Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia MO, Columbus, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, East Lansing, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Los Angeles, Muncie IN, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Plattsburgh, Richmond VA, San Francisco, Tucson, Twin Cities
BY SAMUEL CARTER AND EMILY MAY
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth installment in our Women’s History Month series of posts highlighing our living history. As our history is still in progress, we hope you’ll give us feedback so we can strengthen our work. The next three posts will be released over the next week and will highlight more lessons we’ve learned. Stay tuned. These posts are also cross-posted on Feministing.com.
When Malcolm Gladwell wrote “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted” in The New Yorker, he argued that the revolution would not happen through social media because the revolution requires “strong ties” and the Internet only facilitated “weak ties.” There are lots of abstract ways to measure “strong” vs. “weak” ties, but the founders of Hollaback! felt that Gladwell was missing the mark. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s research shows that social media causes the release of oxytocin, which is the hormone that is responsible for feelings of trust, generosity, and connectivity. It is released by mothers holding their babies, people falling in love, and according to Zak, it is the “social glue” that adheres families, communities, societies — and dare we say, movements. This suggests that individuals can form strong, emotional connections over digital networks.
Gladwell didn’t get everything wrong though—movements do require strong-ties. Our “hand them a start up packet and be done with it” model didn’t just fail because it didn’t provide people with enough training, it failed also because it didn’t provide them with community.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you were part of a great team? When everyone was on the same page, working seamlessly to the same incredible goal? Those moments are rare, but when they happen they are the best. We wanted to build Hollaback! with that design in mind—an incredible team that loved each other and were all in it together, fighting for something bigger than ourselves. Releasing oxytocin at every turn.
In March 2011, a prominent journalist and professor in Buenos Aires named Juan Terranova wrote an article on our Buenos Aires Hollaback! site. He wasn’t a fan; and instead of critiquing it from any reasonable academic or journalistic perspective, he went after our site leader, Inti Maria writing, “I want to break her asshole with my cock.”
His words reverberated across our network. A collective shock, rage, and concern about Inti Maria’s safety lit our listserve on fire. Inti Maria left the country to gather her thoughts and ensure her safety, and we started a petition on change.org to get him fired. Within a few weeks we’d collected 3,500 signatures from 75 countries around the world. And still, the publication that he wrote for didn’t budge. So we targeted their advertisers, Fiat and Lacoste, and within two days we’d gathered over 1,500 signatures and both Fiat and Lacoste ended their advertising contracts. At that point, the main shareholder made the call. Terranova was fired, and both Terranova and the editor of the magazine wrote a front page apology to Inti Maria.
In his apology, Terranova referred to Hollaback! as a “powerful, well-organized international organization.” At this point, Emily had been on salary as Executive Director for just two months, and we had no additional staff or an office. But as a badass collective of feminist activists with computers, Terranova was right: we were both powerful and well-organized.
Following the ordeal, Inti Maria wrote to the Hollaback! listserve:
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!
What happened with Terranova reminded us that we were up against some pretty terrifying enemies. Before Terronova we had all suffered through a range of hater comments calling us “fat,” “ugly,” or “just needing to get laid.” They stung. But this was a whole new ballgame. The ordeal inspired the establishment of Hollaback’s culture of support as well as one of our core values: “I’ve Got Your Back.” It’s reads:
“Making revolution isn’t always easy. It’s scary to tell your story, and it’s scary to lead a movement that challenges the status quo. When times get tough, we stand as a united front against the forces that try to pull us apart. We embrace others’ perspectives, see debate as a learning opportunity, and we never, ever get holier-than-thou.”
Today, we maintain our community’s solidarity through several outlets, including a listserve and facebook group where we share announcements. The goal of our online communications isn’t just to share resources or best practices. It’s to inspire that warm-fuzzy feeling. The feeling of being on an incredible team, the feeling of being understood. Because it is that feeling above all else that makes things happen.
Hello Amazing Hollas!
We are now at the tail end of Womens History Month 2013. Many, many of you hosted and attended incredible events around the world, speaking on our site and all over the media about harassment, doing our part in this international conversation about everyday violence by holla-ing back! Well done.
Hollaback! NYC had their Eileen Fisher event last weekend! Hollas bravely took on an afternoon of NYC saturday shoppers, tabling at Eileen Fisher locations all over the New York area. They talked to customers and passers by about Hollaback!, street-harassment awareness, and our hollawesome fight. The New York hollas are also revving their engines for their Anti-Street Harassment Rally and Chalk Walk on April 13! Check out their site for details.
Hollaback! Ottawa was featured in both CBC News AND Ottawa’s Metro Newspaper talking about the serious issue sexual harassment on public transportation and how to address it. Particularly of note here is Ottawa Hollas potent stance on whether or not the city should put cameras on public transportation vehicles: “If the City is going to spend upwards of a million dollars on cameras, then they surely have some money to spare for public education regarding harassment and assault. And it’s those kinds of preventative measures we’d like to see.” Way to RULE, Hollas!
Hollaback! Brussels, the on-fire group responsible for the beautiful We Chalk Walk Tumblr, is now organizing a #ShareTheStreets Walk. Hollas and fellow walkers will walk around Brussels, leaving small “gifts” with small messages around the city. Their purpose is to start a very necessary street dialogue of gifts to each other, in a gesture of caring, giving, and rising up together as bystanders.
Hollaback! Boston site leader Angela bids her fellow hollas farewell as she moves on to many new and exciting opportunities in her new home in Detroit. Angela has been important part of the Hollaback! movement and she will always be a part of our family. A big Holla THANK YOU to Angela!
Hollaback! Philly’s comic book campaign is going swimmingly! The comic book is fully funded, and they even raised enough money to fund their trip to COMICON 2014 in San Diego to represent the women and LGBTQIA conversation in a forum where these issues are rarely brought up. I’m so proud.
Hollaback! Buenos Aires participated in a discussion group on street harassment this week at the Tierra Violeta Cultural Centre. Hollas screened A Walk Home and talked about street harassment, art, race, intersexuality, and harassment as experienced by LGBTQIA men and women. Fantastic!
HOLLA and out –
BY SAMUEL CARTER AND EMILY MAY
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third installment in our Women’s History Month series of posts highlighing our living history. As our history is still in progress, we hope you’ll give us feedback so we can strengthen our work! The next four posts will be released over the next week and will highlight more lessons we’ve learned. Stay tuned. These posts are also cross-posted on Feministing.com.
The first step in establishing Hollaback! was figuring this leadership bit out. While we knew it was important, we were deeply uncomfortable with it. Help came with a book called No Excuses by Gloria Feldt, former president of Planned Parenthood. Feldt argued that people with out traditional access to power (women, people of color, and others) have an uneasy relationship with power because it’s traditionally wielded over them. She argued for a “power to” instead of “power over” model.
“Power to” made sense within our context. Prior to running Hollaback! We had always played supporting roles to bosses in leadership positions. And we were good at it, making leaders better versions of themselves—filling in their gaps, listening to them, coaching them, and convincing others that they were pretty much the awesomest people on the planet.
We started to launch sites. We set the goal of launching five in the first year. Instead, we launched 45. Activists from around the world from radically different backgrounds were coming together to end street harassment. They were 44% LGBTQ, 33% people of color, and 75% under the age of 30.
Hollaback! was never about rules, but instead about elevating people’s voices that had historically been ignored in the conversation. And our job was to be a catalyst for action, to inspire and train these new leaders, but not to make them dependant on us. The sites localized, customized, and innovated our model without oversight.
By the fall of 2010, we were overwhelmed with requests to launch sites. Our all-volunteer team decided it was best to streamline the process and launch them in classes. Each class was responsible for developing their launch plan, establishing their team, putting together a press list, and getting at least one member of their team to attend our four webinars. Our team was responsible for getting their website, their localized logos, and, of course, the training and technical assistance. We brought the global community and the brand, they brought the action.
Our site leaders had full control over how they chose to run their site. They could speak with media, do presentations, hold events, meet with legislators, do mud-stenciling, host film screenings, all without our approval and most of the time without our help. We worked with them to help them have the same “ah-ha” moments that we’d had. To help them realize that their voice matters, and that the ultimate antidote to street harassment was to speak up. The stakes were as high for them as for us. If we didn’t speak up and lead, we were unnecessarily subjecting future generations to street harassment. Running a Hollaback! wasn’t just an opportunity, it was an urgent necessity. And poised with the opportunity to make real change on this issue—our site leaders took public conversation on street harassment to the next level.
BY SAMUEL CARTER AND EMILY MAY
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in our Women’s History Month series of posts highlighing our living history. As our history is still in progress, we hope you’ll give us feedback so we can strengthen our work! The next five posts will be released over the next week and will highlight five more lessons we’ve learned. Stay tuned.
After we launched, the stories of street harassment didn’t stop coming. There they were: scary, infuriating, isolating stories, sent by people from all corners of the globe. We had started Hollaback! for personal reasons, but at a certain point it wasn’t about us anymore. It was about the stories and the opportunity that we’d inadvertently created to end street harassment.
It took a life changing aha-moment and some badass feminist mentors for us to realize what was happening. In spring 2009, Emily was accepted into the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices Program with nine of the most impressive women she’d ever met. At the front of the room was Katy Oreinstein, founder of the Op-ed project, a project designed to increase the amount of women writers on the editorial pages.
Katy urged us to identify ourselves as “experts” on street harassment. Media people love “experts” but women tend to shy away from it. We fear the “so what makes you an expert?” question like the plague, and, to be fair, we’re much more likely to get these questions than men. The more Katy pushed us to identify, the more we wriggled in our seats. “If every one’s voice matters, what was so special about ours?” we asked.
What Katy did next changed the trajectory of Hollaback! forever. She told the group to imagine that everyone in the room had cancer and that we thought we might have a cure. “Do we speak up?” she asked.
We responded in unison: of course.
So, she said, “what’s the difference? The world has problems, and you all have answers. If you’re not speaking up you’re silently complicit in other’s pain.”
Those words hit Emily hard. It made her realize the power of what we had created. We had a huge international platform from which to end street harassment, but Emily was uncertain about leading. She had heard from colleagues that when women lead they are often told they are “in it for themselves” or that they are “fat and ugly anyway.” And when you wake up on a Sunday morning to find messages like these in your inbox before you’ve even had your coffee, your inner middle school ego is gets a bruising. I don’t care how badass you are.
But here’s the trick, by listening to the people that tell you “just want to be famous,” or “are trying to get rich” (Emily’s personal favorite, because you know, the revolution is soooo lucrative), you’re ironically making it about yourself. Your fears become selfish. Emily realized that in not speaking up to the extent she could, she would become silently complicit in other’s pain. She had a choice: lead this thing or sit back and wait for things to happen on their own, and ultimately fail. It was then that it stopped being a personal decision for her, and started being a calling she had to pursue.
BY EMILY MAY AND SAM CARTER
March is Women’s history month, and as we celebrate the incredible strides that women have made throughout history, we also wanted to take a moment to document our own history. Some of it you may know, some of it you may not. In any case, we wanted to take a moment to write it in our own words. This is the first of seven posts that we’ll release over the next week. The following six profile posts will profile different lesson that we’ve learned along the way. We hope you’ll give us your feedback on our journey, and tell us what we’ve done right and wrong along the way. Our history is in progress, and with your help and support, we can make a better future for people impacted by street harassment.
We were a group of seven friends, helping each other get through this tough city-workaday world in daily free-wheeling conversations. Gender was a particularly rich theme. We were three men and four women, all a bit queer, and as we talked about our lives, neighborhoods, commutes to work, the parks and cafes we frequented, something emerged; the women of our group had a vastly different set of experiences in public space from the men, the women enduring a constant barrage of foul comments, violations of personal space, and groping from strangers on the subway and the streets of the city.
For the men, hearing these stories from was eye-opening as they suddenly understood our city of New York as actually being two cities—one as experienced by women, the other by men. And this kind of commonplace inequality was shaking..
On August 23, 2005, a young woman named Thao Nguyen was riding the R train. She looked up to find a man sitting across from her staring. The man started to masturbate. At this point, Thao did not avert her eyes or bury herself in a book. She did not get up and leave the train car. Instead, she took out her cell phone, and took a photo of the man. And when she got off the train, she tried to report the incident. In her words:
Thao took a bold step. After trying to report the incident, she shared her story on flickr, where it quickly went viral. Gothamist picked it up first, then the New York Daily News, which ran the photo on the front page of their tabloid.
It was one of those stories that New Yorkers were all buzzing about. Gothamist got flooded with comments. It felt like everyone either had a similar story of public masturbation, or they knew someone who did. Women came forward and recognized the man in Thao’s photo. Eventually, the subject of Thao’s snap turned himself in to the police.
Amongst ourselves, we picked apart what had happened. Essentially, Thao had taken an action against her harasser using a digital tool that we all carry in our pockets, and then shared it with her broader community. It had sparked public debate. As we went through the timeline of the media story, we found ourselves revisiting familiar ground: the use of all this new personal technology, the power of the Internet and the emerging social media, the rise of blogs, and of course, gender.
And it was then that we realized that it was completely within our power to keep this conversation alive in New York City. That we could start a new site, dedicated to sharing the kind of photos and stories that Thao Nguyen had, and make it open to everyone in New York.
We got to work.
We quickly identified the work to be done. Some of us had set up websites and registered domains before, some were good with design, some with marketing. Others had legal expertise and could put together a basic framework for the project.We settled on the name Hollaback NYC.
On October 3, 2005, at 12:38 PM, we put up our first post:
Here’s the skinny–next time you’re out and about and some cocky ass on a power trip whistles, hoots, or hollas–Just Holla back! Whip out your digicam, cameraphone, 35mm, (or sketchpad), and email us the photo. We’ll post their ugly face for the whole world to see. If you can’t pull out a camera, or you don’t have one on you, just send us a story and we’ll post that too.
We began to populate the site by soliciting stories from each other—and our friends. Here’s Emily’s first Hollaback from October 11, 2005 at 3:54pm:
“Trudging home from the subway I hear the words “beautiful mommy” murmered. I look up to find a man (the one on the left) not staring into my eyes but rather sneering at my tits. I felt like poo, and it took all my willpower to grab my camera and run down the street after him to get this shot. A little scared, and very shaken, I scurried home holding my camera like radioactive material.”
We pissed people off.
The photos got a lot of attention – and a lot of controversy – to the site. Our cell phone cameras became a cry of resistance. This was of course very scary for folks. Changing the power structures usually is. We got hate mail and criticism up the wazoo. The most common critique was “what if she’s lying?” This critique was about more than our project. If you watch the news, you’ll be hard pressed to find coverage of a rape case that didn’t question victim’s integrity – either because of her short skirt, her dark skin, or failure to carry boyfriend-on-arm at all hours of the night. The media makes it sound like women are just running amok, making up stories about sexual assault for shits and giggles.
This is, of course, factually untrue. According to the FBI, only 3% of rape reports are “false.” But the fear of being dragged through the mud by the media, a courtroom, the world, makes rape victims skittish about coming forward. According to the American Medical Association, it’s the most “the most under-reported violent crime.”
Street harassment is on the spectrum of gender-based violence. It’s on the lower end of the spectrum, but it’s important to note because people bring the same shit to the party. Victims of street harassment are seen as liars, and unsurprisingly, this has a hushing effect on victims. Being able to tell your story anonymously — with no risk of public shaming — was revolutionary. And with each picture of a blurry sidewalk, a picture of gold cowboy boots being worn during the incident, or the harasser himself — the stories told on the site brought exposure into an otherwise unspoken part of our daily lives.
With success came failure.
Over the next five years, the stories kept coming and interest in Hollaback! grew. We wrote op-eds, spoke at universities, spray painted t-shirts, and designed tote bags. We even successfully got anti-harassment ads in the New York City subways in coordination with New Yorkers for Safe Transit, a coalition we co-founded in 2008. Our work was featured by Good Morning America, NPR, CNN, and many many others. By our count, we’d appeared in press articles over 450 times by 2010.
With international press came international interest. We started to receive posts from outside the United States, and some of our allies suggested that Hollaback! become the “Craigslist of street harassment” and post stories from around the world. We discussed it, but deep in our hearts, we knew that although street harassment is a global issue, the power of our project lies in local leadership.
Building the movement.
In the words of Gloria Steinum, “movements start by people telling their stories, and they succeed when power dynamics change.” This draws a distinction with nonprofits: movements aren’t fueled by people who are paid to do the work. They are powered by people who recognize injustice and are motivated to work for change. So we struck out on our own. We tried to build a nonprofit that looked like a movement.
Along the way, we made a bunch of mistakes, and learned a few new things.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on what we learned!
My chemistry teacher told me my entire bra was showing. Who is he to be looking at my chest?
I was on a run when a group of men I passed started shouting at me. One began to run along with me saying things like “we running back to your place? Where you going baby? I’m gonna run with you.” I sped up and he kept with me. I finally said “you can’t keep up” and he finally stopped.
Meet Rubina Singh, site leader in Chandigarh, India.
Interview conducted by Rita Beth.
When did you start your holla?
Why did you start a HOLLA and what does Hollaback! mean to you?
Street harassment had become a daily reality for me. I was tired and had no idea what to do about it. One incident in particular, triggered me to find a more long-term solution. I was followed home by some men in a car and it scared me to death. I wasn’t sure what would happen and I just froze. I didn’t do anything then but it really got to me and I knew I had to do something. That was when I found out about Hollaback!. I wrote about it once here.
HOLLAfact about your city:
It’s the greenest city in India.
Say you’re Queen for the day. What would you do to end street harassment?
Engage men and women in conversation about gender roles and gender based violence including street harassment.
What was your first experience with street harassment?
My first experience was when I was 16 years old. I was walking from home to a market and a group of boys started following me and making lewd comments. I entered a shop where I knew the owner and stayed there until I saw them leave.
What’s your signature Hollaback?
I usually keep Hollaback! Pamphlets with me and just hand them over to people harassing me or someone else around me. It’s a great way to start talking about the issue.
Define your style:
My superheroine power is positivity. I try to look at the brighter side of things and make the best out of what is available.
What is your proudest holla moment so far?
We recently conducted a campaign, The Pledge Project, where we encouraged people in the city to pledge that they would speak up against street harassment in their city. We collected over 500 pledges and hopefully made a contribution in ending street harassment in the city.
What do you do when you’re not holla’ng?
Sleeping! Other than that, I work full time with the Commonwealth Youth Programme, Asia Centre based in Chandigarh. We work primarily in the field of youth development.
If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be?
Keep calm and Hollaback!
What are you excited about in 2013?
Queer Pride! Chandigarh is about to see its first ever pride march on the 15th of March. It’s being led by an HIV/AIDS awareness organization, Saksham Trust CBO and Hollaback! Chandigarh is supporting it.
We’re also hoping to collaborate with the city police (they’ve been hugely supportive) to conduct safety audits in the city.
What inspires you?
Learning from the awesome Hollaback! Family. Everyone is amazing beyond amazing and it’s a daily inspiration to see the great work they’re doing and how fantastic they are as people.
We are less than a month away from Anti-Street Harassment Week, April 7-13. Mark your calendars!
Here’s what we’ve been up to this week:
Now, without further ado, let’s talk about how y’all rocked this week:
HOLLA and out –
Thanks to Erin Jill for another great video!