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An Interview with Sonia Saraiya of CATCALLED.org: “This is my experience and I don’t think I’m alone.”

BY RITA PASARELL

This past August, Sonia Saraiya and a group of women writers created CATCALLED.org, a “collection of women’s stories about street harassment in New York City.”  Each of the 11 participants wrote a daily log for two weeks, and then responded to each other’s logs for exit interviews.  CATCALLED says street harassment is “an unfair burden placed on women in public spaces” and describes the project as “an attempt to give that struggle a voice.”  Here’s what else Sonia had to say:

1)     This site is great, and the entries are so interesting! What inspired you to create CATCALLED?

I’m not from New York, and I had recently moved here and was so happy about it! Then, the summer started . . . the level of anger I felt in the street just skyrocketed from all of the catcalling I was experiencing.  It had happened to me before, but here, the volume of it was just so much greater. I felt alienated as I walked around doing simple things, like just trying to get home.  The looks, the judgments, the threats inherent in the comments . . . I felt so exposed.  I tried not to pay attention to all of it because it was just too much. Then I thought, “but this is real! This is my experience and I don’t think I’m alone.”  Then, I started talking to other people about it.

2)     Are there any themes that you noticed emerging from the entries? 

Many of the writers said that the process of keeping track of all the street harassment they experienced was extremely emotionally exhausting.  The project made them start paying attention to things they had taught themselves to ignore, because with so much catcalling, it can become too upsetting to confront the reality of the situation.  For instance, many described this sort of auto-pilot mode of changing their habits to avoid street harassment – things like altering their route to avoid feeling vulnerable.

3)     Is there any particular Catcalled entry or writer that sticks out the most for you?

Of course, I was very surprised by writer #11, because I found out she carries a knife.  Participant #6 was also interesting to me. She wrote about how it feels to routinely not be catcalled. And she thinks catcalling is terrible, and the few times it happens to her, she hates it, but she also notices that it isn’t happening, and she connects that to her own self-esteem about how she looks. This is how the culture of street harassment is harmful even for people who don’t get harassed –it affected her self-esteem to not be getting that attention, even though she didn’t really want it anyway.

4)     The exit interviews were especially interesting — can you describe your thoughts on including these?   

I wanted to begin the process of women talking to each other about their experiences. It was a way for a dialogue to start, so they could find common ground, or disagree, and reflect.

5)     Do you remember how you first heard about the anti-street harassment movement?

I was maybe in middle school or high school, and there was this comic strip where catcalling was portrayed negatively.  Up to that point, I only had seen the issue spoken of in harmful ways, in terms of the woman’s fault: she was wearing the wrong thing, in the wrong place, out too late.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sonia! And thanks to Sonia and the CATCALLED team for their great work and for speaking out against street harassment!

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Call and Response: How Hollaback Helped Me Holler Back at Street Harassers

BY TANISHA L. RAMIREZ

Hollaback is a voice; it’s an opportunity to join a chorus of women speaking up against street harassment, in an effort not only to mute the various Psssts, Hey, Ma’s, and Hey, Girl’s that women are subjected to just about any time that they step out in public, but to bring awareness to the fact that these public come-ons are unwarranted, unwanted and unwelcome.

Cat-calls, or piropos as they are called in Spanish, have been a daily occurrence in my life since I was 12 years old. I remember the first time a man—yes, a man, not a boy!—wolf-whistled at me in the street. I was walking home from my ELEMENTARY school and a man in a blue jeep slowed his vehicle to a creepy crawl, hung out of his window and shouted, “Hey, Mamita! You need a ride home?” His eyes caressed the budding curves of my body and his lips shined with the spit deposited on them from a fresh lick. It was at that moment that I knew—just knew—that I was a piece of meat to this man. I went home feeling ashamed and dirty. I didn’t tell anyone about it or leave my home for days.

As got older the hollering became cruder and more frequent. What were excused as mere compliments and pleasantries regarding my body were hurled at me on an almost daily basis. My ass, my breasts, my hair, my hips, my waist and even my smile were up for public discussion. “Smile, Ma,” they’d say as they grinned at me, stupidly. Because, of course, most people go about gallivanting on the street with a big goofy smile on their faces. Thank you strange man for reminding that my “thighs be thick” and that I’ve forgotten to smile. It’s like I had a bevy of street harassers serving as my verbal mirror. I tried covering up my body in long coats and bulky sweaters. I zig-zagged across streets in order to avoid directly passing in front of groups of boys or men. I kept it all to myself, withdrawing further into my mind and into my home.

Then, one day, after a particularly awful day filled to the brim with crude remarks and one especially depraved individual requesting that I “bounce” on his lap, I’d had enough. At the time Facebook had just introduced the “Notes” app. I clicked on the app, and filled the empty page with the note that would not only ignite my blogging career, but introduced me to Hollaback. I wrote, “All you guys who feel compelled to say the nastiest, cheesiest and just ungodly things to young women walking down the street, you all need to SHUT THE *EXPLATIVE* UP… Don’t think that you are so important that girls and women must stop for you in the street, must run up to your car when you honk a horn, or blush just because you called them pretty… Ladies, you don’t need any validation from anyone, much less someone who doesn’t know you for who you really are—more than just a body…So, guys, just shut up! We just want to go about our day without being harassed by you on the street.”

What started out as just an opportunity to vent more than a decade-worth of being harassed on the street for no reason other than the fact that I walked outside while being an unaccompanied female, became an instant hit among my friends. Women and men commented on my post, with most of them expressing relief that someone finally put into words the frustration that they felt as a result of street harassment. One of the commentators wrote, “You’d love Hollaback! They are a hub for stories like yours.”

I visited iHollaback.org that very night. I spent countless hours clicking through women’s stories of street harassment. I’d always known that I wasn’t the only female to experience these piropos, these cat-calls, but at the time, visiting Hollaback for the first time, I felt that I’d found a community of women who were willing to finally talk about it, and holler back!

Hollaback has given me a voice with which I fight against street harassment. With Hollback, I’m able to track incidents of street harassment in my city, and sometimes read vivid descriptions of the perpetrators. I’m sure they don’t care for our detailed descriptions of their bodies—ha! Hollaback
has also given me the courage to literally talk back to the man who threatened to “fuck,” me “into submission” after I refused to speak to him or blush when he whistled at me. Hollaback makes me feel like every time that I step out in the world, I do so with thousands of Hollerbackers by my side. We are a chorus of women speaking up against piropos, cat-calls, wolf-whistles, come-ons, “compliments”, and hollers. Though I understand that street harassment may always be a part of my life, and that often times the men that we target are not interested in reading the blog, I’m comforted by the fact that when they holler at me, I’m willing and able to holler back.

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HOLLA ON THE GO: “Rich shouldn’t equal rude.”

In the lobby, a group of adults were walking past my group & one man and his wife who had obviously been drinking began to pester us to sing even tough we were under instruction to be quiet in the lobby of the club until our director arrived (as I informed him repeatedly). Blame it on the alcohol… either way he was rude & made me uncomfortable.  A grown man who belongs to a country club should know better than to act like that to a group of teens even after a few drinks. Rich shouldn’t equal rude.

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HOLLA ON THE GO: submission from our apps

There are builders currently working on our campus, so my classmates and I frequently experience wolf whistling, being told to smile and shouts of “morning gorgeous” etc as we make out way to and from classes.

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Story, Uncategorized

HOLLA ON THE GO: Hey, Girl. (gross edition).

I was walking and had 2 guys follow me in a car and said hey girl come here look at that ass, come here, show me your vagina. It was gross and made me feel awful.

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Story, Uncategorized

HOLLA ON THE GO: local news report

On the local news I saw that there is a man that has flashed, I believe, 2 women in the downtown Corpus Christi area by Cole Park. It’s a popular jogging area. Police are urging that you report any and all suspicious activity in that area because they are very concerned by this kind of behavior as it can lead to a more dangerous crime as the flasher may get braver.

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Uncategorized, What Hollaback Means to Me

What Hollaback Means to Me: Rita’s story

BY RITA PASARELL

When I heard of Hollaback a few years ago, my first thought was: “finally!”  I was so glad to see a place for people to share their stories and speak out against street harassment— a place where the issue was taken seriously.

I remember thinking back to when I was repeatedly, loudly,aggressively street harassed for almost two years by a neighbor who was more than twice my age. After many confrontations where I told him to leave me alone,I became so fed up that I decided to report him to the police.The first time I described his behavior, the police would not take a report.  No crime had taken place, they said.  I told the police how this man had pulled his rusty, broken-windowed van next to me as I walked down the sidewalk, shouting “get in!” after months of explicitly shouting comments about my body.  I told them he had been harassing other women, that I was embarrassed to walk in my own neighborhood, and that I was worried he would escalate. Ok, but did he touch you, they wanted to know.  He hadn’t. I went home.

It wasn’t until after my third visit to the police station, many months later, that this man was finally charged – with stalking.  I had given the police detailed lists of the street harassment I’d experienced, and I remember thinking “it shouldn’t be this difficult.”  The charge was ultimately dismissed.

Although I am frustrated that the legal system failed to hold a serial street harasser accountable for his inappropriate behavior, Hollaback’s work gives me hope that in speaking out against street harassment, our voices do have an impact, even if not immediately.Every shared story of street harassment says I do not accept this and joins with other stories to make it clear that street harassment will not be tolerated.  Hollaback reminds us that we don’t have to be silent, that our experiences deserve to be taken seriously, and also reminds the world to listen.

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Story, Uncategorized

HOLLA ON THE GO: “Hey lady, wanna…”

“Hey lady, wanna..” I said “come back and let me take your picture.” He came back and shielded his face when I took the snapshot, asking “why do you wanna take my picture?”

I've got your back!
25+

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Uncategorized, Verbal

HOLLA ON THE GO: Beer drinker on the bus

I was riding the number 3 bus northbound. A man boarded, sat down and loudly cracked a beer open. He then started to come on to the young Asian woman sitting next to him, trying to get her attention in Cantonese, making kissing motions at her, draping his arm over the back of his seat. She was visibly ignoring him and feeling uncomfortable. I reported him to the driver – first for the beer, then for the assault. The driver notified transit police but did nothing more.

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