Interview conducted by Rita Pasarell
Here’s what Shawna and Melanie of Hollaback! Baltimore had to say about their city, being queen for a day, and how they HOLLA:
When did you start your HOLLA?
Shawna: February of 2011…
Melanie: … and I joined in May 2012.
Why did you start a HOLLA and what does Hollaback mean to you?
S: I wanted to do more. It was a perfect time in my life to connect with Hollaback! because I was living outside the city, had a boring job and my band at the time was inactive. I needed to get involved and do something that mattered.
M: To me, Hollaback means standing up for yourself and others like you by letting harassers know that just because their crimes are socially silenced and ignored, doesn’t mean we, the ones affected, are just gonna take their bullshit.
HOLLAfact about your city:
S: We’re about to win the Superbowl! Hahaha [editor’s note: Shawna correctly predicted the future. Don’t mess with her.]
Say you’re Queen for the day. What would you do to end street harassment?
S: Unfortunately in our society there is no “equal to the crime” level of punishment. I would suggest a “if you haven’t got anything nice to say” strategy, whereby anyone who leers would lose their ability to see for an hour. Say something vulgar? No talking for you for a while. Dare to follow or touch a stranger inappropriately and we’re not going to let you use your hands for evil while in public.
M: I would gather all men and boys of Baltimore into a giant room and tell them stories that hopefully put them in women & LGBT folks’ shoes so they finally GET it! And since I’m queen, they totally will.
What was your first experience with street harassment?
S: I can’t recall the actual first time, but that probably speaks to how young I was when it occurred. I’m sure at the time I didn’t have the language, knowledge, or self-confidence to name it as street harassment, but I do have one clear memory as a 16 year old. I was filling up my gas tank, a new driver, and a man who was obviously too old for any contact between us to be appropriate whistled, leered at me and said something about giving me a ride. Gross euphemism intended, ugh.
M: I cannot even remember. I do remember feeling icky and self-conscious in public by my last year in middle school. By the time I was in college, street harassment was just another shitty thing that happened a lot. I remember every morning in college being terrified and angry at this one man who would sit on a bench outside my apartment complex and whistle, wink, wave, nod and stare me down on my walk to class.
What’s your signature Hollaback?
S: “Fuck you”
M: Depends. I’d love to yell and shout at them, but honestly I am scared at what will happen if I do, so I usually ignore them. Then I post my story on Hollaback.
What is your proudest holla moment so far?
S: Last year we did some mud-stenciling at the Inner Harbor (a very high traffic area) and we had so many women come up and tell us how wonderful it is that someone like us is out in Baltimore trying to do something about street harassment. Basically, they were happy that they were not alone, that our existence validated all their experiences with street harassment. That connection to the community always feels amazing.
M: When I did my first two hollaback in-person meetings at a cafe in the city, I had no idea if anyone was going to show up at all, but each time I had at least 2 or 3 people that I didn’t know come and engage in really wonderful conversation about activism, street harassment and all of that great stuff. I was so proud that I found even just a few new hollaback allies!
What do you do when you’re not holla’ing?
S: I yell for War On Women, a feminist punk band, and I help run Big Crunch Amp & Guitar Repair with my partner in crime and life.
M: I’m a Safehouse Advocate in a DV shelter.
If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be?
S: In the words of Bill and Ted, “be excellent to each other”.
What are you excited about in 2013?
S: Touring with my band in western Europe this April and trying to meet up with my fellow Hollabackers on their home turf!
M: Bmore’s 2 yr old birthday bash in February!
What inspires you?
S: Every hollaback, every male ally, and all my fellow site leaders around the world. And wine and chocolate.
M: Activist movements like Act Up and Occupy (and a zillion others). It’s comforting to know that everything doesn’t happen overnight, but sometimes the change we create just takes us a while to recognize for ourselves. It’s also hard to not burn out when you’re so fired up and emotionally connected to a cause, but these other movements were not perfect, they had both their strengths and weaknesses while still making a huge difference in the world. That’s a relief for me when I am super frustrated and feeling like I’m just not doing enough.