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I was walking along the road on a Sunday morning with an elderly home, school and supermarket beside it. This small, white car slowed down beside me with it’s windows rolled down and the young driver inside wasn’t wearing any pants. He was masturbating and flashed his erected penis and smiled at me at the same time. I looked at him, wasn’t shocked at all( I don’t know why), looked away and kept walking. He drove back from the roundabout and smiled at me from the opposite direction of the road. This happened in Lucerne, Switzerland.
A year ago last September I was on a freshers night out and I kissed a guy a little older than me on the dance floor. I went to the toilets on my own, he followed me into the toilets and pushed me into a cubicle and locked the door behind him. He started trying to kiss me and tried touching me. I remember crying and women comforting me in. This happened in Pop world night club in Swansea, Wales.
I was working a small event at a park registering people to vote, and our local football grizzly bear mascot Monte slapped my butt. Because I was working I didn’t say anything, considering the fact that my job was to appeal to those at the event. I wish I did though. A mask is not an excuse for assault!
I always wanted to be the progressive man— strong enough to open all of the pickle jars yet sensitive enough to cry during Toy’s Story 3. I joined the Men against Patriarchy group on my college campus, attended panels about the experiences of women, was one of two men in my Feminist Psychology of Women class, and wrote my senior thesis on the destructive properties of Black heterosexual masculinity in American society. By any definition, I was on track to become an ally, or at least a man that feminists love.
However, social change cannot occur without action. Even though I have attended panel and read books, I have not consistently used my power to support the equity of women. I have sat silently while witnessing sexual assault in public in the name of sustaining the code of heterosexual men. Where do I even start? Before chaining myself to abortion clinics or fighting suspected aggressors on the street, I needed to identify how I contribute to our patriarchy.
Around this time of introspection, the infamous “10 hours walking around NYC as a woman” captured the attention of millions. Women effectively carved space for productive dialogue by sharing their personal encounters with street harassment. Although the video has its flaws—it ignored the racial and socioeconomic implications of framing white women as the victim and lower class men of color as the perpetrator—it illuminated a stark contrast between my experience and those of millions of women interacting with public space in New York City [NYC]. It further proved that headphones, novels, cellphones, “bitch faces”, and even significant others are no match for the male need to express admiration for physical beauty. I am guilty of this as well, constantly thinking of clever ways to interrupt the morning commute of attractive women across NYC.
Recognizing my participation, I wanted to reverse my Pavlovian response to seeing a “beautiful” woman; how could I stop salivating long enough to notice that women are more than their beauty? Brainstorming with a close friend about this problem, I suggested doing a social experiment, in which I would document how often I referenced or thought about the physical appearance of women for seven days. She pushed back, suggesting that I make it public and attach a financial stipulation. Together, we transformed this desire to change into a tangible goal.
For one month, I would track any thoughts or references about a woman’s physical appearance, donating $1 to an organization fighting against the effects of street harassment and violence. For accountability, I created a mobile spreadsheet for consistent tracking, enlisted several friends to check on me, and announced the challenge to my Facebook friends. Instead of growing my mustache for Movember, I decided to spend my month examining a large part of my masculine identity and checking my male privilege. November felt like the longest month of my life. From post-Halloween photos, cologne advertisements, alcohol commercials, food commercials, music videos, book covers, bartenders, cashiers, mothers, daughters; I found myself throwing money away. I second-guessed every word to make sure I created genderless conversations. Although difficult, it made me realize the importance of preserving another person’s humanity. Everyone is fighting for acceptance based on his/her character rather than physical appearance. It made me work harder to connect with and learn about the values of others. It made me seek out the experiences and personal stories about harassment and the concept of beauty. At the end of the month, I had made 95 references or thoughts. I decided to round up to 100 and split the money between Safe Horizon, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, and Hollaback!, given each organization’s role in supporting survivors of sexual harassment and assault.
Even though the month is over and the financial stipulations are gone, this work is not done. Although my eyes have been opened recently, I know that women have been grappling with these concepts for centuries. As a man, it is time for me to start listening and to stand behind those who have been on the front line all along.
As you finish reading this post, know that this challenge is for you. It is everyone’s duty to assess his/her participation in the system. This challenge may not be as trendy as ice water buckets, but know that the consequences are just as jarring. If we do not call for change, the rights and safety of women will continue to depend on the benevolence of a man.
New York City, NY (15th December, 2014) – Two years ago, subway passenger Jasheem Smiley watched a man enter the subway, sit down next to a sleeping woman, put his hand up her skirt, and assault her. Smiley told The Gothamist “…When he started touching her that’s when I turned my camera on. My jaw dropped. I had never seen anything like this before.” The film went viral, however, despite the virality of the story, the woman in the video remained anonymous, until now. Today Elisa Lopez is coming forward with this video (also embedded below) telling her side of the story.
Lopez says, “My goal is to bring attention to how dangerous it is to be a bystander. I just want to tell my side of the story because all anyone saw was a drunken-skirt-wearing-Latina who ‘shouldn’t sleep on the train.’ I was a human being that was violated and no one bothered to intervene.”
The perpetrator is still at large, but today, Lopez has broken her silence and come forward with her account. She shares her story not only of what it was like to come to terms with her assault, but to have to contend with the eruption of media coverage that resulted in Smiley releasing his recording. Lopez didn’t know she had been assaulted until she saw the media explosion over the recording.
Lopez concludes the video to thank “anyone who has ever told their story because it gave me the strength to tell mine.” Hollaback!, the anti-street harassment organization mentioned at the end of the video, has collected over 8,000 stories of street harassment since their launch in 2005. Hollaback! has been working with Lopez over the past six months.
Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!, says, “What Elisa has done today in sharing her story is so powerful. We hear her, we believe her, and we are working alongside her to stand up to the harassment and assault so many New Yorkers face on a daily basis. While Elisa’s story is shocking, it is not unique. We all need to take a stand against street harassment and assault and work to make our streets safer for everyone.”
If you recognize Lopez’s assaulter, please contact Crimestoppers at 1-800-577-tips.
Elisa, thank you for your courage in coming forward to share your story. Hollaback Vegas supports you!
You can watch Elisa’s video below. **Trigger Warning** Sexual Assault
So glad to find out that an organization like Hollaback now exists. When I lived in New York, I was followed by men, got cat calls from men in cars and generally harassed on a daily basis. It never occurred to me at the time that it was a form of sexual harassment and in fact, could be dangerous. It is a form of power that some men use over single women. A woman walking alone is an easy target.
After awhile, it makes women afraid to be women. Just going to the grocery store becomes a drama filled occasion. It’s not even about dressing sexy. Women get harassed in just a t-shirt and jeans.
The worse would be when I was groped in a crowd. It’s hard because you really learn not to trust men. Then, you finally meet a good one, like my husband. I’ve always missed my time in New York, but now I remember how hard it can be.
It’s hard to be a single woman in New York. Harassment is never cool. hollaback!
I was walking to the cinema at around 8pm when I passed a group of 6-8 young men that were bouncing a basketball. They started staring at me and yelling “hey, you” “hey, girl” so I told them to fuck off. They then threw a basketball at me, which hit the wall behind me and started telling me to get over there and fuck them. When they started walking closer I yelled “I have pepper spray and I will spray all of you” to which they replied by calling me a “spicy mama” and then rambling in spanish.
A guy singing lady in red at me loudly.
I live in Caracas Venezuela, i see and experienced this type of verbal herrasment every day in the street, the first time was on the subway that some ramdom guy told me to smile, i was so mad