Call and Response: How Hollaback Helped Me Holler Back at Street Harassers


Hollaback is a voice; it’s an opportunity to join a chorus of women speaking up against street harassment, in an effort not only to mute the various Psssts, Hey, Ma’s, and Hey, Girl’s that women are subjected to just about any time that they step out in public, but to bring awareness to the fact that these public come-ons are unwarranted, unwanted and unwelcome.

Cat-calls, or piropos as they are called in Spanish, have been a daily occurrence in my life since I was 12 years old. I remember the first time a man—yes, a man, not a boy!—wolf-whistled at me in the street. I was walking home from my ELEMENTARY school and a man in a blue jeep slowed his vehicle to a creepy crawl, hung out of his window and shouted, “Hey, Mamita! You need a ride home?” His eyes caressed the budding curves of my body and his lips shined with the spit deposited on them from a fresh lick. It was at that moment that I knew—just knew—that I was a piece of meat to this man. I went home feeling ashamed and dirty. I didn’t tell anyone about it or leave my home for days.

As got older the hollering became cruder and more frequent. What were excused as mere compliments and pleasantries regarding my body were hurled at me on an almost daily basis. My ass, my breasts, my hair, my hips, my waist and even my smile were up for public discussion. “Smile, Ma,” they’d say as they grinned at me, stupidly. Because, of course, most people go about gallivanting on the street with a big goofy smile on their faces. Thank you strange man for reminding that my “thighs be thick” and that I’ve forgotten to smile. It’s like I had a bevy of street harassers serving as my verbal mirror. I tried covering up my body in long coats and bulky sweaters. I zig-zagged across streets in order to avoid directly passing in front of groups of boys or men. I kept it all to myself, withdrawing further into my mind and into my home.

Then, one day, after a particularly awful day filled to the brim with crude remarks and one especially depraved individual requesting that I “bounce” on his lap, I’d had enough. At the time Facebook had just introduced the “Notes” app. I clicked on the app, and filled the empty page with the note that would not only ignite my blogging career, but introduced me to Hollaback. I wrote, “All you guys who feel compelled to say the nastiest, cheesiest and just ungodly things to young women walking down the street, you all need to SHUT THE *EXPLATIVE* UP… Don’t think that you are so important that girls and women must stop for you in the street, must run up to your car when you honk a horn, or blush just because you called them pretty… Ladies, you don’t need any validation from anyone, much less someone who doesn’t know you for who you really are—more than just a body…So, guys, just shut up! We just want to go about our day without being harassed by you on the street.”

What started out as just an opportunity to vent more than a decade-worth of being harassed on the street for no reason other than the fact that I walked outside while being an unaccompanied female, became an instant hit among my friends. Women and men commented on my post, with most of them expressing relief that someone finally put into words the frustration that they felt as a result of street harassment. One of the commentators wrote, “You’d love Hollaback! They are a hub for stories like yours.”

I visited that very night. I spent countless hours clicking through women’s stories of street harassment. I’d always known that I wasn’t the only female to experience these piropos, these cat-calls, but at the time, visiting Hollaback for the first time, I felt that I’d found a community of women who were willing to finally talk about it, and holler back!

Hollaback has given me a voice with which I fight against street harassment. With Hollback, I’m able to track incidents of street harassment in my city, and sometimes read vivid descriptions of the perpetrators. I’m sure they don’t care for our detailed descriptions of their bodies—ha! Hollaback
has also given me the courage to literally talk back to the man who threatened to “fuck,” me “into submission” after I refused to speak to him or blush when he whistled at me. Hollaback makes me feel like every time that I step out in the world, I do so with thousands of Hollerbackers by my side. We are a chorus of women speaking up against piropos, cat-calls, wolf-whistles, come-ons, “compliments”, and hollers. Though I understand that street harassment may always be a part of my life, and that often times the men that we target are not interested in reading the blog, I’m comforted by the fact that when they holler at me, I’m willing and able to holler back.

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