potentially dangerous work environment for women, and finally more is being done about it.
Legislation has been introduced to require New York State hotel owners to provide employee sexual harassment training, and establish a hotel employee bill of rights. It would also protect employees from retaliation if they speak up about abuses, which was a major reason why many room attendants did not come forward in the past. Many hotels are now issuing panic buttons as well, which will immediately alert hotel security of a threatening situation. It’s about time that the work force of room attendants, overwhelmingly female, can get the help they need to do their jobs in a safe and supportive work environment. It’s hard enough being the object of sexual harassment, merely because one is a woman in this world. It must be doubly hard when the image of your profession puts you at risk.
Q. Catcalled: What would you say to a young women who gets catcalled often during the summer? I live in the city, and as the weather gets warmer, catcalling gets more frequent. Although I dress normally (typically shorts and a blouse in the summer), I find that I’m yelled at by old men and young men, standing on corners, driving by me, etc. It makes me tense, and now when I walk down the street, I see every man as a potential threat. It’s annoying and demeaning, but I know I can’t haul every weirdo on the street to a sensitivity class. How should I deal?
A: Wait, my dear, just wait. When I walk down the street with my lovely teenage daughter, men passing in trucks will honk their horns and make appreciative kissing sounds at her. They apparently think the prune standing next to her is deaf as well as old. Yet, their catcalls spark a vestigial memory in me—a couple of decades ago I used to hear vocal judgments from men. At the time it was annoying. Yet given their absence, I have to admit it wasn’t all bad.Since today is apparently the “men are pigs” day at the chat, this also falls in the category of there’s nothing you can do but ignore it. And maybe a catcall is better than finding you’re being photographed and your image swapped around by horny married men.
BY EMILY MAY
A few months ago I got invited to go out to Bushwick Community High School to speak with a group of their students about street harassment. They told me that they were concerned about sexual violence in their community — and as a former Bushwick resident and community activist — their concern struck a very personal cord with me. When I lived in Bushwick in 2003, I would get off at a subway stop that was farther away from my home just because I thought it was safer. And I learned (months after moving in) that I was the first resident of my six-person-loft to not get mugged in the neighborhood.
After I moved out of the neighborhood, I continued to work in it at a community based organization that helped young folks that dropped out of high school get jobs and GEDs. Their stories, and challenges, reminded how privileged I was in so many ways. Many of them had kids, mental illness, trauma histories, and broken homes. But what I found so inspiring is that all of them had hope. They were resilient.
And when I spoke with the students at Bushwick Community High School, I was struck again by resilience. They could have done this documentary about anything. They could have kept silent, or tried to ignore what was happening around them. But they didn’t. They took the harder road – and the result is a powerful documentary.
In the film they talk about sexual violence stemming from culture — and I couldn’t agree with them more. But how to we change culture? There are a lot of answers to this questions, but I think one of the most important ones is that we change culture by making culture. These students have used the power of the brains and their video cameras to help us imagine a world without sexual violence. And thanks to them, we are one step closer to getting there.
Here’s the description on YouTube:
“A short film about street harassment that was researched, designed, scripted, filmed, directed and edited by volunteers from Initi8 at Nottingham Trent University with guidance and support from Gill Court at Platform 51 Nottingham. The film was inspired by Nottingham’s International Women’s Day events with the aim of raising awareness of street harassment of women and how it makes them feel.”
It appears that the revolution will be televised! (On YouTube anyway).
Video reposted with thanks from Stop Street Harassment
He said, She said, in New York City
This is the phrase most often used to describe the implied non-credibility of an allegation of sexual assault. It suggests that an accusation of this nature is either false, or dubious at the very least, because of a lack of evidence to the contrary. Now I must ask you, how many women throughout history have had to go through this special brand of humiliation after being targeted for attack? How many women do you personally know who have had to go through not just the trauma of the event itself, but then the callous aftermath? I know plenty, and thank the stars above that I was not numbered among them when I told my own story to law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office, back in September, and then the public, in November. But consider a recent event in our city:
A drunken woman was helped into her apartment by two New York City police officers, whom she later accused of raping her. Her incapacity aside, it was highly suspect for these two individuals to not only help her inside, but “cuddle” with her while she lay half-clothed in an altered state, and then to be seen (by security cameras) going back into her apartment no less than three times, with one of the officers accused of standing guard outside. Three times?!? I know I’m not alone in my disgust at this situation.
And say that the young woman did “come on” to one of the officers. We all know that inhibitions can slide when one is inebriated ~ but what were the officers’ excuses? As police officers, presumably in full control of their own faculties at the time, they needed to at the very least be concerned with even the appearanceof impropriety. In short, they left themselves open to this type of allegation by being alone with her, in the private confines of her apartment. So either A) The officers were obtuse beyond belief, or B) He/they did assault her. One of the officers did actually admit later in the trial to having protected sex with her, but witnesses who saw the young woman earlier in the evening said that she was extremely drunk and was not sober enough to consent to sex. In fraternity houses across the nation, there have always been young men who’ve seen fit to take advantage of their tipsy dates, and women know to be wary of going into a situation like that (which, by the way, still would not excuse an assault under those circumstances by one iota). But the young woman in question here was in the comfort and presumed safety of her own home. So what really happened here?
It seems to me, as well as prosecutors, that if she was that ill, an ambulance should have been called, or that EMS should have been present for the subsequent visits to her. While New York City police officers are highly capable in many respects, and do receive basic medical training, I think a hospital or at least a clinic would have been a safer environment in which to handle alcohol poisoning, if that was indeed the case.
I, as well as many others observing this case again feel afraid for being at the mercy of the “He said, She said,” and perhaps we will never know what really transpired. I know what I feel about it ~ and it’s not good. In my opinion, there is one more chance at justice here, with the woman’s $57 million dollar lawsuit against the city, and the officers.
SUBMITTED BY CARRIE DAVIDSON, reposted from Carried Away
There hasn’t been a single day when I’ve walked home this week and haven’t been catcalled at least once. For the first two days it was funny. By the third and fourth, it became expected.
Wait, expected? In what world is it okay to expect to be sexually harassed?
Yes, catcallers. Sexual harassment. You’re not being funny. You certainly aren’t being charming. There is nothing innocent about it.
What goes through the heads of these men? I don’t mean “I’m too good for them, so what are they thinking?” because, honestly, the guys in my age range are usually attractive. Until they open their mouths.
I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to think that the thought process is something like, “My, that is a rather attractive young lady. I have taken an immediate fancy to her, and would like to get her attention. I’m going to approach her casually and strike up conversation.” But, because of some brain malfunction that’s attributed only to the Y chromosome, they accidentally say something like, “Yo, sexy! How you doin’?”
I figure it’s one of two options: A. They legitimately think that calling to a girl like she’s a dog will get them action or B. They like seeing young girls walking alone down the street look uncomfortable, because they think it’s funny.
There are so many things wrong with option B, so many ways that it contributes to the sexist attitudes of our current society, that I don’t even know where to start.
So don’t call me “Red.” Definitely don’t call me “white girl.” Let me walk the three minutes from the subway to my apartment in peace.
If, on the other hand, you’re actually an incredibly insecure boy who just doesn’t know how to handle a situation, here’s a tip. Walk up. Say “hello.” Ask my name. It’s not rocket science.
Check out this video from South Africa — bringing attention to street harassment, how it happens, and why it hurts. They creators also point out the links between street harassment and a culture of media and advertising that regularly objectifies women and treats them like objects. A culture that makes objectifying women OK is the gateway to a culture that makes violence against women OK.
“I’m not your sweetheart.”
The other day, I got into a livery cab, which I often do when I travel from Washington Heights to go downtown. I indulge in this guilty pleasure especially when I’m going toward the East Side, which takes a monstrous amount of time to get to from the Heights. Typically, I do a “street hail,” because it seems to save time, as well as money. This means that I take certain precautions when getting in a cab, so that I don’t have any problems, which I’ll detail in another post. Well, this cab seemed alright, as in, the driver seemed courteous, and not creepy. So I got in and everything seemed to be going OK, when he decided to go a different way than the way that I had requested him to go, which unfortunately resulted in us missing several lights, getting caught in traffic etc. So I politely said that I really preferred to take the other route to the Harlem River Drive. He responded by calling me “sweetheart,” which, considering the circumstances, was pretty condescending.
I immediately said, “Don’t call me sweetheart!” He seemed very surprised, and perhaps had never received that response before. As an older man, I suspect that he probably had called young women that throughout his life, and was never called to task for it. And honestly, I’ve been called that so many times before by men of a certain age, that I thought I had almost become insensitive to it ~ the operative word here being “almost.” It’s so common, that it’s easy to tell yourself that “they don’t mean anything by it,” which is exactly the response I received when I spoke up to this cab driver. But just because something offensive/patronizing has become normalized, doesn’t make it in the least bit acceptable. And I don’t think I’m alone in this view.
When I told him not to call me that, I elaborated the reason ~ not with the obvious one, of him being condescending to me given the specific circumstances, but of the real reason. I told him that it was considered a term that should only be used between a husband and wife, and a boyfriend and girlfriend, and that it indicated that the man had a sexual relationship with the woman. This statement of course stopped him dead in his tracks, so to speak. Now, I know that parents sometimes call their son or daughters this as well, as a term of endearment, but I wanted to drive home to him the fact that it was a term only used between people who had an intimate relationship with one another, and that it wasn’t acceptable to use in other settings. Well, he got the message, and at that moment professed undying love to his dear wife, saying that he never meant to come on to me. It totally worked ~ he understood what I was trying to say, and did actually apologize.
When will men learn that calling women whom they’ve just met, “sweetheart” is not acceptable? When we start calling them on it, each clueless person at a time. And that’s how change works.