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“Hey, baby,” he said, as I rode my bike down an idyllic block in Brooklyn on a hot July day. Of course, I ignored him. I dare assume that most women have heard this or something similar as they attempted to go about the mundane. For me, this was the 5th “Hey,:: insert something I don’t want anyone but my boyfriend or grandmother to call me::”, in only about ten minutes into my first bike ride of the summer. I swerved past him and around his car and continued on riding down the block, hoping that he understood the look on my face and my tensed body to mean that I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t enjoy being hit on, and I just wanted this to end.
Instead for him, he was turned on by my ignoring him and eventually peeved that I wasn’t responding. His comments, during the 3 block span of time that he FOLLOWED ME [I know he was following me because his car was poised to make a right, and instead upon my arrival and his lascivious comments, he decided to go straight. He later made a u-turn back to wherever else he was going,] ranged from, “Don’t you hear me talking to you, girl,” [don’t ever call me girl. I was now not only scared but pissed] to “Ride that bike like you need to ride my dick,” [I see you’ve mastered the English language, you fuck] to “I’m gonna make that ass fold over my face just like that,” [I hope you burn in a fiery single-car crash on your way home tonight, you asshole.] Increasingly violent and verbal, he had his bumper literally inches away from my tire. I considered slowing down, turning around and saying, “why are you doing this?” when images of old “Unsolved Mysteries” episodes flashed through my head— I didn’t want to be the girl who went missing because she was dumb enough righteous enough/smart enough/fearless enough to try to defend herself. Instead, I shut up and shoved my rising tears deep down inside of me along with the feeling that I needed to take a shower, bow my head, and hide in a corner of my dark room. I kept riding until I found a block that was person free and stopped, took out my phone and called my boyfriend.
There are few things in this world as demoralizing and frightening as sexual harassment. It’s a mental, emotional and often, a physical violation. I cannot name the amount of times that someone has grabbed my arm walking down a block, or felt up my sister’s ass “accidentally” on the train, or touched my best friend’s shoulder or hair. The worst and most common of these offenders, get confrontational when we say, “Stop.” Must be nice. Male privilege, that is.
I’m sick and tired of going to the gym/ /buying tampons and Midol/going to the doctor’s office/reading a book/bumping to my iPod and GETTING HIT ON HARRASSED. I’m tired of wearing my best dresses to parties and getting the expected uncalled for touches and comments but then going out in sweats, drool, and head wraps and still getting the “psssst” and the “yo.”
Men: Do you randomly approach, touch, and threaten other men? Do you say things like “I will loosen dat ass up” to other dudes? How does it make you feel to know that you scared someone so much that they had to stop on a corner and take a breather? I bet it feels really powerful. Do you gaze so hard at other men that it makes them feel like you can see through their flesh and bones into their souls? Do you get livid when other men ignore your “compliments’ on the street? Do you wonder why [insert generalizations: black women] always look “stank”? It’s probably because she just walked down a block and every fool between the ages of 12 and 92 said something [looks can talk, too] offensive. Probably not. If you have done these things to women, it’s because you’re a sexual harasser. A sexist. A predator. I beseech you:
LEAVE US ALONE.
When I’m on the treadmill at The Y – it’s not an invitation for you to tap my shoulders and chat me up. When I’m carrying groceries it’s not an invitation for you to make some sort of gross innuendo [they always find a way, don’t they?] These are not compliments and it isn’t chivalry and we aren’t stupid: they aren’t benign offers. Go ahead and call me a man- basher and a “feminist” [you know, implying that being a feminist is bad]. Go ahead and tell me to wear something else, or that I’m being overly sensitive, or that women need to learn to take a “compliment.” All I want is to be left alone to live and exist—and the issue isn’t with me, it’s with you [men]. I needn’t my female- bodiedness to be a scarlet letter. I just want to live and not think twice about whether my mini is too short, or if my hair frames my face too well, or if my jeans accentuate too well. I don’t want to weigh sides of the streets to determine which side I should cross to in order to avoid the most men. I don’t want to walk with my head down and my headphones blaring to protect myself from nonsense. I don’t want to judge all male-kind and be afraid for my future daughters, my mother, my 4 sisters, and my best friends. I do not need for a man to tell me to “smile” as I walk down the street with my only weapon in this war, my scowl. You have no rights to this body [also, you don’t know me.]
I just want to live and be treated with equality and respect. I want to be viewed as human—with emotions and purpose—rather than some lifeless museum exhibit for your petting and leering pleasure. I want to not feel threatened in my everyday life. I want to not think twice about my body or whether it’s my fault that I get catcalled. I’m happy that I live in a place where being a woman means I can work and have kids or do neither of those things, and that I can vote, and walk around [in theory] without a chaperone. But, I need to live in a world where I am not touched against my will, where I am not labeled a crazy bitch for complaining about inappropriate behavior, and where people see me as more than my ass and my breasts. I haven’t surveyed all the women in the world but I can say confidently that very few of “us” enjoy this kind of attention. So stop it. We are fed up.
To my girls: START SAYING SOMETHING.
I’m not going to blame us. We have strength and presence as victims but as with every other ill in the world, nothing gets changed with silence. The more often we ride our bikes off onto empty streets and call our boyfriends, the more often we pull down our skirts and tie sweaters around our waists, the more often we “laugh it off” when our bosses lean too close, the more often these people will do what they do because we’ve taught them that it’s okay. Silence is allowance. Your body is your own and no one has any physical, mental, or emotional rights to it. I refuse to remain silent. I refuse to feel dirty and used and ashamed because someone else doesn’t understand limits and because some male- bodied person takes advantage of, dismisses and underestimates the value of me being female- bodied. I refuse to be a second- class citizen in regards to race, economics, disability, and age but for far too long, I’ve done nothing about my second- class standing as a woman. This… this is my protest—the voice I didn’t have earlier today. This is the kick that, I hope for you, will be the catalyst.
We will be empowered and fearless. This stops today.
I appreciate a good compliment every now and again. “Sis, you are beautiful,” “I like your unique style,” “You have a nice smile.” I’m not a grinch and I’m not impossible. But I need for the invasion of the female form to cease and I need for the boundaries, respect, sensibility, and the humanity to be put in its place.
The stinker of today is that as I rode my bike on the sidewalk [instead of the street] to avoid the weirdoes in cars following me [there’s something about people saying threatening things in a stronger, faster vehicle that added a whole new layer to this experience] I was stopped by a googley- eyed, ambulated policeman who ticketed me for riding my bike on the sidewalk. No, my protests of “I’ve never done this before” [I really have never ridden a bike on the sidewalk before] did not get me out of a ticket. Nor did, “I was trying to avoid the men who were harassing me” work. The man had a job to do but if that doesn’t say something about society I don’t know what does.
Submitted by A.E.
A little over two years ago, I was the target of three strangers whose attack on me started as a barrage of contradictory insults and “compliments” and soon led to rape. The men initially noticed me because I was wearing a shirt that identified me as gay. Coming from a radically conservative town where almost everyone knew me, especially after I came out, I rarely experienced street harassment from people who I didn’t know. This experience was a first for me on many fronts and has scarred me from all directions and in all aspects of my life. From then on, any time anyone made a comment about me in the halls of my high school or while I was walking around town, I felt utterly powerless and would often have flashbacks. I came upon the Holla Back New York blog a while ago and was inspired by the tools the site offered for ending street harassment. After attending a workshop on how to holla back this year, I’ve been considering starting a Holla Back site for the area surrounding my college. This journey has not been without obstacles, however.
The idea of me starting a Holla Back blog by myself is something that scares me. During high school, I was active in efforts to end harassment of LGBTQ youth and was often the target of a great deal of hate. Having moved from my small conservative hometown to college in a really liberal area, I feel that I’ve just recently become a less visible target and am not willing to risk that sense of comfort. To split the weight of my decision to Holla Back, I began searching for a partner. This search, thus far, has turned out empty. The friends I have talked to about partnering with me for a project like this have found the idea of a Holla Back blog to be problematic for differing reasons which I don’t necessarily agree with but don’t want to repeat here because I think I would express their opinions differently than they would.
I guess the point of my writing this post is sort of the old “there’s power in numbers” speech. When fear is shared, it’s lessened. When we are there for each other, start projects together, march side by side, we feel stronger and can do more. I don’t feel that those I asked to help me were wrong in choosing not to, but I think that if someone in your community is trying to start something and you think it’s a good idea, join them. The more of us holla back, the louder we are, which would be nice because I’m tired of all this silence.
Institute of Audio Research – HEAR this loud and clear, Teach your students not to harass women….
Okay it has taken multiple harassers for me to post this. Everytime I pass the institute of audio research on university place in the village there are a bunch of males standing outside. I mistakenly took them for workers of D’agastino but when I called to speak to the managers they said they were well aware of the males that gather there and they are students.
I started to walk by, conservatively dressed, and as a woman of color I did not blend in with all the other scantilly clad women, but from far I hear hooting and coughing. I look up and one of them is hitting the other one to turn around and look at me. He shoved his head in my face and in my year and said I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU sarcastically because I tried to shield my face from him.
This is unacceptable. The coward who did the screaming is in the picture and was staring when I turned at a safe distance to take it, but he quickly hid behind the other guys – he is facing the camera but blocked by his cronies with white shirts.
Submitted by Lisa
Thank you, passengers on the Kings Highway-bound F train at around 5:45 this evening, for your stunning demonstration of bystander effect when you all silently watched a man grind against me muttering about what he was going to do to my pussy and then, when I told him to get away from me, continued to silently watch as he screamed in my face, calling me a fucking bitch and asking if I thought I owned the world, grabbed my wrist and raised his hand to me, “How about if I smack you, bitch?” Thank you for absolutely not intervening while I stood there frozen like a mouse in a snake cage unable to do anything but say, “Get away from me!” while a stranger put his hands on me and threatened to hurt me. Thank you further for continuing to stare disapprovingly at me, not at him, the rest of the way while I fought back tears, except for one older lady- and thank you especially, ma’am, for approaching me not to see if I was all right or if you could help me find a police officer, but to compliment me on my hair. I hope you all forget to turn off your ovens tonight.
Submitted by Lucy
p.s. thank you also Dad, for not only insisting when I told you about this incident that it was MY fault for not walking away (even though I told you we were on a moving train and that the dude HAD HIS HANDS ON ME) and for insisting that there wasn’t anything anyone could have done to help me and that at least the lady said SOMETHING to me, but also for slut-shaming me on account of the outfit I was wearing today and then getting upset with ME because I didn’t appreciate being lectured on what I should have done when I was visibly traumatized. I’m so glad I have such a supportive and aware male parental figure in my life, you know, to whom I feel safe relating these kinds of horrible experiences.
I was walking down Broadway between 145th and 144th today at around 1:30 pm when I saw two guys walking my way. I knew immediately from the lecherous expressions on their face that they were preparing to catcall me, so I braced myself for it. Sure enough, out come the “Heeeey seeeexy” and “You look good in that dress” comments and the lewd, full-body eye scans. I immediately stopped in my tracks and put my hand up to signal “stop.” They were so surprised that they actually jumped back! I told them they were being really disrespectful and that I didn’t solicit or appreciate their comments. They responded predictably, with one going on the defensive (“I just said you look nice in that dress. What’s wrong with that?”) and the other continuing to make sexual comments to me all the while. I started off on my way again, repeating for a final time that they should learn to treat women with more respect and dignity.
I crossed 144th and about 3 seconds later was confronted AGAIN by ANOTHER catcaller. This guy was handing out flyers for some business. I waved my hand to refuse the flyer (I wish I had taken a copy, though, because it would be good to let his employer know about his bad behavior) and as I did he began making lewd comments. Again I stopped and told him he was being disrespectful and that I didn’t appreciate his comments. I hadn’t even finished my sentence before he blew up, yelling, “You best walk away! I just got outta prison! I’ll smack you across the street!” He moved closer to get in my face, continuing to issue his barrage of threats and altering his stance to try to make himself look more dangerous, but I held my ground and called him out on his phony threats, pointing out that we were in broad daylight, so even if he did try anything stupid it would lead him straight back into prison. He said he didn’t care, and I replied, “Well then I’m sad for you. That’s a sad life you’re leading if you really want to go back to prison that badly.” He continued making threats as I walked away, and I yelled back, “Women are people too!” and “What would your mother think?!?”. After I finished my lunch I came back out, with my iPhone ready, and I took these snapshots of him.
Submitted by Carey, who also submitted My Chat with some CatCallers
This audio/video was taken on 143rd street in Manhattan, and features a conversations between a harassed woman and her harassers. It’s an incredible hollaback and nothing short of inspirational. In it, she discusses with the harassers all the things we want to say, but oftentimes don’t:
I was on my way to the bank and was walking down 15th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, between 5th and 6th Aves. Two guys working construction were getting something out of a van. I had my earbuds in so I didn’t hear them, but they definitely stopped what they were doing to stop, watch me walk by, and say something. Then I realized I forgot something so had to turn around and walk past them again, and again they said something I didn’t hear while leering at me as I walked by. When I got the thing I had forgotten, I went around the corner and took the long way to the bank just to avoid them.
Submitted by Blue
Walking west to doctor appointment, pervert stopped to ogle my body as I wondered what could be up with my crazy cramps. Then the beginnings of something perverted beginning with “fuck” trickled out of his mouth but I didn’t wait to hear his poetic vision because I turned so abruptly around to face him and so loudly and angrily shouted HEY! MIND YOUR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS PERVERT! that passersby on the other side of the street stopped to watch and the man jumped. I heard him shouting “bitch” after he gathered his senses as I continued on. A real comedian, too, in addition to being a poet, I guess, because most people would find it funny that someone who just muttered obscenities to a stranger in the street with two young children standing nearby would get angry for being called out on his shit but what do I know. I apologized to the mother of the two young children but the look on her face told me she understood and she just laughed and said don’t worry don’t worry I know. For such a high powered incident I was almost amazed my heart wasn’t racing afterwards but I’m coming to realize that it only races when I walk on and don’t say something to the street turds who harass. When I turn around, confront them, and let them know what’s up I feel pretty good.
Submitted by Ursula
“I want to fuck the shit out of you.”
Where is all the shanti in the world when you need it?
Submitted by Emily
This is my first time writing Hollaback! I’m writing to you as a passive, introverted, fed-up, woman. I’m 24 years old, and I’ve lived in NYC since I was 20. Okay, I get it. Men are going to cat-call me, and it makes me feel….well, you know exactly how it feels. A couple of months ago one of those sketchy $1 pizza places opened up on 38th & 8th and EVERY SINGLE DAY one of the guys who works there whistles SO loud at me- then all of the other workers stare. I’ve seen him do it to other women too, and it is even more annoying because it’s SO busy on that corner and the loud whistle gets the attention of everyone on the block. I’ve googled the business, but I’ve found no corporate or franchise info. However, I absolutely needed to write an angry email to someone… lucky you! Is there anything I can do to regain my dignity at 8:30am every weekday morning? Or do I have to walk out of my way down another block to feel like a decent individual again?
Submitted by Jennifer