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Activist? Who, Me?!

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.

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I (HOLLA) BACK!

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The Movement, Uncategorized

An Opportunity to Get Involved

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!!

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How Not to Report on Victims of Gender Based Violence

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.

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How Not To Get A Date

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”.

 

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demonstration, Uncategorized

Jenny’s story: Screw’d up face, does it work?

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!

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Creep on a crowded train spouting threats

I got on the 4 train at Brooklyn Bridge at about 11:30 last Friday. A man was sitting with his legs spread wide, taking up two spaces. I approached him and asked him to make room for me to sit, as I have asked a million people before him. For the first time, my question was met with a mean, empty stare. I waited, then said, “You won’t make room for another person?” And he said nothing, and a man sitting across the aisle from him made room for me and I sat down and took out a book. That’s when the first man started to threaten me. “That bitch thinks she can look at me? I’m going to smack the shit out of that bitch. I’m going to smack the shit out of her.” He seemed to be speaking to himself, but the man next to him chimed in, “That bitch is stupid.” I got off the train five stops later and they never stopped repeating those sentences. And I was scared, because he was bigger than I was, and because if he had followed me off the train, I wouldn’t have been able to fend off an attack. It didn’t occur to me to contact the authorities until about twenty minutes after I’d gotten off the train, and by then it was too late to catch him.

When I did contact the police, they were nothing but helpful. I was worried that they’d say I shouldn’t have been on the subway alone at night, or give me some stupid violence prevention tip, but the only thing they said along those lines was that late at night, it’s best to sit in the conductor’s car. I wish I had contacted them as soon as I’d gotten off the train, from the station. I wish I had looked for a transit worker to complain to. If I had reported it sooner, they could have caught him. I want to encourage people to report subway threats as soon as they are received.

The other thing is that although I was on a crowded train (so crowded that I asked a man to move over for me), nobody stood up for me. I know everyone keeps to themselves on the subway, and I’m not offended. But if just one man had spoken up to that man, it might have made a difference. Possibly. I don’t know.

Submitted by Ellie

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Uncategorized

Artist MALUCA’s first single and street harassment.

MALUCA “El Tigeraso” OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO from Project Fathom on Vimeo.

According to Her Blue Print:

The sound for Maluca’s best known track, El Tigeraso, was inspired by “mambo violento”, a sped-up style of merengue music.The video for El Tigeraso takes the viewer to Audobon and West 182nd Street, an intersection in Washington Heights, the heart of New York City’s Dominican community. Maluca struts down the street wearing curlers in her hair and red high heels. But it’s when she hits a nightclub later in the evening that she really gets comfortable: she dons house slippers and socks. In her hair, a crown of beer cans  serving as rollers are spray painted gold.

The song’s lyrics were inspired by an issue many women deal with every day: cat calls and harassment on the street. “Dominicans call the bad boys on the corner who are up to no good – but who have mad swag – Tigeres. ‘El Tigeraso’ is the game or swag. Growing up, I would go visit my cousins or grandma uptown. Back then, you couldn’t get from one corner to the next without those ‘Tigeres’ trying to holler at you. It was kinda outta control. Especially if you walked down Broadway. So the song ‘El Tigeraso’ is poking fun at that whole situation.”

Um, awesome.  Now we just need to track Maluca down so we can get her to do a celebrity endorsement of Hollaback!.

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There is still time to apply: take over HollabackNYC!

Please spread the word!

The founders of HollabackNYC have decided it is time to pass the torch and give 10 youth (ages 18-22) the opportunity to become the leaders of HollabackNYC so they can focus on Hollaback’s international expansion.

We seek a diverse group of youth from the different neighborhoods of NYC, who are committed to making social change. Youth who are eager to learn and are able to invest at least 10 hours a week to this process. The new leadership of HollabackNYC will receive training in social media, community organizing, policy/advocacy, and marketing. They will also become part of an international movement that will broaden their networks and aid their development as agents of social change.

We are excited to be in this recruitment process and to move forward in solidifying youth leadership to continue to build the movement against street harassment. Help us create this pool of youth leaders and spread the news. Our recruitment flyer and our short application are available here for download: info flyer and HollabackNYC Application.  If you need more information contact Claudia De la Cruz at [email protected].

Spread the word… HollabackNYC is on the move!  The deadline to apply is 2/16.

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Why Street Harassment matters, a guest post by Gillian Rollason from Swansea, UK

“Hey sexy lady! Check THIS out…”

[Michael Jackson-esque groin thrust in my direction]

‘Ohh please’ I think ‘please wait while I hurry over and give you my phone number, you prehistoric, knuckle-dragging moron’

You may assume that the slimy guy leering at you in the street or beeping his car horn is simply a victim of tragic social ineptitude, but this situation is more sinister. Street harassment ranges from whistles, shouting, and dodgy trouser pocket movements to full blown groping and physical attacks. Where does ‘harmless fun’ end and ‘serious assault’ begin? And exactly how much fun is it for the women who enjoy this uninvited attention?

A victim-blaming culture tends to emerge when we talk about harassment. How many times have you heard someone ask what the woman was wearing when considering a case of sexual violence? I don’t care if she was strutting around naked wearing a pair of stiletto heels, nothing gives one human being the right to attack and violate the personal space (physical or psychological) of another. OK, naked strutting on a Friday night might explain why you get harassed in the UK, but it doesn’t condone it. And what about in Egypt? By this logic we support those who argue that not wearing a veil legitimises physical attacks on women. And – FYI anyone gearing up to have this debate in a pub – the kind of people who dish out the ‘oh but she was in a mini skirt so it’s her own fault she got raped’ argument are often the kind who audibly balk at the idea of Islamic dress codes. The social standards may change, but the argument stays the same – if women don’t wear whatever I think is ‘respectable’, then I have the right to humiliate, intimidate and even hurt them.

This is a story we are all familiar with, and it sucks. Running up against the same outdated responses that demean their significance and  often blame the victim, women rarely report these incidents…Until now.

The increasing use of mobile technology and access to the internet has given rise to an interesting phenomenon – people are using cell phones to report harassment and serious sexual attacks in order to alert others, shame perpetrators and, just to be heard, and to have a voice. I don’t yell back if some meat-head shouts obscenities at the bus stop, and it makes me feel small. But reporting it on sites like ihollaback.org gives me a voice again.

In Egypt, blog.harassmap.org uses open source data to create a map of sexual harassment incidents that are experienced by 83% of Egyptian and 98% of foreign women. Users send a text message to central computers and receive resources on how to file a police report, referrals to counselling and more via SMS. Their report is added to data that puts pressure on local authorities to deal with trouble hot spots, and to address a problem that all too often is denied or ignored.

Mobile technology is also being used in Haiti to report gender-based violence, people trafficking and attacks in a country where legal infrastructure is often non-existent. Again, women receive support in the form of referrals, advice, and information, but importantly, their voice is heard and their experience recorded.

Gender-based violence, which is on the rise in the UK (UK Home Office 2011) relies on all of us ignoring and accepting these incidents. Shrugging off the remarks of an obnoxious drunk in a bar might seem OK at the time, but it normalises behaviour that leads to a climate of fear, silence and oppression. Using mobile technology, women can report in safety and confidence, finding help but also finding their voice.

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