“I was standing in line at Target, in Hadley, Massachusetts. For reference, I’m a size 10 US. A young man turned to his mate and said, 'Girls that big shouldn’t wear tank tops.' They were looking right at me. The cashier, much larger than I, turned pink, embarrassed for me. I couldn’t let it stand, so I responded, 'Douchebags […] should be seen and not heard.' The line applauded, and I left. I feel great about my body, and I’ll be damned if someone else can make me feel otherwise. ”—
ATTN: Those who want to end street harassment in Fredericksburg
Many women I know in Fredericksburg have had a lot of trouble with catcalling and street harassment despite it being a small, pretty intimate town. Personally, the amount of run-ins I’ve had with street harassment in Fredericksburg was ridiculous, and definitely not proportionate to the size of the town. It was and still is a chronic problem.
If you or anyone you know has had trouble with street harassment, and you want to do something about it, follow them on twitter to get updates on what they’re doing around town. There will be a full website up soon!
And please please please get involved. An organization like this can only be as strong as its members. Remember, this is your town too.
“Our goal is to spread the word that street harassment is not okay. It’s not a compliment, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. Street harassment affects women and girls, and can be particularly violent when directed towards members of the LGBT community. Not only can it have serious effects on people’s self-esteem and sense of safety, but it also says something big about who we are as a culture: if we accept street harassment, that means we accept the objectification of women, gender-policing, and gender-based violence. We can do better! The first step is to start talking about it. The comic book, and especially the choose your own adventure computer based version, will help youth think through this difficult issue in an accessible way. Your support will help make that conversation happen.”—
Why aren’t more people talking about this?
I holler back
The battle traditionally waged over the scaffolding of construction sites and the rolled-down windows of vans has now spread to the internet, and to a little more of the world. Hollaback!, the international movement to end street harassment, has a London contingent at HollabackLDN. And it has been busy.
Inspired by the work of Emily May, the executive director of the original Hollaback! in New York and the driving force behind the organisation’s fight against “one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against”, HollabackLDN asks its city to act against the inappropriate comments, groping, flashing and assault that can be a daily reality for women and homosexual people, something it claims is rarely reported and culturally accepted “as ‘the price you pay’ for being a woman or for being gay.”
Holla-ing Back at the Top of my Lungs
You have had a good day. Full and long and good. You are walking home from a two hour tea with a friend - sharing the exciting, debriefing the difficult, commiserating in the shared. You are thinking about the dinner in you are to eat, the movie you have just rented, and are deconstructing the thoughts that are ever whirling about. The late summer breeze is blowing against your face and the hem of your dress, the sun is beginning its descent but still warms your cheeks. You hear it, and your heart and the speed of your steps start to move a little faster. The whistle. Those two tones you have become accustomed to and become accustomed to guarding yourself against. There is another woman walking in front of you. Maybe the whistle was intended for her. Maybe it’s her friend, a lover, someone she knows. Maybe it was in jest. But she looks up and then enters her apartment building with no recognition of the person whose footsteps echo almost tauntingly behind your own.
You hear the whistle again and then the sound of feet quickening along the sidewalk. There is a sure, unmistakable shot of adrenaline that pumps itself through your blood. And then you hear it. What you knew was, but hoped wasn’t coming. ”Hey. Hey! Hi. Where are you coming from?” You steel your face against any acknowledgement that words have just been spoken, nonetheless directed at you. “Hey! What’s your name?” By this point, your arms will be shaking a bit. You will go to swallow and find your jaw completely clenched. So you will speak. You will say: “I don’t need to tell you what my name is or where I am coming from. Did you just whistle at me back there?” The person now walking beside you will deny that they did. They will tell you they were just trying to talk to someone, but forget who. Probably no one since it is just you and them on the street. You point this out to them. Whatever momentum you had gained in disarming him has now vanished and he is ready for more. “Come on, I’m just trying to have a conversation! Why can’t you be nice?” He will ask.
You will swallow hard, wondering if you will actually be heard, should you speak. But you understand there is more at risk with your silence, so you speak. “Excuse me. You objectified me back there and made me feel uncomfortable and gross. When you act like that I feel unsafe and like I don’t have the right to walk down the street in peace. You lost the opportunity to have me be nice to you. Please leave me alone.” You will continue walking, with purpose. Your full body is shaking now from adrenaline, from power, from vulnerability, from rage. You will want to scream when he hurries to keep up with you. “Come on baby, I was just joking around. Why do you have to be so serious? What’s the matter? Anyways, my name is Alberto* and I live right here in case you ever want to….yeah.” And he will laugh. And you will feel that laugh turn your blood cold. As he laughs at your femininity, at the audacity you had to assert yourself, at the fact that you have a right to feel safe and at you. You will want to throw up. You will walk a few meters down the street and be reminded of the man who persistently and frighteningly propositioned you in the middle of the afternoon, just two months before. You will tremble with anger that consumes you and the fear that nags you.
You will feel the way I did walking down a street in my neighbourhood at 7:30 this evening.
This is why even with the responsibilities and opportunities I embraced this fall that are crowding my schedule and demanding my energy it is so important to be launching HollaBack! Winnipeg. Because this was just today and this was just me. I am fortunate to have a bit of spare courage lying around and I voice I am comfortable with and, on occasion, not afraid to use. This is for the other ones: who walk with their heads down, afraid to look any male in the eye because it only seems to be an invitation to objectify and defile with words. To the ones who endure the hisses and catcalls, the unsolicited comments on their body parts. The ones for whom violent words escalate to violent actions. This is ensuring boys will not grow into men who laugh when a woman voices her displeasure with his actions. This is believing that we can help girls grow into women who feel empowered and able to state these things or, even better, rarely know what it’s like to feel harassed in their own neighbourhoods and their own cities. This is for women who will re-learn the strength their voice holds and the power that they gain back when they speak it and giving them the tools to do so. To tell them that they don’t owe anyone their name, that they don’t need to respond to whistles and honks and catcalls, that their body is theirs and that when they walk where they walk when they walk wearing whatever it is that they are wearing - they shouldn’t have to answer to anyone for any of it. It’s for you.