Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbia MO, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Los Angeles, Muncie IN, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond VA, San Francisco, Tucson, Twin Cities
BY LAURA RUOCCO
Check out this awesome project! I think it brings up a lot about the way street harassment and the threat of violence influences the way we live our lives.
One of the subtle ways street harassment affects people is the way it becomes a part of our most personal decisions, like the way we present ourselves to the world in general. I think about this often as a person who’s sense of self is very connected to having a really personalized style. I wear patches and pins and bedazzles on my clothes, and I alter shirts and skirts to fit me just right. I like knowing that what I’m wearing is uniquely mine, and that no one could go out and buy exactly what I’m wearing. For me, the way I present myself is a tiny way of challenging capitalism, patriarchy, fatphobia, and heteronormativity. So there’s a lot going on there! Though I have a lot of intense feelings about self expression through physical appearance, I have still at times felt restricted in what I wear for fear of the potential to increase harassment. And not even just on more obvious questions like “Is this skirt too short?”, I’m also talking about things like “Should I bleach my hair/wear this bright color/these fishnets?”.
Clothing comes up a lot in the street harassment stories people post on Hollaback:
“I’m embarrassed to say that instead of instantly recognizing his statement for what it was ~ a dangerous manipulation ~ I immediately took stock of what I was wearing…”
“Some people read me as ‘guy wearing women’s clothing,’ and other people read me as ‘woman,’ or ‘girl,’ it is hard to tell.”
“I promise I’m not jogging so that you can creepily watch me, and these Target gym shorts I’m wearing are not for your benefit.”
“And if I’m wearing high heels and a skirt that goes up to Tahiti, it’s still creepy and misogynistic when you honk at me—I promise.”
“I mean, we should be allowed to wear summer clothes without feeling we’re asking for it!”
“This is the kind of thing that makes me feel unsafe if I’m not wearing a pair of baggy jeans and a man’s t-shirt.”
“I was wearing black tights and a dress with a baggy jumper over the top and I actually caught myself thinking ‘i’ll never wear this dress again without a long coat’.”
It made me think “I’m wearing vinyl pants, clearly anyone would think I’m asking for whatever happens next. “Never mind the corset they can’t see under my coat”. It made me think “Priority one is protecting my friend”, who is a few years younger and who had thigh-high fishnets and garters showing under a short skirt – probably an easier target than the pants.”
“I wasn’t wearing anything particularly revealing (jeans, t shirt and cardigan)…”
“It was a hot day and so to be practical I was wearing a pair of mid-length denim shorts.”
“I didn’t feel ‘sexy’ or ‘flattered’…I felt awkward, embarrassed, and mad at myself for what I was wearing.”
“I’ve known people who have been physically assaulted just because they were wearing a head scarf.”
“I hate that I have to think about what I’m going to wear every time I have to ride the bus. I’ll get honked at anyway but it’s worse/more often when I’m wearing a dress or shorts.”
“The funny part is that I was wearing my hair back, glasses, no makeup, and a big puffy winter coat”
“in a world without street harassment i wouldn’t be groped &expected to explain my tattoos, triggering panic attacks.”
Those are just a few of the many stories on Hollaback where street harassment affects not only what people decide to wear, but how they feel about what they’re wearing after hearing someone else’s unwanted opinion on it. A lot of the posts specifically mention wearing clothing that they deem non provocative, only to be harassed anyway. One of the most ridiculous harassment memories I have is walking home from the subway one day after a New York blizzard, waddling down the unshoveled sidewalk after a long day of work. I hate winter clothes and never feel particularly attractive when I’m all suited up for a blizzard. But apparently somebody thought differently, as I heard a man shout out “YOU LOOK REAL SEXY WALKIN THROUGH THAT SNOW!” Uhh….really? Taking baby steps to avoid slipping on the ice, covered head to toe in winter wear? Really?
To an extent, it doesn’t matter what you wear. Harassment seems to persist no matter what. But on the flip side of that, there is added risk of harassment that goes along with dressing in a way that deviates from the norm. When I have lived in places where there is usually less street harassment, I have felt noticeably more comfortable dressing as weird as I wanna. Because harassers will use anything as a conversation piece. Tattoos, piercings, writing on a tshirt, dyed hair, patterned tights, all of these things have become jumping off points for harassment in my experience. However, I can say the same for walking a dog, carrying a heavy item, riding a bike, or seemingly anything you do publicly that can be commented on. Though a lot of what I’m talking about here is clothing, the idea of being open to comment just by going outside relates heavily to physical attributes that aren’t so easily changed. People who are of color, physically or mentally disabled, fat, or gender non-conforming, bear the brunt of street harassment for sure. Because, as we’ve said before, street harassment is not about compliments or flirtation, its about people exerting power over one another, and often its about enforcing cultural norms. Which in my opinion begs the question, who does that shit serve anyway? Encouraging other people’s self expression lets us all be a little more free to be our true weirdo selves!
“Female Jogger Attacked”
This is an all-too familiar headline in the news, with reports coming in from all over the nation about women who are just trying to get some exercise in (mostly) the warmer weather. As we start to shift more and more of our activities to the outdoors in the coming months, unfortunately, we’ve also got to go on “Amber” alert, which I think is so sad. There’s something very freeing about not having to pile on all those layers because of the cold, just to go about one’s daily business, and something even more liberating about donning a pair of shorts and running shoes, waking up before most of the city does so you can stretch your legs and clear your head.
But this also means that we’ve got to be even more aware of those ill individuals out there who would take advantage of us as women moving around solo in the city. Some say that wearing headphones is not a great idea, because your awareness is severely diminished, and that jogging or exercising in the park is safer with a partner, and that avoiding the park at certain very early or late hours is wise. I agree with these “preventative” techniques, but also think that they are not always possible, desirable or practical. The other day, I was sitting on a bench with a male friend in Bronx Park, which if you haven’t been, is a beautiful place. We chatted and ate our lunch, watching a few solo male joggers go by. And we solemnly agreed that it was extremely unfortunate, but there would be few women joggers out, at any time, in that park, because of the high degree of risk.
Here it was a gorgeous, sunny day, not too hot, and literally half the population would not feel safe there. It made me realize with a start that I in fact would probably not be sitting there, had it not been for the companionship of my male friend. Talk about being in hidden bondage. My ardent wish for the near future would be to TAKE BACK OUR PARKS, in a similar way that we’ve taken back the night. Only with the vocal and persistent action of reclaiming public spaces can we really feel and actually BE safe. But until we can make it happen, be safe out there.
BY EMILY MAY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
On Saturday morning, March 6th, 2011, an email went out over our listserve from Inti Maria, our site leader in Buenos Aires. It read, “”I’d like to see her to tell her I would break her asshole with my cock” This is what a JOURNALIST wrote about me today — on the printed page they changed it but he made a POINT of including his original version on his blog.” The changed version wasn’t much better. It read, “break her argument with my cock.”
Tears immediately welled into my eyes. Hollaback/Atrevete Buenos Aires launched only a month ago. I knew our work was controversial, but I never thought it would lead to a public rape threat from a prominent journalist and professor. This wasn’t just an asshole. This was an asshole with a mouthpiece.
I quickly g-chatted Inti Maria. She was shaken, but OK. She decided to leave the country for a few days to be safe.
Both Inti Maria and I knew we had to take action, but what do we do? Our model was premised on the power individual activists who were committed to bringing the movement to end street harassment home. None of our site leaders have funding or on-the-ground infrastructure. It is the beauty of our model, but now I could see it was also a tremendous risk.
I spent a day reaching asking a lot of super-smart people for advice. The advice was across the board, and it struck me that this decision was going to have to be made based on gut instinct. As we weighed our options, I just kept coming back to one of our core organizational values: “we’ve got your back.” We needed a response that showed Inti Maria that we had her back, and showed all our site leaders that if this happened to them, we would have their backs too. We also needed a response that would set a precedent: Hollaback takes violent threats and actions seriously. And if that wasn’t a tall enough order, we needed it to be based in Buenos Aires. Engaging our networks in the United States would quickly lead to a US v. Argentina dynamic that would be ineffective, and just quite simply wasn’t our style or our message.
We decided to launch a petition on change.org in Spanish, with the English translation under it. Our lead blogger Violet wrote it, Gaby who runs Hollaback/Atrevete Mexico City translated it, and all our site leaders united to blog it, facebook it, and tweet it. Ultimately, over 3,500 people signed it from 75 countries.
When the publication that Juan Terranova worked for – El Guardian – wouldn’t budge, Inti Maria, Violet, and Gaby worked with the incredible team at change.org to target the magazine’s two main advertisers. We organized another petition that put pressure on Fiat and Lacoste pull their advertising, and it was signed by over 1,700 people. In historic and precedent setting move for the Argentinean media, both companies pulled their advertising and publicly announced their disapproval of Terranova’s threat. Lacoste wrote, “our brand has suffered from being associated to comments we disapprove of.”
The rest is history. A public apology was issued by both Juan Terranova and El Guardian, and Terranova’s column was cancelled at the request of the magazine’s main stakeholder. And although we don’t take joy in another man losing his job, we are pleased that another journalist will have an opportunity to write a column absent of rape threats. And as for Terranova, hold your sympathy. Rumor has it he’s getting a reality show.
But this story isn’t just about some asshole with a mouthpiece. It is a story of what happens, when people ban together to do the right thing. It is a story of what it means to have the backs of people you’ve never met. It is a story of an incredible team. Inti Maria wrote,
“The other day I made a comparison to a friend between Hollaback and a bee hive. I said I felt like a bee because we are organized, strong, active and when we get mad — we act together. He said, “you are a strong bee,” haha. But the point is I feel strong because we are all strong together. Right now it feels like we’re taking down the bear of institutionalized misogynism in the media!”
Even Juan Terranova agrees with us on this one. In his apology, he wrote, “Hollaback is a powerful organization, influential and organized, and I am sure they will get what they want.”
In nonprofit terms, we are a tiny organization with only one full time and one part time staff member. But in real terms, we are a team of over 100 people in 10 countries and six languages. I know for many, it is hard to understand how Hollaback works without a traditional office space, or a traditional organizing model. It is hard to understand how people who have never met each other can work together to create impact, and why all these tremendous activists are working ten, sometimes twenty or thirty hours a week unpaid.
The only way I can explain it is this: have you ever been part of an incredible team? Was there ever a time in your life when you completely trusted the people you worked with, when you would have done anything for them, when everyone had everyone else’s back, and when those things made you work faster, smarter, and better than you ever thought possible? Chances are you have. It may have been fleeting, but you know what I’m talking about. And chances are you’d give anything to have that feeling back.
But that is what it feels like to be part of Hollaback: we are an incredible team. Independently, we are like bees. Weak, small, and always buzzing that street harassment is not OK. Collectively though, we’re working together seamlessly to make the impossible possible. To bring awareness to an issue that has been ignored for too long, and to lead this movement in our own communities.
I feel honored to be buzzing alongside the most badass bees on earth, and knowing that no matter what comes our way, we will always have each other’s backs.
Anita Roberts tells the story of the sexual violence she experienced in her youth, and how it helped her discover her child, her “bitch,” and ultimately, her wise woman.
Lara Logan’s Courage
Last night, I, as well as millions of other women sat on the edge of our seats as we listened to the Emmy award-winning CBS journalist tell the harrowing story of her sexual assault in Cairo. I clearly remember watching the footage of that celebration in Tahrir Square on February 11, thinking that this was a shining moment for humanity at large, not just Egyptians, never believing that that particular moment in history could be sullied by something like this. But when the news first came out about the assault, it was not widely talked about, having been overshadowed by the jubilance surrounding Egypt’s independence. Having visited Egypt three times in the past, I was very aware of the problems that Egyptian society has had with sexual violence, and was keenly disappointed that not more attention was brought to the attack on Lara Logan. When the announcement was made that she was ready to tell her story in her own voice, I felt extremely grateful for her candor and courage.
In the 60 Minutes interview, Lara shows great poise, not mincing words or using euphemisms for her experience. She talks about how the mob of more than 200 men tried to tear her limb from limb and in her own words “raped her with their hands,” for more than twenty-five minutes. She endured this assault after being separated from the protection of six men, including a local Egyptian fixer, her producer, the cameraman, two Egyptian drivers that acted as security, and a former Special Forces bodyguard, which shows the brutal force of the mob attacking her. Only when the mob dragged her into a fence, and she fell into a group of Egyptian woman, and then was finally carried out by Egyptian soldiers did she escape further assault.
Immediately upon news of the attack, there were those who asked what she was doing in that situation, somehow insinuating that she had no place there. But Lara Logan, named CBS Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent in 2008, has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous combat zones, including Zimbabwe, Kosovo, Angola, Mozambique, Gaza, the West Bank, and the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has been intrepid throughout her career, and has been committed to giving others a voice in the midst of conflict. The fact that she was able to speak so openly about her life-threatening experience should give other women hope in similar circumstances. While my own experience of assault on the subway does not even approach what Lara went through, I can speak from personal experience and say that being able to express what happened to you is not only cathartic, but is profoundly helpful to so many women who are told to keep their mouths shut and live in shame for what was done to them.
Around the same time as Lara’s assault, another woman, a Canadian tourist, was raped in the back of a taxi cab in Cairo, and upon her return home, she was told not to speak about it. This is unacceptable. How are we to heal, and own every part of our experience, without turning in on ourselves? How are we going to open society’s eyes and thereby bring about a change in the way women are viewed ~ not still as chattel, but as equals? Monkey see no evil… It’s time to lift up the rotting log in the forest of misogyny, and see what lies beneath.
It must have been an uncomfortable experience for the viewers of 60 Minutes last night to hear about such a terrifying experience, in graphic detail. But I for one appreciated this bare-bones honesty ~ Lara made no effort at covering up what happened to her, and because of this, she was able to literally bring into people’s homes the brutal reality of sexual assault. She mentions how her female colleagues thanked her for breaking her silence, because usually “women never complain about incidents of sexual violence, because you don’t want someone to say, “Well, women shouldn’t be out there.” In fact, there were those in the media and in academia who immediately jumped on the victim-blaming bandwagon, including right here in New York City.
Nir Rosen, a fellow at NYU’s Center on Law and Security, had to resign his fellowship because of wildly offensive comments he made on Twitter, belittling the seriousness of the attack on Logan. Even during his apology, he said that the comments were just meant to be a joke between friends, which is perhaps even more disturbing.
Simone Wilson of LA Weekly felt the need to point out her Lara Logan’s physical attractiveness and rumored sexual history, leading the “report” with one of Logan’s glamour shots. Besides being unforgivably tacky and insensitive, Wilson’s response shows the persistent misunderstanding by many that sexual assault is somehow motivated by sexual desire, merely akin to how a man would approach someone he found attractive for a date. This is simply not the case, as women and girls have been subjected to sexual assault at all ages, in all manner of dress, at all times of day and night, in isolated surroundings, and as in Logan’s case, in dense crowds.
Nir Rosen and Simone Wilson join the ranks of victim-blamers everywhere, but I can tell you with some relief, that their odious views have been roundly censured by everyone with a conscience. I send my warmest thanks and support out to Lara Logan, who has given a voice of empowerment to every woman who has survived sexual violence.
I was taking the train from my hometown to Sydney (a 2 hr ride), having a nice chat with a friend and enjoying having my feet up in the quite empty carriage. At the first stop after I boarded, a man came down into my carriage and stood in front of me, gesturing wordlessly that he wanted me to move my feet so he could flip the seat over, sit in front of me and put his feet up instead (in New South Wales we have seats on trains that flip so you can change the direction you’re facing or create a four-seater.)
I hesitated, not wanting to move my feet just for the benefit of his but yielded I guess more out of habit of giving in to men than anything else. As I did, I said “oh, so you want me to move my feet so you can put yours up?” and as he sat down he said to me “that’s how it goes.” I was infuriated and responded at a normal volume “f–king male privilege.”
This must really have pushed his buttons because he then rose out of his seat, turned around to face me with his hands on the back of the seat in front, leaned right in over me in a truly threatening stance and was about to express his misogynist mind but never had the chance. As soon as he towered over me I put my head back, made myself tall in my seat and at the top of my voice but controlled and firmly and with pointed finger I said “HOW DARE YOU STAND OVER ME LIKE THAT! SIT DOWN! DON’T YOU THREATEN ME! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT…” I continued until he shrunk away and sat down.
It was a victory for me and I’m thrilled that I instinctively got my hackles up and stood my ground with emotional control. I was very shaken and quite upset that no one else in the carriage wanted to assist me but ultimately the threat was gone. He remained in that seat for the duration of the trip and when it came time to alight in Sydney I was ready with a piercing stare but he avoided my gaze completely. I had properly shamed him out.
Easter Monday in the Czech Republic: Not All Women Are Celebrating
by Martina Čermáková
Not too rarely, you’ll find the Czech Easter whipping tradition in one of those stories on odd holiday traditions featured in the corky-news section. From my experience, anyone who’s just learnt about the spanking of girls and women with braided willow sticks (pomlázkas) that goes down on Easter Monday will see it as that: an awkward cultural mainstay that’s probably no fun for the female population.
Within the Czech Republic, though, the pagan tradition of boys and men whipping females in exchange for eggs and ribbons doesn’t seem nowhere near as disputable as foreigners might deem it… read more
As many of you may know, there is a new MTA plan in the works to change the SubTalk messages concerning sexual harassment, which will add a needed component of bystander involvement to the current message: “Sexual Harassment is a Crime in the subway, too – A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don’t stand for it or feel ashamed, or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an MTA employee or police officer.” As a frequent rider of New York City mass transit, I’ve been aware of these signs since they were put up in 2008, and my initial reaction was “Wow, how have I managed to dodge that bullet time and again? If the MTA feels the need to create a campaign like this, there must be a serious problem.” Irony, of all ironies.
The MTA’s new public service message will reportedly expand on the pithy “If you see something, say something” campaign, by asking bystanders to get involved and report cases of harassment that they witness. This new approach will be such a refreshing change from the burden always being on the victim or potential victim to protect herself.
In my own situation, I was extremely grateful and fortunate to have the support of my fellow passengers. At one point during the incident, I had to yell ”Men, guard the doors!”, which I think made it very clear to everyone within earshot that we were dealing with a dangerous individual that needed to be contained until law enforcement could take over. Without the help of other passengers, the perpetrator would definitely have gotten away with it, just to do it again to someone else. Not only did bystanders help to detain him in that car, they also took my lead and photographed him, shaming him as they did so, which made me feel safer and not so alone in dealing with the situation.
But the unfortunate thing is that I had to make quite a scene, and demand the help I needed from others. It was not immediately forthcoming, and certainly not offered to me. My feeling is that someone else who would not feel as confident speaking up as I did would have had a serious problem seeing justice done on that day. And justice was indeed done, with conviction and deportation of the perpetrator. A definitive result like that shows the power of a compassionate and involved citizenry. However, this outcome was sadly not the norm. What if I hadn’t spoken up about it? Then it might have been business as usual that day, as in “let’s pretend that didn’t happen, and move on with our day.” I’m all for moving on with our day and our lives, but not for playing pretend, which doesn’t help anyone. In fact, this is how sex crimes become normalized.
Many times, an individual is being victimized on mass transit without their knowledge, and the MTA’s most recent initiative will, I believe, be a turning point in combating the problem. More eyes to see what is going on, and a greater sense of overall awareness of the immediate surroundings will no doubt help. If we are to put a stop to this egregious behavior once and for all, so that we may truly call ourselves a civilized society, bystanders must be willing to step up and take some measure of responsibility for the individuals surrounding them, whether they have a personal relationship to them or not.
If a person could just imagine themselves or their loved ones in a similarly terrible situation, they might think of their own need for support from others around them. Empathy is what is called for here. For too long, many have tried to turn the other way and ignore what has been going on right in front of their own eyes, and the MTA campaign now makes it clear, that this issue will not just go away if we continue to “play ostrich” with it. Bravo, MTA ~ you’ve made a step in the right direction.
To submit a question to Nicola for next Monday’s post, please email it to her here.
Check out this article for a history lesson on dirtbags of yore. The women at the time were clearly asking for it what with their ankle-length skirts and turtleneck shirts.
Took my son out to the park and to visit with a friend this morning. It’s hot, so I’m wearing a vest and some baggy trousers. On the way home, a driver at the motorway junction beeped, whistled and made a kiss-face at me as I passed him.
Already pissed off (my son had been misbehaving) I stopped walking, turned to look at the “man” and shouted, “Hollaback, asshole!” then continued on my way home – feeling much better.
Only wish I’d told him to google it, too.