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I was staying in shelters when I was 18 and I would read the newspaper inside cafes until the shelter opened up at night. One morning a sailor from out of town who had been out all night clubbing asked to sit down at my table. After a ten min conversation not only had he suggested that I “party” with him but made unwelcome comments about my tongue ring, called me a bitch when I refused him. He ripped the paper out of my hand and crumpled it on the ground giving me a death glare. Creep.
This was years ago, but it wasnt until now that I had a venue in which to share it safely. I was on a very crowded Q train when a man boarded at a stop & squeezed in behind me. As soon as the train left the station he started rubbing against me. After a few stops I turned, looked him in the eye & told him to stop & he didnt. I couldn’t move away it was so crowded but a man saw my discomfort & heard my plea & stepped in between us to protect me from the guy. I can never thank him enough!!
So today I was trying to help one of my teammates with a project and this fucker blatantly stares at my ass, gets his buddies to look, talks about it like I’m not there then asks if I’m a lesbian when I tell him to stop!
This is fucking humiliating! He was throwing shit at people, mocking classmates, and now this? It’s /disgusting/. I want to fucking clock him.
I was walking back to where my boyfriend was working on the truck, hoping no one would yell at me, but then some guy starts talking to me from behind. He rolls up in a bicycle asking me questions. I try to ignore him but finally tell him to fuck off. He, of course, doesn’t. We both yell and curse at each other for a minute, during which he tells me he’s going to kick my ass, and also that I should learn to respect people. I keep trying to walk a different way but he follows me on his bike.
At 13 years old I was harassed. I was walking with a group of friends to a school dance when these four men pulled over and whistled at us- a group of young girls- cat calling and saying things like “cute ass”, “what’s your name, baby?”, and “come party with us”. It made me and my friends very uncomfortable, so I flipped them off and replied with “sorry, I don’t have daddy issues” and promptly hearded my friends away. Not the best comeback but it worked.
VA-bound yellow line at about 1:15am Sunday: a slightly tall male of average build in his mid-30s followed my fiance and me onto the metro. He stared at me on his way onto the car, sat down across from us, and continued to stare for about 15 min. Then, he got up, while staring, and sat closer to us, just across the aisle. He turned toward us and continued to stare until we ran off the metro to switch cars.
This excerpt is taken from Vitamin W, with permission.
Once I became a man, I was finally legally married. A few years earlier, while still a woman, I had married my wife, but the backward state where we live didn’t recognize our union. Once my name was changed from Mary to Mark, we were legally man and wife. Well, a trans man and a lesbian wife. Nobody checks your chromosones.
That was the first indication that many things were going to get better for me. Better on the street, at school, on the job or even at the grocery store; life is way easier when you’re perceived as a seemingly straight man.
As a man you’re:
ALLOWED TO WALK WITHOUT CAT CALLS
As a butch lesbian, I’d get harassed. I was the ubiquitous coffee house dyke and had to walk just three blocks to my job, but I had to lace keys through my knuckles, I’d get three guys in shitty cars offering to give me the ride of my life as I walked to work.
Not having those interactions anymore is so relaxing. The ability to walk around in this world without fear of harassment or violence is something I am fully aware is an enormous privilege. I knew this was part of the journey, but I had no idea how much stress would be alleviated by not having to be a woman out and about in the world.
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Cal Anderson park. Capitol Hill, Seattle. 7pm June 2013.
So, as I’m walking to the bus stop just about a block away I take a detour through the park. 7 guys standing together start whistling. As I keep walking & look straight ahead, I then hear “hey you girl.” Then “I like your top.” I ended up turning around, flipping them off & yelling “stop!”
I’m not sure if that was the best way to go about it, but in the moment of being so disgusted & pissed it was the first thing I could think of.
Gina Tron is the brain behind Hollaback’s new t-shirt design. She is an editor for LADYGUNN Magazine and has contributed to VICE, BULLETT, among other publications. She is the creative director for Williamsburg Fashion Weekend and curates the Brooklyn boutique for Runway Passport. www.ginatronic.com
What made you get involved with Hollaback?
Hollaback is such a great movement, and one that I feel I can stand behind 100%. I am against any harassment or action that demeans and objectifies people. I was introduced to Hollaback through Runway Passport who I curate local clothing for. I am also Creative Director at Williamsburg Fashion Weekend, which is part of a fashion movement that aims to bring manufacturing back to New York. The shirts I made for Hollaback are 100% made in the USA.
What was the inspiration for the t-shirt you designed?
When somebody calls you “cutie” or “sexy” or “mommy” when you are just trying to stumble to the laundromat, it’s essentially objectifying you as a woman. It’s bringing you down to the most basic and vulgar part of you. Basically, you are a walking pussy to some of these street callers. They dehumanize you so that they can catcall at you. Some may dehumanize you in a way that they would never do to their sister or mother, or at least I would hope. Also, I’ve been called “Hot Pussy” before. It’s pretty gross. I’m sick of dressing up real nice and then being treated like a walking orifice. And on days that I need to do errands I’m sick of walking around with no makeup on and comfortable clothes, only to be mocked for not looking sexy enough.
Describe your experience with street harassment.
I feel that no mater what it”s degrading. When I was very young and naive I perceived it as a compliment. It’s one thing to appreciate when someone looks nice. It’s quite another to be rated and objectified. I have seen guys literally rating girls as they walk down the street. Loudly. “Nice rack, but thighs are a little too thick!” Stuff like that. Not one day goes by where somebody doesn’t yell something at me as I walk down the street. Sometimes it’s just “sexy,” other times it’s guys discussing if they would fuck me and if so, how.
You seem to be a jack of all trades. What mode of art or creativity do you prefer as a mechanism of healing and self-empowerment?
In general, I channel my struggles into productivity. I like taking negative experiences in my life and twisting them into something productive, entertaining, and hopefully thought-provoking. My sense of humor is my number 1 coping mechanism. If I get harassed by somebody in a ridiculous manner I will often incorporate the interaction or perpetrator into a funny cartoon drawing. That way, my negative experience is channeled into something funny for others, but also it shows how absurd that person is behaving. I draw cartoons constantly. They aren’t Picasso’s by any strength of the imagination, but they help me vent and make me laugh. I am a writer by nature, and any experience in my life, good or bad, gets intertwined into my work somehow. The more experiences I have the better I understand the human psyche, thus the better I write.
What is your secret weapon?
I like to surprise those who harass me. I like to out-creep the creeps. Nobody that is hollering at you expects you to respond or holler back. It is an act to make you feel small, to make you feel like you don’t own yourself. It can make you feel as though you exist for others’ entertainment. I say, screw that. Turn it around and use those who want to use you as entertainment tools. So often, I will mess with their heads, if I feel it is safe to do so.
What advice do you have individuals who get harassed often?
Don’t let anyone who is harassing know that you are uncomfortable. Don’t display anger or hurt. It will only give them what they want. Say something clever and biting back. Something truthful and something assertive. Or you could straight up ignore them. They want your attention and they don’t deserve it. Why wrestle with pigs? You will only get dirty, yourself. Just know that they are behind the times.
Bonnie Zare is a Gender & Women’s Studies Professor at University of Wyoming. She traveled to Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh and lead a workshop on street harassment using Hollaback! resources.
In January, I met with a group of non-privileged teens who, after having suffered the misfortune of being abandoned by their parents, live at Aarti Home in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh. As part of the New York based Women’s Education Project, I was leading a series of classes on women’s rights, human rights and children’s rights (although actually this was my 6th visit to the Home as I am a frequent visitor and year-round volunteer fundraiser). I turned to ihollaback.org for a set of helpful exercises to think about the problem of street harassment. The students particularly liked the exercise of “pretending to make a film about harassment” and drawing a world without street harassment (see sample drawing).
Although nearly everyone understood the learning objective, one student drew a picture of a few ants, clustering around sugar. Underneath it said “when beauty is there, the ants are drawn to it.” The older students, called me over. They said scoldingly, “This is not right.” I let it go. Later when we discussed some of the most compelling drawings, I brought it to their attention and asked them why it was not fitting. They said, “What do ants have to do with it?” The artist said, giggling apologetically, Mmen can’t stay away from beauty. It’s in their nature.” I said, “Beauty is not the issue. Maybe some people get more harassment than others, but it is not a compliment. It is not a sign of your beauty. And men don’t have to do this biologically.” Ants may like sugar and men may like women, but verbal harassment is not an ok way to show liking someone. I think the majority understood what I was saying.
Awkward moment: When discussing street harassment, Board member and observer Durga called out, “You see, women don’t get harassed on the streets in the West. So it is a problem that can be solved. Why must our men do this? Women are beautiful there too, no? But they don’t get harassed.” I felt weird because I immediately had to correct her. Me: “Oh, they do. I was harassed and called all sorts of names when I was younger. Mainly in major cities…. Perhaps it is not as frequent as in India but it occurs.” Both she and the teachers looked a little shocked and a few people basically said that they did not believe me. I said,”I got these exercises from a US group called hollaback.org (as I had already told them). Why do you think the US group formed in the first place? Because they were experiencing harassment and wanted to make people aware of the size of the problem.”