No One Is a Bystander to Street Harassment

Shamed into Silence

If you listen to enough stories of street harassment, often, you’ll hear an ending similar to this: “Afterwards, when I told my family/partner/friends about the experience, they told me I was overreacting.”

“They told me they’d be glad to get that kind of attention.”

“They told me that these things wouldn’t happen if I dressed differently, didn’t go out at night, didn’t drink- if I didn’t encourage them.”

And while street harassment is always awful, it’s these endings that sometimes scare me more than anything.

If you’re a woman and/or identify as LGBT+, you’re taught to expect at least some level of street harassment. It’s still unacceptable, but you don’t have to think too hard about flipping off someone who catcalls you. You can write off the street harasser as a sexist creep and go on your way. Once you get home, the hard part should be over.

No one should have to go home to find that their sweet, sensitive and loving family, partner, friend will invalidate what just happened. Will blame them. Will make them question what happened to the point where they won’t know themselves. And it’s this fear, the fear that after everything that’s already happened that no one will support them, that is what keeps people silent.

And if we don’t feel safe sharing something as relatively innocuous as a cat call, how are we supposed to feel sharing other, more violent, more traumatic experiences?

Street harassment is a problem not only because it is internationally recognized and experienced by millions of women and LGBT+ individuals, but because it is expected. It is recognized and dismissed. It’s something people have to experience, and they feel they have to experience it alone because they feel they have no one they can trust who will recognize that their experiences are real and awful and undeserved by anyone.

If we want to eradicate street harassment, the first step is getting people to share their stories. That not only means encouraging people to share- it means creating safe spaces where they feel they can share. It shouldn’t be entirely up to women and LGBT+ folks to share their stories- we should be working to make sure they all feel safe sharing their stories.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you know there are plenty of communities online (The Everyday Sexism Project is only one example), but if you’re looking for things you can do to combat street harassment offline, I think one of the most important ways is being able to support family and friends so that they feel they can share these experiences with you. Not everyone knows about these kinds of communities. Supporting people who experience street harassment shouldn’t be exclusive to anti-street harassment spaces.

If you have trouble finding the right thing to say, here are a few quick tips:

-The advice can wait. Besides the fact that certain advice like “don’t walk alone at night” is a.) something most women have heard before and b.) not something women can always avoid, wait until they feel less vulnerable before springing in with the, ‘next time, try…’ line because we already internalize the idea that we deserve the harassment we get.  And if you must give advice, try to avoid wording it in a way that implies, ‘you wouldn’t get harassed if you do this.’ Unless the advice is something along the lines of, ‘never go out in public,’ it’s not true.

-On that same note, it’s very easy for people who experience harassment to start blaming themselves. Cut the guilt trip short. Assure them that no matter what they were wearing, where they were going or what they were doing, they didn’t deserve what happened to them.

-Don’t tell them to calm down/ ‘not take it so seriously’. Their emotions are valid and need to be expressed. Sometimes people need to cry. I know, it’s not fun comforting someone who’s crying, but it is still definitely worse for the person who is crying.

- Listen. Listen listen listen because often we just want to acknowledge that it happened, and it was awful. Knowing that you don’t have to experience this bullshit alone can make handling it infinitely easier.

Cat Calls Called Out – The Facebook - The Twitter

(This is not a real post, but a repost of a facebook status I made on the Catcalls Called Out facebook page. I’m putting it here so that  it’s more easily archived, and easy to find. New post coming tomorrow.)

On a personal note: Today I had a particularly trying street harassment experience.

My train was approaching my station, so I walked away from the seats to the area near the doors. There was one other person there. For the entire two minutes I stood there, he swore at me, threatened me with sexual violence and repeatedly insulted my race. He was angry enough that I didn’t feel I could safely respond. When we finally got to my station, he left the train as well, and for a moment, I was sure he was going to follow me.

This wasn’t my first experience with street harassment, racism, or feeling unsafe on public transport- but it still hit me hard. Logically, I know that it wouldn’t have been safe to respond; that I did nothing to provoke him besides existing; that sharing this story should bring shame to the harasser, not me. Yet despite knowing this, there is a part of me that can’t help but feel guilty for ‘letting it upset me.’

I’m telling you this because it’s nonsense; it’s a lie we’ve been fed by a society that tells us that sexual harassment is the price we pay for existing in public spaces. It’s easy to get caught in this lie, even when you know it’s wrong. That’s how pervasive it is. It’s important that we support each other so that when others get caught in this toxic mindset, we can remind them that they have no reason to be ashamed.

Stay safe.

Cat Calls Called Out – The Facebook - The Twitter

In Support of Jane Doe, Steubenville

(Trigger warning: Discussion of rape and victim-blaming attitudes)

I’ve been following the Steubenville case for a while, and the recent surge in media attention it’s gotten in the wake of its trial’s end has left me tired and angry.

For those unaware, the basic story is this: Last year, in Steubenville, Ohio, during a party after Big Red football game, Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16 assaulted and raped a 16-year old girl, who is anonymously referred to as Jane Doe. At least three other students witnessed the assault, and photographs and videos were spread onto social media websites, where they soon became viral. On Sunday a verdict was reached: Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty receiving a minimum one year sentence in a juvenile detention facility.

If you’ve been following it, you’re most likely well aware of the awful, victim-blaming response Jane Doe has received from popular media outlets and the general public (intense trigger warning for victim blaming attitudes in the latest link especially).

Image

What makes me especially angry isn’t how reporters like Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow from CNN empathized with the rapists by describing them as ‘star football players’ whose ‘lives fell apart’ after the guilty verdict. It isn’t the fact that so many reports merely describe Jane Doe as ‘drunken’ or ‘intoxicated,’ shifting the blame of the assault onto Jane Doe while conveniently leaving out the fact that her rapists were also drinking.

No, what truly annoys me is how ABC introduced the story as, “…every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s digital world.”

As if to say that the real problem wasn’t that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond raped someone; the problem is that they put evidence of the rape online, and allowed themselves to get caught.

What these reports have failed to do, what our culture has failed to do is to illustrate the moral: Don’t Rape People. It seems like something everyone should know, and yet we have to continue inserting addenda that say yes, it is still rape even if she was flirting with you beforehand; yes, it is still rape even if she’s not struggling; yes, it’s still rape even if she’s drunk; yes, it’s still rape even if she’s dressed provocatively; yes, no matter the circumstances, if the person cannot give on-going consent, then it is rape.

Because at the moment, if a person like Jane Doe, a person who was at a party, who was drinking, who might have been flirting, is raped, the focus is not on how despicable the rapist is, but on whether or not the rape survivor ‘deserved it.’ We live in a culture where being a rape survivor is seen as more shameful than being a rapist.

These news stories don’t have to tell women to ‘not get drunk’ to ‘not go to parties’ to ‘be careful, stay safe, stay vigilant,’ because anyone who’s been raised as a woman has heard this since they hit puberty or earlier. You know who does need to be educated about rape and sexual violence?

Guys like Evan Westlake, one of the witnesses who, when asked why he didn’t try to stop the rape, responded: “It wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I thought it was forcing yourself on someone.”

Here are the facts: In the US where the Steubenville case took place, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have experienced rape. (source)

In Australia, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 (source)

Clearly, our current model of teaching women ‘don’t get raped,’ so let’s try teaching people, men, to not rape. We’ve already seen evidence that such educational campaigns have done positive work in places like Edmonton, so let’s try bringing this education everywhere.

Image

Let’s teach people about what it really means to get consent- that it is not the absence of ‘no,’ but the presence of ‘yes.’

Let’s teach people there is no shame in being a survivor of sexual violence, but that anyone who inflicts sexual violence is a rapist and an abuser, and deserves every ounce of shame that comes with those titles.

Let’s teach people that rape and sexual violence don’t just happen in dark alleys at nights haunted by psychopaths, but that it’s inflicted by husbands and friends and ‘promising football stars.’

And finally, if you want to show your support for Jane Doe, her family has redirected all donations and funds sent in to the Madden House and Family Violence Project. You can also donate to the Madden House here, and leave a note saying that your donation is in the name of Jane Doe, Steubenville.

Additionally, if you’re able to, I encourage you to try to support sexual assault centres in your area, by donating, volunteering, or at least letting others know that these local resources exist. This, for example, is the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, and this is a list of sexual assault services throughout Australia. If these negative media portrayals and public backlash have taught us anything, it’s that we need to be better about supporting rape survivors.This is one way we can do so.

Cat Calls Called Out – The Facebook - The Twitter

On Getting Burnt Out

I’m gonna be honest with y’all: lately, I haven’t been engaging as much with this campaign as I should because I have been feeling burnt out.

It has nothing to do with the actual street harassment movement or the people or organizations involved with it. Instead, it was a combination of varying personal issues combined with the persistent feeling that can best be summed up by this photo:

While this is the general reaction I have to most stories of street harassment and the spread of rape culture, there are certain stories which produce more violent reactions from me.

For instance:

Any street harassment stories from Everyday Sexism concerning young girls- particularly when the harassment is perpetrated by older men? I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.

The slut-shaming video of Jenna Marbles (and the lack of any apology for it?) I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.

And just this month, the Delhi gang rape case? I can not believe I still have to protest this shit. Just about every new development has either made me want to flip tables or curl up into a ball in the corner.

Basically, it has gotten to the point where I’ve been disengaging because I would like to care a little less.

The reason why I’m telling y’all this is because I think it’s really easy to feel this way. When you become aware of rape culture and street harassment and the daily impact it has, it can be overwhelming.

If you get to the point where you are just sick and tired of trying to tell your male friends about how street harassment is a problem, or telling your parents why dressing differently is not the answer to rape culture, or telling your friends why rape jokes are wrong, I’m here to tell you that it’s fine. Everyone get’s burned out, and no one can expect one single person to keep fighting all the time.

As the new year approaches, I would like all of us to pledge to work harder to make rape culture a thing of the past. At the same time, I would also like all of to pledge that the next time someone harasses you, and you find that you can’t speak up, you don’t have to feel like a failure. The fact that you are here and able to survive the daily abuse a person can receive on the streets is enough.

Personally, I feel incredibly lucky that organizations like Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment have bothered to pay attention to a small campaign like mine, and I think it’s because they know that we’re all in this together.

If you start to feel burnt out, take a break and take care of yourself. We will still be here.

I’ll y’all in 2013.

Cat Calls Called Out – The Facebook - The Twitter

Songs to Take Back the Streets #5: Cleaning Out my Closet

TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of rape culture and rape apologism in commentary, very explicit recounting of personal sexual violence in the video, and similar recounts in the links

No matter your opinion on Obama’s foreign policy or Romney’s economic plan, now that the presidential election has come to an end, one thing I would hope anyone reading this blog would be happy about is that  rape-apologists Joe Walsh, Richard Mourdock and Todd Aiken have been voted out of their House of Representative and Senate seats.

I would like to believe this means that our year of “legitimate rape,” “honest rape,”  “forcible rape” and basically any “[descriptive qualifier] rape” is finally over, but let’s get real: rape culture and victim-blaming have existed for a long time, and these are not the only awful public statements politicians and public figures have made about rape.

I know it’s disheartening. I know that it’s really easy to feel burnt out, particularly when we hear the same rape-apologist bullshit again and again and again.

Here is the good news.

More and more people are breaking the silence around sexual violence.

They are telling their stories. They are creating support groups. They are calling people out on their rape apologist bull shit.

Angel Haze is one survivor who has made her story heard in this amazing, brutally honest new track. In it, she relates her story of sexual violence and abuse, how the indifference of others aided her abusers, and how, over time, she has emerged triumphant from her fear and shame.

Stories like hers are important, and the fact that people can share them, and that we are listening shows that while we still have a long way to go, we are creating change.

For a better, more in-depth article about Angel Haze and how rap can help end rape culture, I definitely recommend this article in The Atlantic.

Cat Calls Called Out – The Facebook - The Twitter

A Timely Halloween Reminder

While there’s nothing wrong with ridiculing and critiquing the sexist Halloween costumes on sale (this tumblr has a pretty good collection of them), this is just a reminder that no matter how ridiculous, revealing or even racist* a person’s costume is, costumes do not equal consent. No matter what they’re wearing, it’s still not an invitation to harassment or assault, and they’re still not ‘asking for it.’

Here are 10 quick reasons why someone might be wearing one of these ridiculous sexist costumes:

1.) They really want to dress up as a certain character or person, and this is the only available women’s version for it.

2.) They really want to dress up as a certain character or person, and the men’s version doesn’t fit.

3.) They really want to dress up as a certain character or person, and the men’s version is worse.

the horror... the horror...

Sock Monkey: Men’s Costume

I think it's actually kinda cute

Sock Monkey: Women’s Costume

4.) They don’t have the time, money or skills to make their own costume.

5.) They spilled something on their original Halloween costume, and this is their back up costume.

6.) They really like the way their body looks right now, and this costume shows it off rather well.

7.) They lost a bet.

8.) Someone dared them to wear it.

9.) The costume isn’t actually that revealing, it’s just the way it hangs off their body.

10.) Because they want to!

And honestly, the last reason should be good enough.

Have a good Halloween, y’all.

Cat Calls Called Out – The Facebook - The Twitter

*If they are wearing a racist costume, though, you should tell ‘em that their costume is racist.

Feelings Don’t Require Justification

Since October is National Mental Health Month (at least, I know it is in NSW and the USA), I would like to take a minute to talk about feelings. (I know, gross.)

Before I start this, I just want it to be clear that I’m in no way qualified to talk about your mental health, particularly if it’s related to sexual harassment or assault. Here are some relevant numbers and websites you should visit (all mostly relevant to Australia and NSW in particular):

List of International Hotlines

Online Mental Health Help

Domestic Violence Info and Resources (NSW)

Sexual Assault and Abuse Contacts (NSW)

Everything I’m about to talk about is experiential, so while you can feel free to talk to me about your experiences with street harassment and/or sexual harassment, there are other channels that are far more qualified than I am. I only want the best for y’all.

Now, often, when I experience street harassment. I tend to have this moment of, “you know, it wasn’t really that bad.” That’s completely fine- that is, as long as that’s how you actually feel. If you’re brushing it off just because you don’t think you should be upset about it- well, the only thing that’s doing is hurting you.

The first time I got catcalled here in Sydney, I remember brushing it off to my friends and family off and online- and then later huddling in a corner and sobbing to myself in my room. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the first time I’d been harassed on the street, and it wasn’t that in that particular instance I had felt unsafe, but it did make me feel horrible and worthless. The fact that it affected me so intensely made the whole experience much worse.

I don’t want any of y’all to feel that way. Street harassment is terrible not just because it demeans and objectifies a person, but because it’s an accepted part of our culture. It’s not something that should be accepted, and no one should have to put on a brave face just because it is. Even things that would be considered micro-aggressions (i.e. men telling women on the street to smile) matter because they’re indicative of the culture we live in- and just how messed up our culture is.

It doesn’t matter how often or how seemingly innocuous the street harassment you experience may be, it’s still awful. You have a right to feel awful, and no one, not even I, should have to give you that right. Anyone who tells you that it’s not that bad, or that you’re over-reacting, or that you are, for whatever reason, just not allowed to feel what you feel- well, those guys are not being supportive. They’re being assholes.

If street harassment is getting you down, come talk to me. Or rant at me. Or cry at me. Or don’t! Whatever you choose, it’s your choice, and I wanna support y’all in whatever way I can. Take care of yourselves.

Cat Calls Called Out – The Facebook - The Twitter


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.