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Opening up fields of awareness, Part 2
Last week this column talked about the need to become more aware in public, in an effort to avoid being the target of unwelcome interactions with strangers. If we keep in mind that the people around us everyday on public transportation and out on the street could be in any mental state whatsoever, we can more easily pick up signals that something is wrong before we are victimized. But many situations that women in particular face are unavoidable, because the predator has singled us out for one reason: that we are women moving through the world alone. Today we’re going to talk about premeditated violence, in contrast to being “in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” One situation that many Hollaback! readers have experienced is being stalked.
Stalking is defined as “the willful, malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person,” and can occur in public or private spaces, over the phone, or even at work. Today we’re going to isolate our discussion to the kind of stalking that many women experience, which is being stalked by someone who you either don’t know at all, or someone with whom you have only very superficial contact. But first let’s discuss what stalking is, and what it isn’t: stalking is about power and control over the target, and it’s not simply about being fascinated with someone. Think back to a circumstance when either you, or perhaps a friend had been stalked by somebody, male or female, it doesn’t matter ~ you probably felt harassed, and that you were definitely giving the harasser clear signals that you didn’t want that interaction. I can remember being stalked by a security guard in college, and erroneously thinking that I could ignore the unwelcome advances ~ until the night came when that person entered my dorm at around midnight, banged on my door repeatedly, and slipped a picture of a place where that person wanted us to go on vacation together. I remember standing frightened and frozen inside my dorm room, which was locked, thank God, and then going to security the next morning to report the incident. The guard was fired, which I felt badly about, but considering the violation of boundaries involved, I now think it was a good idea. But I digress ~ you too probably have your own stories, and that is just one concrete example of how someone who knows you only in passing can not only get the wrong idea, but can take that idea to the extreme.
As a very young woman, I didn’t really know how to handle it at the time, and “nip it in the bud” so to speak, as I would now. If you have at least a superficial relationship to your harasser, give them a direct and firm rejection, immediately letting them know that no further contact is welcome or even permissible. This is often the safest approach. If they persist in their advances, you can then go to security, human resources, and so on. But what if you are stalked in public, which means that you don’t know your harasser? Many women are followed down the street, while they’re out jogging, or even in the grocery store. This is really the scariest situation, because your harasser is a complete unknown, who conceivably has the power and intention to do you great harm. So how to identify a stalker, and what to do about it: A stalker can look like anybody, but the feeling they give is one of menace, that they are the predator, and you are the prey. You often know when you’re being followed, either just with someone’s eyes, which can be uncomfortable, or if someone is literally going everywhere you are, no matter what your pattern of movement. The best way to determine this is to change direction suddenly, going in the opposite direction, or into different stores if you’re in a shopping district. Usually four to five direction changes would give you an accurate read on the situation.
If you are unable to avoid the person, and they start to catch up to you on foot in a public space, use the power of your voice. Turn around and yell, “I don’t know you! Why are you following me?” Make sure that others are within earshot, and can see that you are in distress. If you call attention to yourself, it will also call attention to the would-be harasser/attacker, which they definitely don’t want. Many victims of stalking would prefer not to have to “make a fuss,” but when someone systematically invades your personal space, you’ve got to assume the worst is yet to come, and get LOUD. If you make a mistake, so what ~ you probably won’t know, because the typical predator reaction is to deny that they were stalking you/harassing you/touching you in the first place. Picture a man’s hands going up in the air, saying, “Hey lady, calm down! Don’t flatter yourself, you crazy b____!” And fortunately it doesn’t happen that often, but wouldn’t you rather be called a crazy b for a moment, so you can get out of the situation safely? I know I would, and as you already know, I’ve already had to make that decision. Many times, standing up for ourselves is not easy at all, which is what a sexual harasser or would/be attacker knows and uses to his advantage. This isn’t a pleasant thought, and I certainly don’t advocate going around paranoid, but as women we’ve got to realize that there are malevolent individuals out that we need to be aware of, and act accordingly for our self-protection.
BY EMILY MAY
What would a world without street harassment look like? It’s easy to describe what it would not be but trying to imagine how the world would change in the absence of harassment, groping, public masturbation, assault? Much harder. That is unless you live in Egypt.
“I have lived the dream,” said Abdo Abu El Ela, Programme Director, Al Shehab Foundation for Comprehensive Development at the UN Safe Cities conference this past week in Cairo, Egypt. He continued (translated from Arabic), “While the police were absent for those 18 days, Egyptians organized to protect the streets. Women and men worked together hand in hand – women protected the streets in the morning, men in the afternoons and evenings.” Reports show that over 20% of the protestors were women.
In one story, told by Laila Risgallah, Founder and President of the “Not Guilty” project, a man who was working alongside a young woman turned to her and said, “you know if it were any other situation I would have said different words, but I am not now because we are living for a cause.”
As Americans know well – these 18 days without harassment didn’t last long. On February 11th journalist Lara Logan was brutally attacked by a mob of over 200 men for 30-40 minutes. Activists argue it was the mob mentality that made a world without harassment possible, and that it was that same mob mentality that then turned led to Logan’s assault.
Studies show that 83% of women in Egypt have experienced harassment, 98% of foreign visitors have experienced it (I can asset to that), and 62% of men in Egypt admit to harassing women (ECWR, 2008). Over 52,000 cases of harassment were reported to the police last year, but with only 10% of cases reported, it is estimated that over a half million incidences occurred.
But it wasn’t always this way. Older Egyptians recount stories of the 60s and 70s, when women were free to walk down the streets in mini-skirts without fear of harassment. On the rare occasion that harassment did occur, men would chase down the harasser and shave his head to publically shame him, according to Rebecca Chao, co-founder of Harassmap.
Harassmap is an initiative to map street harassment in Egypt using a powerful cocktail of SMS texting and on-the-ground community organizing. Since launch in December (just one month before the revolution), they have recruited over 400 volunteers who do direct outreach to groups of men on the street, asking them to stand up for people experiencing harassment. The group has already received over 500 reports of harassment, and Hollaback! is working with them to pilot the SMS texting campaign in NYC and (funding depending) in Israel and Mumbai. Harassmap is only one of the inspirational interventions happening in Egypt right now, as a number of activists work to shift the gears of time and shift the culture that has made gender-based violence in public space normalized here.
The film 678 brought mainstream attention to the issue of harassment – and had Egyptians cheering in the theaters. In one screening in Egypt, the directors reported that men laughed at the harassment scenes in the beginning of the film, but by the end of the film they were completely silent and even moved aside to let the women exit the theater first. In a panel I attended in Cairo, the filmmakers announced that they are committed to showing the film for free around the world. They are particularly interested in showing the film in public space – and we’re working on a partnership with them to show the film in the 24 cities in which we work.
On the heels of 678’s success come a new project is on the horizon called “Not Guilty.” The project’s goal is to highlight how sexual violence is not the fault of the victim (a common myth, well, everywhere), and twenty-three episodes have already been filmed. The episodes will be paired to a multi-pronged strategy that includes media, schoolbooks, training and education, and counseling to bring attention to sexual violence in Egypt.
We’re rooting for you, Egypt. You haven’t just imagined a world without street harassment; you’ve lived it. Your history reminds us that street harassment is part of a culture that makes gender-based violence OK, and that this culture can change; and your activism is lighting the path for the rest of the world.
BY EMILY MAY
The announcement was just made in The Times of India today:
“Sexually harassing women or outraging their modesty will soon be non-bailable offences in the state. The government has sought amendment of Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with assault or use of criminal force on women with the intent to outrage their modesty, to make such crimes non-bailable offences in Maharashtra.”
If you’re like me you’re just so excited that some kind of progress is being made that you probably read through that paragraph quickly and gleefully, so let’s read that part again slowly: “with. the. intent. to. outrage. their. modesty.” I don’t know about you, but street harassment doesn’t outrage my modesty. It outrages my very being.
I can just see the court cases now: “the victim was a walking hand in hand with her girlfriend, demonstrating a clear lack of modesty,” or “the victim’s short skirt makes clear that she had no modesty to begin with – therefore there was nothing to outrage.” And if we continue to read between the lines, we know that laws like this tend to be disproportionately applied to low-income folks, homeless folks, and people of color. The result is a law that protects the “modest” from society’s most marginalized groups. Is this what progress looks like?
Not so much. But there are some seeds of hope: “‘Besides a stringent law, awareness on the issues related to women is needed to deal with the issue,’ Sail said after the meeting.” YES! Tell it like it is Sail! The government should partner with groups like Blank Noise Project and Hollaback! Mumbai to develop PSA’s and educational seminars in schools. So why aren’t they? My guess: awareness campaigns cost money, laws are free, and this is a recession.
As governments internationally look to address street harassment, they need to be careful to remember that the root cause of street harassment is sexism among many, not the criminal behavior of a few. If we want to truly change a culture that makes the degradation of women OK, it’s going education and awareness campaigns to prevent street harassment from happening in the first place.
BY EMILY MAY
As I write this, I am sitting on a plane heading back from my trip to Cairo, Egypt, where I was at the UN’s Safe Cities conference. The Safe Cities initiative is working to establish a model to address street harassment and gender-based violence in public space in 5 cities throughout the world using a mix of research, evaluation, media advocacy, policy change, and community engagement. Their concept is that they don’t just want to respond to street harassment, they want to prevent it all together.
I’m not going to lie here – being at a conference exclusively designed to address gender-based violence in public space was pretty dreamy. When we started Hollaback! we’d never heard the term street harassment, and in our search to call it something more legitimate than catcalling, we thought we’d invented the term. We didn’t (the term has been around since 1981, and activists have been working on the issue since the 1920s), but mainstream conversation on street harassment was virtually nonexistent.
Being in a room with over 100 UNWomen staff talking about street harassment, as a legitimate –and solvable – problem made me feel like I was home. It could have only been made better by having our site leaders in the room, but since it was just me this time, I want to share with you some of the initial findings of the scoping studies that local UNWomen sites did to target the problem in their cities:
This research is preliminary, as they are still in year one of their five year plan, but I have high hopes for this initiative. Street harassment is poised to be the next big women’s issue of the coming decade, and these projects will be international models for what is possible.
BY EMILY MAY
I’ve been in Cairo, Egypt this week at the UNWomen Safe Cities conference – and what a week it’s been. There will be more blogging about it tomorrow when I jump on the plane, but in these final hours of the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign I wanted to tell you one last story: my story.
We are so close! With only one day to go (39 hours to be exact), we still need to raise a little over $5,000. The flood of supporters that have come through has been truly incredible, and we are so grateful. Just yesterday we raised over $6,000 from over 50 people. If we do it again today we’ll meet our goal. Do it on Thursday and we’ll exceed our goal.
To our supporters: thank so much for getting us this far, and let’s keep this campaign going through the final stretch. Be sure to let your friends and family know about the campaign if you haven’t already, and most importantly, thanks for having our backs. You know we’ve got yours too.
BY EMILY MAY
The beautiful thing about running these campaigns is the tremendous number of supporters that come forward with their kind words and generous donations. Here are some of our favorites:
“After hearing about Hollaback’s new campaign initiative, I kept meaning to donate, but would forget. However, after being harassed on the street at least once a day this past week week in NYC (including one instance where I had to run into a bar and hide), it was impossible for me to forget anymore. Thank you for all of the work that Hollaback does. I hope to be able to contribute more than just $$$ one day.” – Laurin Paige
“As a father of a high-school age boy, I think it is critical to educate boys on what is and what is not acceptable in their interraction with women. And what they can do when they see unacceptable behavior in a public or private place. Go Hollaback!” – biopestman
“The first time I experienced street harassment, I told my friends about how angry and afraid the experience made me feel. They were completely dismissive of my feelings and told me I would just have to get used to it. Years later I discovered Hollaback! and felt relieved to know that I’m not “overreacting” for expecting to be treated like a human being when I walk down the street. Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone, and that together we can all end street harassment for good.” -pixieny
These testimonies from our kind donors keep us motivated and inspired. But not all the stories we receive about why this campaign is so important are happy ones. And it was the unhappy stories – the stories that we received over the years from people who after experiencing harassment were ignored, treated like they were “crazy,” or blamed – that inspired us to start this campaign to begin with. These stories are too common. About 15-20% of the stories we receive on the site mention bystanders who failed to stand up for what they knew was right. For today’s campaign update, we wanted to highlight one story in particular that stood out to us.
Thank you — to the 143 of you who have donated so far. Because of you, we’ve raised $10,485. And it’s because of you out there who haven’t had a chance to donate that we’re going to make our goal. So please, if you haven’t yet, take a minute to donate. Your donation will be matched by our board — so even the smallest donation can mean big change.
BY NANCY A. DAVIS
It was just another typical Tuesday. I was in the Port Authority Bus Terminal waiting for the A train. All I wanted to do was get downtown. I waited by a pillar, minding my own business. I felt someone staring at me, but brushed it off as paranoia. I looked around and saw him – he was checking me out all right. He gave me one of those head-to-toe looks, that just makes me cringe. I slid back behind the pillar, hoping the A train would arrive soon.
I hopped on the train, and found a spot to plant my feet. I took a deep breath and thought He’s gone. I then felt a pair of eyes upon me again. It was him, and he was still staring and making obscene gestures. I moved to another part of the car to stand when some other passengers exited the train. He moved with me. I turned around, not looking him in the face. I could hear his heavy breathing behind me. My skin was crawling from being stared at like that.
I then moved to another car and he followed me there too. Now I was really freaked. I am a small woman. No way would I be able to fight this person off if he acted up. The sad part is, no one even noticed or said anything about him staring straight at me or about him following me to the next car. No one.
We should not have to be subjected to this. This is why I donated. Some people think it is acceptable to speak to anyone in a suggestive manner, or that staring for a long time is acceptable. It is not okay. We need help. We need you. Please donate to Hollaback! and let women not just here in the United States, but Worldwide know – that you have their back.
I have so many other stories of harassment. For instance, when I was seventeen (years ago), a friend and I were followed out to my car by a man working at Home Depot (who had approached us in the store, and checked us out back by the tires away from everyone else….. already creepy. He was much older and way bigger). He asked how old we were, we answered 17, and he then asked when our birthdays were. When we told him we had just turned 17, he paused and said, “Well…. I mean, if you girls ever want to hang out, just holler at me.”
Things like that happen a lot. And lesser incidents like being whistled or kissed at from a moving car (whether or not I’m walking with a group or a boyfriend, regardless of dress) happen even more often (just last night, actually).
But what made me want to post was a conversation I had with my current boyfriend tonight. We were at a pizza place and I went to go to the bathroom. While passing the men’s room, I heard two guys talking. “Aw man, the line is longer than the women’s room!” “Well, men are smarter than women, so…” I missed the rest, and I may be overreacting but the tone of his voice… it sounded like he meant it. And whether he did or not, it reminded me that there are men who truly believe that they are more intelligent than all women simply by the virtue of their penis. It bothered me, and when I told my boyfriend about it, he sort of blew me off and dismissed it. “I’m sure he was just joking,” etc.
Later, he asked what was wrong and I explained that it seemed that every time I bring up an instance of sexism or objectification, he doesn’t take me seriously and seems to think I’m making it up (this has happened before). I assured him that I wasn’t. And actually, he understood and apologized. We continued talking and I said, “I have had hatred thrown my way before, but most of what I have to deal with is the kind of sexism that is patronizing, objectifying, dismissive, perv bullshit. But the thing about that is… It’s a weird thing – trying to be tough and strong while knowing that there are men twice my size who, if they wanted to, could throw me across a room or punch me out and take advantage of me. And I can fight, and I would, but I can’t deny the difference in physical strength. And when I am objectified, it disturbs me. If they don’t see me as human, what’s to stop them from doing those things?”
(sidetrack: I just caught myself thinking, “If I were stronger, I guess I wouldn’t have to worry as much.” WTF!? I am 5’0″ and around 110 lbs. I’m in pretty good shape, and I’m fairly muscular. Still, there is only so much I can do for my size. But what bothers me about my thought is the whole “might makes right” mentality that I was JUST guilty of, even though I’m so opposed to it. “Oh, if I were stronger, I’d be safe.” As if we’re animals. Just because a man is stronger than me, that does not give him the right to use that against me. It shouldn’t be about me fending a man off, it shouldn’t even be an issue in the first place. Why is he bothering me at all? You can’t logically promote the idea that men are more intelligent/rational/capable than women (you know us gals and our periods) and then at the same time suggest that they (men) are so overcome by their irrational, savage, animal instincts at the sight of a woman’s [insert body part, depending where you are] that they can’t help but commit a rape. Not only is it misogynist, it lacks consistency and just doesn’t even make any fucking sense. Anyway…)
I think tonight helped him get a better idea of why I take things like this seriously. He’s a good guy and I know he wants to treat others with the respect they deserve. He just needed to hear me articulate what bothered me. I know a lot of men like this – men who just need to hear the women in their lives explain why sexism/objectification is so disturbing to us. Thank you, Hollaback, for providing a venue.
We are so strong. Let’s use our strength to build a world where we don’t need physical strength to feel safe. Donate to our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign today.
Developed by our friends at Blank Noise Project, in India.