Last year, we sent out a call for submissions to the first ever Hollaback Essay Contest. We received excellent submissions on a wide range of topics- law, social justice, media, and more. Three volunteer judges reviewed the fantastic submissions and chose Diana Emiko Tsuchida’s essay to share with you. Not only is our winning essay moving on a personal level, it is academically rigorous and a unique addition to the body of knowledge on street harassment. Thank you, Diana!
We’re so grateful to everyone who submitted an essay. Please continue to send us your stories, essays, articles and resources on street harassment!
You can read Diana’s full essay here, and here is a short section of Diana’s essay, “Be Angry: Resisting Public Sexism:”
I’m not quite sure if every woman can recall her first public catcall. For me I vividly remember this moment as an end of innocence. It happened when I was twelve while walking home from summer school. Dressed in purple pastel overalls with a pink and purple striped shirt I was on the receiving end of a “Whoooo baby!” by a group of young teenagers in a car whizzing down my street. While what I wore that day has no impact on why I was hollered at, I mention it because after that incident I rarely wore those overalls again. To me, they were tainted with the memory of being objectified only a hundred feet away from my house. When I wore them, I distinctly remember feeling dirty. I remember that was the first day I told my mom about being hollered at and she was a little shocked with how enraged I was. My mother, a strong and righteous woman, would never be nothing less than protective of her daughter. However her reaction was an amalgamation of understanding yet dismissive. I remember how she comforted me with, “It’s going to happen. I know it can be rude, but sometimes it’s kind of a compliment.” I felt alone in my anger and confused with her small reassurance that it’s “okay” to be made an object of on the street. Fourteen years later, I still want to believe that perhaps I misinterpreted or misheard. Yet likewise today at twenty-six, many of my friends tell me to brush it off when we get called at on the street and that I should tone it down and not be so angry. Why do women muzzle each other? Why do we not collectively stand our ground as a group of women who, more likely than not, outnumber the men who shamelessly harass? While I continue to struggle with comprehending this attitude I also grasp why many women respond apathetically. We have all been bamboozled, manipulated, and ultimately forced into buying a patriarchal form of oppression that retorts with “boys will be boys.” At twelve and twenty-three, I know that my mother and friends were annoyed and offended, but the sobering truth of the matter is, no other woman in my life, has ever been as angry about street harassment as I have. It would appear that the women I deeply love have grown so accustomed that they are numb. In this essay I wish to expand on the pervasive influence of contemporary media imagery and the ways it significantly affects the social dynamics between men and women. This incessant “flattery” through harassment is deeply rooted in a cycle of fetish and hypersexualization that measures female worth based on male attention. While there are several nuanced and interlocking factors that uphold and perpetuate street harassment, this essay will focus on the impact of media representation and female public visibility that will underscore the necessity of being frustrated with the status quo.
Contemporary media images and discussion make a mockery of the problem, reinforcing and naturalizing this daily psychological violence. Allstate Insurance has managed to make a television and YouTube sensation out of the subject using their “Mayhem” gimmick in which Dean Winters personifies driving-related disasters [Allstate Insurance “Jogger Mayhem.” 9 July 2010. Access date: 29 July 2011.]. One of the first commercials to air was “Jogger Mayhem” where Winters played a “hot babe out jogging.” Donning a pink headband and lifting matching pink weights, he talks to the camera and says, “I’m a hot babe out jogging. I’m making sure that this [pointing to his front] stays a ten…when you drive by.” As a car pulls into view, Winters starts to jog at the same slow and steady speed as the car that is following closely beside him. He winks to the mesmerized driver. Winter then says, “You’re checking out my awesome headband when…oops” and suddenly the car crashes into a light pole. This humorous approach to the well-known social “exchange” between jogging women and ogling men reveals much more about how pervasive it is, trivializing the matter so much as to claim that women positively respond and wink back to the men behind the wheel who stare. The fight over public freedom even extends far into the reaches of cyberspace. Take one of Beyonce’s recent (and apparently, controversial) videos to her song, “Run the World (Girls).” [Beyonce. “Run the World (Girls).” Youtube.com. 18 May 2011. beyoncevevo. Access date: 28 July 2011.] The subsequent YouTube battle-of-the-sexes that commenced since the video first released continues to be a source of horrific fascination as even mentioning women running the world results in incredibly sexist backlash. In the song Beyonce sings about “reppin’ for the girls all over the world” while “raising a glass to the college grads” and how women are “strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business.” While the chorus repeats “Who run the world? Girls!” more of the song refers to how women can persuade their way into building a nation. While there is much more controversy over whether or not Beyonce’s artistic vision and execution of the song actually accomplishes a feminist goal, it is undeniable that the mere suggestion of switching gender roles or upsetting power dynamics unleashes a firestorm. Several YouTube users play on the lyrics and write that girls run the kitchen, that they need to get back in the kitchen, and that the only thing that girls run is their mouth. It would appear that even in a pop song the mere threat of encroachment into taking control of what has been traditionally masculine space is enough to create a watershed of sexism, hidden behind the cloak of anonymity through the Internet. In the streets, it is essentially the same. The safety and distance of being a stranger, albeit a perverted one, holds no accountability.