Rare are summer days in Houston when the weather cools from the oppressively swampy to merely sultry. Whenever such an opportunity presents itself, few would blame me for wanting to slip out of my desk and into the sunshine. I didn’t take a lunch break, anyways. Nobody would mind if I ran to the bookstore for a metaphorical minute.
As I walk along Main Street, between its intersections with Lamar and Dallas, a stranger saunters up to me. His body now merely millimeters from mine, he demands, “Let me pick you up and carry you home. I have to carry you and take you home with me right now.” Loud enough for a 5-person band of onlookers to start quietly paying attention.
I panic. “GO FUCK YOURSELF!” Not the most mature of reactions, but fear and a desire to intimidate preclude creativity. Our audience continues staring.
He shrinks back, raising his volume and desperately whining, “But I have to do SOMETHING to you! I need to take you back to my home and do something. Let me carry you home and we’ll talk about this.”
“GO! FUCK! YOURSELF!” Finally, the man jerks his head away and turns to walk off in the other direction. My voice transcends my meager frame. Gives me power. Authority. A strength beyond whatever it is I’m bench pressing these days. “I AM NOT A PIECE OF MEAT, SIR!” rockets towards his back. Cliché to be certain, and not my proudest moment. But it gets the point across succinctly. A glare shot at the throng transfixed by our encounter. Lips pressed tightly into themselves. Eyes narrowed to nothing more than paper cuts, albeit obscured by prescription sunglasses.
They look away. Huffy. Bored. One man mutters, “Such language…”
Humiliation. An overarching sensation of dehumanization prickles my internals and externals alike. Saline stings the backs of my eyelids. A quaking, shaking blancmange of a thoroughly ashamed, embarrassed and just plain angry young woman. Deliberate encroachment onto my personal space, overtures of sexual violence and a complete lack of disrespect for my autonomy, agency and consent…and they take offense at the language I use to convey my flashpoint rage! He and I provided them with the day’s sensational entertainment, not a pathetic tableau of harassment. I question whether or not their apathy would have finally dissolved had this horrid man attempted to genuinely hurt me.
And I am incredibly fortunate he intended to intimidate more than actually injure, but all the same there exists no compelling justification for his actions (sorry, victim-blamers, but I was wearing a loose-fitting Muppets t-shirt and even more comfortable jeans that day). Nor those who saw fit to treat us as free, live theatre. Their silence gave this man permission to treat another woman with such a callous dismissal of her independence. Their chiding my self-defense enabled yet another incident of public harassment and verbal assault to end up an exercise in shaming the recipient. Of neglecting to change the rhetoric of gender-based violence.
But hey! It only takes something as easy and minor as the complete overhaul of societal perceptions towards street harassment, sexual assault and rape to reverse this attitude! Neither I nor anyone else deserves to inhabit a world where something simple like running to pick up a copy The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks ends up a disheartening lesson in how Americans react when confronted with very public verbal and physical harassment. Public places belong to the public, not just those intending to badger, bully or brutalize the innocent. And that is why those of us with stories to tell – all narratives, be they victim, bystander or a loved one hearing about everything later in the day – must ensure the populace learns of them. Education, not dressing differently or agoraphobia or constantly looking over your shoulder, remains just about the only truly effective, sustainable weapon in our stash.
What? Hollaback NYC is inviting community members and organizations to take a stand against street sexual harassment. For too long, women and girls have been victims of sexual harassment, assault, rape, socio-economic and political violence…. and silence has been the response in many of our communities. During these hot summer days, many look to affirm their “power” through constant street sexual harassment and inappropriate remarks made to women and young girls… If street harassment is “okay,” then other forms of violence are okay. Hollaback says “Enough is enough! It is not okay!”
It is our right to never let anyone make us feel any less than our confident and badass self, so on Friday, July 8th we will be sharing strength, looking to unite forces with community members and organizations to encourage women and girls to…. Hollaback!
Join us! There will be music and speakers….
When? Friday, July 8th, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.
It is time for community members and organizations to build unity and strength to create safer streets, where our women and men of all ages can walk safely and feel free of any type of harassment.
We’ve raised $11,355 and we’ve got over $13,000 to go in only 5 days. Do you have our back? Of course you do! So keep supporting us by asking friends and family to donate. And if you haven’t donated yet – do it now! Your donation will be matched by our generous board of directors.
Here’s a sample letter to send to your loved ones:
Dear Friends and Family,
I’m contacting you today because of an effort I truly believe deserves your support. Hollaback! is an international movement to end street harassment (sexual harassment in public spaces). Over the past year, this tiny non-profit has organized volunteer activists in 24 cities in 10 countries – to work to end street harassment within their own communities. Though street harassment is the most common form of violence experienced in women’s lives, Hollaback! is one of the only efforts to prevent street harassment.
Due to my working late, and smoking habit that I can’t seem to drop, I am kind of the de facto neighborhood watch. It is a relatively safe neighborhood, but I’ve heard some weird stuff here and there. I’ve called 911 before when I heard a woman screaming. It turned out to be a drunken domestic dispute (but happening in the middle of the street). I do have a bit of hyper-vigilance, so I tend to mistake the sounds of drunken carousing with something much worse at times, but I figure embarrassment is better than serious danger.
I called the police again 2 nights ago. I saw a woman, who was screaming, be picked up by two men. I ran inside, grabbed my phone, and by the time I got a hold of someone, they were gone. I went close to the area that they were at, but there weren’t any signs of where they had gone, and I was reluctant to investigate it too much, because I didn’t want to get surprised if they were in a spot where they could see me. I also didn’t know if they were armed.
The police came in about 10 minutes, and checked the area. I have no idea if they found anything. I also have no idea of what I saw. It was dark, far away, maybe this was drunken carousing, maybe I gave her time and space to get away if it was as bad as it looked.
In short, between running to where they were to directly see what was happening and help, and grabbing my phone to call the police, I chose the second option. This has left me with very little information, and a sickening feeling that I am a coward and should have done more. I hope that everything worked out, or it wasn’t what it looked like, but I’ll never know.
To find out more about the “I’ve got your back” campaign or to donate, click here.
Hollaback! Baltimore shares why the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign is so important. We’ve only got 7 days to go and over $15,000 to reach our goal! And the absolute truth is that we can’t do this without you. Please donate so that none of us ever has to Hollaback alone.
BY NICOLA BRIGGS
It’s amazing (shocking, really), the types of things you’ll see if you observe carefully. Much of the time, when you start to become more alert to seeing things going down, you’ll be unable to do anything about it. Here’s an example: When you’re on the subway train, and you witness overtly aggressive behavior, seemingly out of the blue. A young man is shoving an older, conservatively dressed man out of his way as he exits the car. Most people look up just in time from fiddling with their smart phone, the book they’re falling asleep reading, their children pawing at them, whatever, and think “What the hell?” But what they didn’t see was the older man’s briefcase, heavy as a boulder with law briefs, knocking into this poor guy’s knees over and over again as he sat there in front of him. Each time the car swayed, whack! and not even a “sorry” for this young man that had already said, “Dude, watch your bag, you’re hitting my knees!” And what none of them on that car could possibly know was that exactly eighteen minutes before, that young man had just gotten fired from his second job in three months. So the fuse had been lit, but nobody was the wiser, until the older guy was given a shove, which later, when he took off his shirt at the end of the day, resulted in a nasty black-and-blue mark on his shoulder.
So that’s an example of an unpremeditated violent situation, which could have been avoided. Not to say the older man deserved what he got, because there really isn’t an excuse for reacting to behavior which was not intentional in a violent manner, not in a civilized society. The younger man probably should have (a) realized he was in an emotionally impaired state, and checked himself, and (b) gotten up and changed seats, realizing that the other man wasn’t going to stop his insensitive behavior. And of course, if the man hadn’t used his briefcase as a meat tenderizer, the whole thing wouldn’t have happened anyway. But the point is that, much of the time, we may actually be able to “see it coming” so to speak, and stop the train wreck before it happens. Next week, we’ll take a look at the more malevolent expression of violence, the predator-prey relationship. Until then, be safe out there! You never know what is going on in the lives of people standing or sitting right next to you in public.
We’ve only got 9 days to go and over $15,000 more to raise to reach our goal! We need your help to make sure that no one ever has to Hollaback alone. Support our campaign here, and check out the ABC article here!
My girlfriend and I were waiting for a bus, and some guy kept standing really close and trying to chat up a woman. She was in a wheelchair, and the street was crowded, so when she was trying to inch away from him, he had a significant edge on maneuvering around, and kept getting close. I stepped in between, and asked him why he had to make people uncomfortable. He was more confused than confrontational, and I couldn’t really tell if he was on something or maybe didn’t have good English, but he didn’t really give any reasonable reply. Just some quiet mutterings. I kept myself between him and the wheelchair using woman (as well as my girlfriend) until we got on the bus. He got on after us (without paying), and was more towards the front than us, so it was basically done then. He got off a couple of stops later dragging his arm across a woman’s chest along the way.
I didn’t know if he was planning on following the wheelchair using woman after her bus ride or not, but I was extremely troubled that no one else took a stance as things were happening. And maybe I helped stop something terrible. It’s impossible to know. I was happy that I made someone feel (and maybe be) safer, but it’s pretty disheartening to think that this guy has an opportunity to harass people without much response.
Shouldn’t every story of harassment end just like this one? It’s possible, we just have to teach people how to do it and celebrate it when they do. Donate to the “I’ve got your back” campaign. Only 10 days to go!
I was verbally harassed and ogled on Patrick St. in Old Town, Alexandria, VA by a man in a black t-shirt, green shorts, short hair, wearing headphones. He stated, “lookin’ good. There she goes with her fine self.” He was waking into the Henry St. parking lot from Patrick St. while I was exiting.
If you want to live in a world where you dress to look good for you, not for some man on the street, donate now to our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign.
I have to walk and take buses every day to work, run errands, etc. and
just about every day, some asshole has to honk his horn at me when
driving by. I usually ignore this, thinking I’m not going to give them
the attention they want but I’m sick of just doing nothing so lately
I’ve been flipping the bird at them. What do these jerks get out of honking
at women, anyway? And it especially pisses me off when I’m just
walking down the street, lost in my own thoughts and then,
“BEEEEEEEEEP!!!” and it startles the bejesus out of me. It’s like I
have no fucking right to leave my apartment and walk down the street
in peace. And it’s NOT what I’m wearing because I’ll be heading to
work wearing my boring, loose-fitting, conservative work
clothes…pants, long skirts, all topped off by a baggy hoodie to
cover my ample chest when I’m out and about since I HAVE had comments
made about my breasts by total strangers. With all the unwanted
attention I get, I feel like I’m stark-naked and spread-eagle in the
middle of the sidewalk with a huge neon sign above my head saying “DO
ME!” If you are a man who harasses women on the street, FUCK YOU! I
don’t walk down the street or wait at the bus stop for your approval
or commentary. I have work to go to and shit to get done. And thanks,
Hollaback! What an awesome way to get this off my chest and to know I
am not alone.
La Diablita isn’t alone! And you should be either. Donate to the “I’ve got your back” campaign to make this dream a reality.