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REPOSTED FROM FEMINIST LETTERS
I am regularly inspired by the women involved in the Hollaback campaign. The work they do and the sites they run are amazing. I would recommend that every woman go onto their website, read a bit about what they do, submit your own stories of harassment (lets face it, we’ve ALL got them) and if you can, donate to help keep them going. They also have some great advice for dealing with harassers; here.
The Hollaback movement (combined with the recent warm weather – why are pervs more active in Summer?) has really brought to my attention just how regularly I experience this sort of thing. Many people say its ‘harmless’ or some sort of ‘compliment’ but I do believe that it has a real impact on women and the way they live their lives. So I wanted to start a little Hollaback diary of my own to try and keep track just how often these incidents occur.
I’m not sure if I experience this sort of harassment more or less than other women, but for me it feels like it happens bloody often.
1. Date: 8th May 2011. Time: approx 2 am. Place: City Centre, outside my girlfriends apartment building. Sleaze: As I kissed my girlfriend goodnight two men walking along the street stop and start yelling at us. Comments include I want to f*ck you two, can I join in, you’re so f*cking sexy etc etc. I hollaback (can’t help myself) and it turns really nasty. One of them starts calls us bitches etc and tells us all sorts of really disgusting things he is ‘going’ to do to us, including things I don’t want to think about, let alone write down.
2. Date: 12th May 2011. Time: 8:30 am. Place: City Centre, on the way to work. Sleaze: A small but regular occurrence when walking down the street. I walk past workmen of some sort and they stop what they are doing, collectively look at me for a moment as I approach and then say “Hi, Good Morning”. I know it sounds innocent, but in my head I am thinking; leave me the hell alone. I am walking here. Do you stop and greet everyone that goes past? How many men have you paused to greet this morning. I feel suddenly like I am no longer a person walking down the street, but a sexual object walking along.
3. Date: 20th May 2011. Time: approx 1:30 am. Place: City Centre, walking the 2 blocks from a friends party to my apartment. Sleaze: I walk out of the apartment building and onto the street. Unfortunately at the same time a group of about 5 men are also walking past. They stop, start making noises and cat calls then effectively surround me in a half circle blocking my movement. One of them moves towards me and shouts something I didnt quite catch, but that include the word ‘madame’. I stiffen, hold my head up high and push through, ignoring them as best I can. Despite having been at a great party for most of the night, by the time I get home I am so full of rage I cant sleep. (so I do some ranty writing and furious tweets.)
4. Date: 25th May 2011. Time: approx 10 am. Place: City Centre, walking along my street on the way to work. Sleaze: Another workman incident. Pretty similar to #2.
I will try and keep updating this as these events occur, which no doubt they will…
BY LARA DALE
I live out in New Mexico, but as an ex-New Yorker, I am amazed there hasn’t been a public thank you to the Sofitel Hotel for their prompt, empathic handling of the Strauss-Kahn rape case. I would be on your doorstep right now to discuss this if I didn’t live so far away.
So often in cases like these, the story is dismissed or swept under the rug to such a degree the victim has no chance of a fair trial. Evidence is botched, or pressure is put on in such a way that the victim fears for her life, and the perpetrator walks with zero consequences and cart blanche to assault again.
As near as I can tell from media reports, Sofitel Hotel acted promptly, professionally, and appropriately in this case, paving the way for the victim to be given a fair trial, and the respect and support she needs and deserves. For that, they get zero acknowledgement in the media, and zero thanks from the public.
What kind of message do we as women and victims send when people do the right thing and we don’t acknowledge it? What is the incentive to continue, if nobody cares? If the Sofitel Hotel had handled this improperly, the media would have been all over them, but for doing the right thing they get nothing. I’d like to end this hypocrisy.
Anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault should take comfort that at least one large, prominent organization has morals, and acts on them immediately. I’m just worried that no-one really cares, and so I am asking that anyone and everyone in NYC who cares about this issue, and is in a position of power or influence, to publicly honor and thank the Sofitel Hotel for its actions. Please join me in striving for this, and please do whatever you can to offer suggestions as to how to accomplish this.
Just as we need to point the finger at people who harm us, we need to draw attention to the people who make our lives better. Thank you Sofitel Hotel – you truly made my day with your compassionate response to a traumatized victim! I hope many others agree and offer their thanks and appreciation as well. And may many, many professional businesswomen frequent your hotel, knowing it is a safe and caring environment for all.
The recent discoveries of eight sets of human remains on Long Ocean Parkway in Long Island, as reported by Melissa Gira Grants in her article for The Guardian newspaper, are testament to the price that society is paying for ‘criminalizing prostitution and forcing sex workers into dangerous marginality.’ Grants brings to light that U.S laws against prostitution pit the police against such workers, thus forcing them not to seek protection from the parties that are arresting and charging them and instead contributing to a ‘social economy of violence against sex workers, where serial killers are simply the most visible perpetrator.’
To read the rest of the article visit: The Long Island Women’s Real Killer
Jaclyn Friedman gave a great speach at the Boston Slut Walk this week! Here’s the video and the transcript:
Well hello you beautiful sluts!
Do you see what I did there? I called y’all sluts, and I don’t know the first thing about what any of you do with your private parts. (Well, maybe I know about a couple of you, but I’ll never tell.)
That’s how the word “slut” usually works. If you ask ten people, you get ten different definitions. Is a slut a girl who has sex too young? With too many partners? With too little committment? Who enjoys herself too much? Who ought to be more quiet about it, or more ashamed? Is a slut just a woman who dresses too blatantly to attract sexual attention? And what do any of these words even mean? What’s too young, too many partners, too little committment, too much enjoyment, too blatant an outfit? For that matter, what’s a woman, and does a slut have to be one?
For a word with so little meaning, it sure is a vicious weapon. And, while the people who use it to hurt may not agree on what they mean by it, they’ll all agree on one thing: a slut is NOT THEM. A slut is other. A slut is someone, usually a woman, who’s stepped outside of the very narrow lane that good girls are supposed to stay within. Sluts are loud. We’re messy. We don’t behave. In fact, the original definition of “slut” meant “untidy woman.” But since we live in a world that relies on women to be tidy in all ways, to be quiet and obedient and agreeable and available (but never aggressive), those of us who color outside of the lines get called sluts. And that word is meant to keep us in line. To separate us. To make us police each other, turn on each other, and turn each other in so that we can prove we’re not “like that.” That word comes with such consequences that many of us rightly work to avoid it at all costs.
But not today. Today we all march under the banner of sluthood. Today we come together to say: you can call us that name, but we will not shut up. You can call us that name but we will not cede our bodies or our lives. You can call us that name, but you can never again use it to excuse the violence that is done to us under that name every single fucking day.
Because make no mistake: the consequence of being a slut is violence. The people that yell that word at us in the hallways and on the street know that. The people that call us that on the internet when we dare raise our voices, and the ones who tell us they know what’s best for us, what we should or shouldn’t do with our bodies if we “value” them, they know that. They know that labeling us as sluts marks us as easy targets for sexual violence. Who would come to the defense of a slut? Why would anyone bother? If we don’t play by their rules, why should they care about our bodies or our lives?
This is not hyperbole. In Manitoba this year, a judge refused to sentence a convicted rapist to a single day of jailtime because his victim had worn a tank top and high heels and acted “inviting.” This after the rapist admitted in open court that he’d told his victim that his violation of her “would only hurt for a little while.” When two young Swedish women accused Wikileaks founder Julian Assange of sexual assault after they each voluntarily invited him home with them, blogger Robert Stacy McCain said, “you buy your ticket, you take the ride.” When an 11-year old was gang-raped in Texas by 18 grown men, the New York Times found it relevant to report on how much makeup she wore. Right now, there’s a serial killer loose on Long Island, and the police aren’t doing fuck all about it because he’s mostly killing sex workers.
The word “slut” is an act of violence. Not just metaphorically. It gives permission for people to rape us, and the person who wields it doesn’t have to lift a finger. It sends a signal: this one is fair game. Have at her. No one will blame you.
Which is why, when a Toronto cop told a group of law students at York University that the best way to avoid getting raped was to not dress like a slut, the people of Toronto took to the streets. And so have the people of Dallas, TX, and of London, England, and of Orlando, FL. So too are thousands and thousands of people planning to take to the streets in the months to come, from New Zealand to Amsterdam to Honolulu and beyond. All of us are coming together to say: enough. Enough. You cannot blame us for the crimes you commit against us anymore, no matter what we wear, what we say, or what we do.
And make no mistake about it: we can be called sluts for nearly any reason at all. If we’re dancing. If we’re drinking. If we have ever in our lives enjoyed sex. If our clothes aren’t made of burlap. If we’re women of color, we’re assumed to be sluts before we do a single thing because we’re “exotic.” If we’re fat or disabled or otherwise considered undesirable, we’re assumed to be sluts who’ll fuck anyone who’ll deign to want us. If we’re queer boys or trans women, we’re called sluts in order to punish us for not fearing the feminine. If we’re queer women, especially femme ones, we’re called sluts because we’re obviously “up for anything,” as opposed to actually attracted to actual women. If we’re poor, we’re gold diggers who’ll use sex to get ahead. And god forbid we accuse someone of raping us – that’s the fast track to sluthood for sure, because it’s much easier to tell us what we did wrong to make someone to commit a felony violent crime against us than it is to deal with the actual felon.
There’s a word for all of this. And that word is bullshit. But there’s also a phrase for it: social license to operate. What that means is this: we know that a huge majority of rapes are perpetrated by a small minority of guys who do it again and again. You know why they’re able to rape an average of 6 times each? Because they have social license to operate. In other words: because we let them. Because as a society, we say “oh well, what did she expect would happen if she went back to his room? What did she expect would happen walking around by herself in that neighborhood? What did she expect would happen dressed like a slut?”
You know what I expect will happen when I’m dressed like a slut? People will want to get with me. You know what I don’t mean when I dress like a slut? That anyone I encounter can literally do anything at all they want to me. I know. It’s shocking. Because clearly you thought me wearing my tits out like this gives every single one of you carte blanche to do anything whatsoever you might want to do with my body. I’m very sorry to disappoint.
I don’t mean to make light of any of this, I just want to point out how ridiculous it all sounds when you spell out the meaning of “she was asking for it.” Because the rapists are not confused. Those tiny percentage of guys doing most of the raping? They’ve told researchers that they know full well they don’t have consent. It’s the rest of us that seem confused. We’re the ones that let them off with a little “boys will be boys” shrug and focus our venom on “sluts” instead, leaving those boys free to rape again and again. That’s right: every time we blame a slut for her own violation, we’re not only hurting her, we’re creating a world with more rapists in it for all of us to live in.
No more. We’re here to testify that this ends TODAY. It ends because there is truly nothing – NOTHING – you can do to make someone raping you your fault. It ends because calling other people sluts may make you feel safer, but it doesn’t actually keep you safer. It ends because not one more of us will tolerate being violated and blamed for it. And it ends because all of this slut-shaming does more to us than just the violence of rape. As if that weren’t enough. The violent threat of slut-shaming also keeps us afraid of our bodies and our desires. It makes us feel like we’re wrong and dirty and bad – and yes, very very unsafe – when all we want is to enjoy the incredible pleasure that our bodies are capable of. And that theft of pleasure – that psychic mugging, that ongoing robbery of the gorgeous potential of our souls – that ends today too. Am I right, sluts?
Because the secret truth nobody wants you to know is that, using nearly any definition, there’s nothing wrong with being a slut. Not a thing. It’s OK to like sex. Sex can be awesome. It can be life-alteringly awesome, but even when it’s not, it can be a damn good time. Our sexual desire is part of our life force. And as long as you’re ensuring your partner’s enthusiastic consent, and acting on your own sexual desires, not just acting out what you think someone else expects of you? There’s not a damn thing wrong with it. Not if it’s a hookup, not if you’re queer, not if you like it kinky, not if your number’s too high. If you’re playing on your own terms and you’ve got an enthusiastic partner? Please, I beg of you, just have a fucking awesome time. Our lives are way too often full of struggle and pain. If you can do something with someone else that brings both of you pleasure and joy? You’re increasing the pleasure and joy in the world. No one should ever make you feel bad about that. They should really be sending you a thank you note.
Speaking of which, I want to send a thank you note of my own, to those of you standing here today under the banner of sluthood who don’t identify with that word at all, but understand why we must come together to reject its power. There has been a lot of misunderstanding about the meaning of the SlutWalk, and none more egregious than those who claim our agenda is to encourage all women to be sluts. Whatever that means, our mission could not be further from that. Our mission here today is to create a world in which all of us are free to make whatever sexual and sartorial choices we want to without shame, blame or fear. If you dress and experience your sexuality in decidedly unslutty ways, and you know that there’s nothing we can do to make someone rape us, the SlutWalk is your walk, too, and I thank you for ignoring the hype and standing with us today.
Last summer, when I wrote a manifesto of sorts against slut-shaming, I was told by a pearl-clutching blogger who happens to live in this fair city, that if more than a few people followed my lead, we would destroy the economy, and then society. I have never experienced a clearer affirmation that my words and actions have power. Those who support the status quo in which women live in fear and that fear makes us easy to control will do almost anything to shut us up. But every time they try, we must commit to getting louder.
So let’s practice. Instead of distancing ourselves from those among us who are targeted as sluts, lest we get caught in the crossfire, let’s stand together today and say, if you use the word slut as a weapon against one of us, you’re using it against all of us. If you shame one of us, you will receive shame from all of us. If you rape one of us, you will have to answer to all of us.
If you’ve ever been called a slut, stand up now and say together – I am a slut. If you love someone who’s been called a slut – stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’ve ever been afraid of being called a slut, stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’ve been blamed for violence that someone else did to you, stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’re here to demand a world in which what we do with our bodies is nobody’s business, and we can all live our lives and pursue our pleasures free of shame, blame and free, stand up and say it with me: I am a slut. I am a slut. I am a slut.
By LOU LaROCHE
“Activism” has become a modern-day dirty word for some, synonymous with dodgy police tactics, professional protesters and “grubby-looking transient types” who seem to like complaining about everything. It’s very easy, when watching news footage of the latest actions being taken, to feel divorced from other types of people who don’t just have opinions but feel the need to shout, march and break stuff because of them.
But actually, that’s not what activism is about. From the end of slavery to women’s suffrage to ending Third World debt, activism is about not just complaining about something, but getting those complaints to the right people at the same time that other people are doing the same thing. Seems obvious, right?
Yet somehow society’s need to get up and change things from time to time, to say “Enough is enough” has been translated to mean action taken only by those who identify themselves as being on the far fringes of society. Yet everyone has opinions, and everyone gets frustrated when they’re not heard. So how is it that more “mainstream folk” came to feel that it wasn’t our place to demand hearing?
About three weeks ago, I was on a bus with my autistic five-year-old son, traveling through Bristol, UK. Three older teenagers got on and – though my child was plainly visible – proceeded to verbally abuse me (graphic sexual language), touch me, run their fingers through my hair and laugh at my demands that they stop. When another passenger threatened violence, I took my child, complained to an indifferent bus driver and got off the bus.
About three days ago I gave up hope of finding anyone save my closest female friends who would care at all about what happened to me (and my son) that night. Met with constant indifference, “Boys will be boys” and “Well, no-one was hurt, were they?” I’d fallen foul of the crime we all commit when this happens to us: I chalked it up to experience, pushed it to the back of my mind and let life continue. I’d tried to use my voice and had been told, quite clearly, to shut up.
Then I read about Hollaback! And I became an activist.
This campaign isn’t about gathering together disgruntled women in enough numbers to grab a quick media spot on the news before being forgotten. It’s about a constant and sustained refusal to put up with aggressive verbal and sexual harassment in our public places. It’s not about “action” in any brutal sense, but about collecting our experiences together and using the sheer multitude of them to draw attention to what we have to deal with almost every single time we leave our homes and workplaces. It’s about raising the profile of this sort of unacceptable behaviour and about letting women and gay men (and anyone else who is victimised in the street) know that they DO NOT have to put up with this any longer. Like all proper activism, Hollaback! is about empowerment and change.
To be a Hollaback! activist, you just need to talk to someone. No marching. No sign-waving. No throwing stuff through windows. No rubbing shoulders with complete strangers. Share the story of what happened to you on the website with hundreds of thousands of women from around the world; it’s surprising how good it feels to actually say out loud “This happened and it was horrible” and know that no-one is going to palm you off with “Don’t know what you’re making such a fuss for” or “They’re just playing about”.
But Hollaback! isn’t a victims’ club, either – you don’t even have to have experienced this first-hand to jump in. Try asking the next woman you see if she’s ever been cat-called in the street and whether she thinks that sort of thing is acceptable. If her reply is something along the lines of “It’s disgusting”, tell her about Hollaback!
In that moment, to your enormous surprise, you’ll have become an activist, too.
Lou lives in Bristol, England, and will be leading July’s Hollaback Bristol launch. To get involved, please email us.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been a key ally in our efforts to raise awareness about street harassment.
Please join the Domestic Violence Task Force on Wednesday, April 27th at 12pm at 1 Centre Street, 19th Floor South for the Manhattan culminating event for Denim Day New York.
Denim Day Manhattan will be a forum on Best Practices for University Sexual Assault Prevention, where university representatives, students and community-based organizations from across the city will come to share ideas, network and strategize about the best ways protect New York’s college students from sexual violence.
In the spirit of Denim Day, please wear jeans!!
New York Times reporters Joseph Goldstein and Tim Stelloh join a growing rank of journalists who don’t quite get it (a club founded by James McKinley, whose coverage last month of a young girl’s gang rape and the Times’ decision to publish it appalled the general public). By ‘it’ we mean how to cover news un-misogynistically.
Their coverage of the dead bodies found on Long Island suspected to be the work of a serial killer is mostly unbiased. But it is worth pointing out a subtle indiscretion since the New York Times is read by, you know, a fair amount of people. We wouldn’t want any of those readers going off thinking that a story about a ‘missing prostitute’ is any different or less than a story about a ‘missing woman’.
Tip #1: Replace all instances of ‘missing prostitute’ with ‘missing ___ (fill in with gender of person)’.
Tip #2: Cover a person’s profession later in the story if it is relevant (in this case it is) but don’t include this information in your lede when it isn’t necessary and might cast an unsympathetic sway on your readers.
BY LAURA RUOCCO
As if there weren’t enough formulaic reality shows to choose from, London producers Marlon Okeowo & Ziakayah David present Tru Players, a street harassment reality game show! The premise is two dudes going to a busy UK shopping district an competing to see who can get the most phone numbers, and thus be awarded the title of “tru player”. Finally! A caricature of my daily struggle written by the men who perpetuate it!
As you may imagine, most of the women they approach are reluctant to give up their phone number to some rando on the street. The contestant’s tactics are described on the Tru Player You Tube page as “subtle”, though a more appropriate word might be “relentless”. It is painful to watch some of the women laugh nervously, clearly uncomfortable, as the men press them for their relationship status and phone number. The situation feels all too familiar, as I have found myself many times smiling at or telling my name to some strange guy that I wish would just go away. A few of the women do give out numbers, but one of them reveals in a separate interview at the end of the show that it was a fake. The cameras being clearly visible to the women likely factors in to any level of “success” the men achieve. It’s interesting to see the incongruity between the women’s reaction to the men and what they have to say in the private interviews, where many of the women are less forgiving.
The show, which is geared toward teenagers, is a perfect example of the way we are steeped in rape culture before we are even old enough to date. Case in point: the celebrity contestant episode featuring UK comedian Lil Mckell, who is TWELVE YEARS OLD!
In a perfect world, maybe it would be fine for people of all genders to compliment each other on the street and make dates with attractive strangers on the way to work. But alas, the world we live in is a patriarchal one in which the kind of daily street harassment documented on Hollaback sites worldwide is only the tip of the “shit women have to deal with” iceberg. I have often felt deeply bummed by my reaction of distrust to any sexual attention, as learned from years of dealing with street harassers and public masturbators. Potentially pleasant stranger conversations are avoided for fear of the seemingly inevitable “are you married?” or some other version of boundary-crossing. The Tru Player You Tube page suggests that male viewers might even learn some “clues and tricks on how to approach women”, but the reality is that these shmucks are just ruining it for all of the true “tru players”.
As a teenager I used to hate walking past building sites or anywhere that groups of men were hanging out. I never found it flattering to be whistled at or having guys calling out to me. My defense used to be to appear as stony-faced as possible, in the hope that they’d think I was a moody cow and not worth approaching. This invariably backfired because what I used to get was “Cheer up love, it might never happen!”
I heard this cliched cheeky chappie expression so many times! After the umpteenth time I suddenly came up with a brilliant reposte. “Actually, it just did.”
Most of them took a few seconds to get what I had said, some of them never did.
What is a bit bizarre is that I still brace myself when I walk past a building site, even though I’m 55 years old and have been “invisible” for years!