Now, firstly, I really like Hollaback!. The organisation was the one who taught me the term ‘street harassment,’ who showed me that it was something that was experience by women all over the globe, and that I didn’t have to take that shit.
I also really respect the fact that on their website, Hollaback! does make an effort to discourage the racial stereotyping of men of colour as sexual predators.
Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, Hollaback! asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary.
With that in mind, I’m very disappointed that their cat-calling video edited out most incidents of street harassment involving white men– leaving the video with predominantly Black and Latino men, all of whom seemed to be of low-income. If this video was meant to show the prevalence of street harassment, and how it comes from men of all backgrounds, it missed its mark.
The marketing agency who worked with them, Rob Bliss Creative, has stated that their reasons for leaving so many white men on the cutting room floor was because of video and audio problems. While I believe there was no malicious intent in this, I question the fact that no one from Hollaback! brought this up upon review of the edited film. Maybe Rob Bliss isn’t aware of why this is an issue, but Hollaback! should know better. There is already exists the belief that street harassment is a cultural thing, that the men doing it are yelling in AAVE (e.g. lemme holla at you!), that it’s the forte of construction men and other low-income workers.
Where are the white collar workers getting pissed off when you don’t respond to their ‘smile, beautiful!’ Where are the groups of college-age white boys snickering to themselves as the yell at women across the street? As Roxane Gay tweeted, you didn’t walk through any white neighbourhoods?
Look, everyone’s experience with street harassment is different. As a young Asian woman in Sydney, I predominantly get harassed by old white men asking if I want a ‘companion’ to ‘show me around the city’ or white men who yell sexual, racial terms at me. While other women may have a similar set of experiences, it’s not indicative of what all women experience. even other Asian women in my town might experience.
Similarly, this video is not indicative of everyone’s experience with street harassment- but it’s presented as the ‘average’ woman’s experience with street harassment.
I think this video is a good, but flawed start. You really want my attention? Make another video showing a black woman walking down the street for ten hours. And a Latina woman. An Asian woman. A trans woman. Someone walking down the street holding hands with their girlfriend. Fill in the blanks. These things cost money and time, yes, but if the anti-street harassment movement is meant to be a feminist movement, it should support all women. And if these videos do get made, then we, as a community, should make sure they get the same amount of coverage as this video did.
Hollaback!, I hope you address these racial issues soon. I want no part in a movement that will demonize men of colour just so white women don’t have to feel guilty about clutching their purses tighter when they pass a black man.
I want us to do better.
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.
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):
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.
Haven’t done one of these in a while, so for this weekend, let’s go back in time to 1993 with Salt-n-Pepa’s None of Your Business.
I chose this song for this weekend because it astonishes me just how relevant this song still is.
Sometimes strangers think they have a right to comment on your body and your choices. They forget that you’re an adult capable of making your own decisions. They disapprove of your tattoos, your weight, the length of your skirt, the number of times you go out, the number of people you have sex with- and for some reason, they think that means that you no longer deserve privacy or respect.
Obviously, this is nonsense. Respect isn’t just for people you deem ‘respectable.’
So this weekend? Go wild. Drink, party, have one night stands or stay at home and have a Lord of the Rings marathon. Some people may not approve of your choices, but forget ’em. It’s none of their business.
When street harassment is discussed, inevitably, the perpetrators or potential perpetrators of street harassment are men. This is because the majority of street harassment is perpetrated by men, just as the majority of people who experience street harassment are women.
The vast majority of any kind of sexual harassment or assault is perpetrated by men. Unsurprisingly, this can make women, particularly women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault, be wary of, or angry at men.
If you’ve read this far, you may find the tone of this post sounds very condescending, possibly to the point of rudeness. That is the same tone that women hear whenever someone has to add “you know, not all men are like that.”
“You know, not all men are creeps.”
“You know, some men know how to treat women.”
“You know, it’s not fair to blame street harassment on all men.”
Dear men in our lives: we know that the majority of you are decent, well-meaning and kind individuals. We know that there are many men who are basically decent people. We know. Men occupy half the planet. It would be incredibly difficult to walk through life only ever meeting women and male street harassers. There are quite a lot of you.
Before you add a comment like, “you shouldn’t blame all men,” please think about what you hope to accomplish. It is not helpful, it is not news, it doesn’t reaffirm a person’s faith in the male gender. All it does is detract from the person’s experience to make it about men.
There are no anti-street harassment movements that are focussed on blaming men because the focus is never on men. The focus is on people who experience street harassment.
When you add these comments, you tell us that your ego is more important than our experiences. You tell us that your discomfort at knowing you have the potential to harass someone is worse than the actual experience of being harassed.
Don’t beat yourself up, don’t think that you can never talk about street harassment again, just remember what Craig Ferguson says:
1.) Does this need to be said?
2.) Does this need to be said by me?
3.) Does this need to be said by me now?
We need to support each other if we want to combat street harassment, and more importantly, we need to support each other well.
I am sick and tired of feeling unsafe on public transport.
Yesterday, I gave my second statement to the police regarding a male masturbating aggressively at me on a bus. Both times there were other people on the bus.
I am a sixteen year old girl who lives in Sydney, Australia, and I am sick of being commoditised, objectified and violated by men and boys. I should not have to deal with being waved onto the bus free of charge, “love”, in return for being belittled and gawked at. I should not have to receive the harassment of strangers until I feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I should not have had to notice a palpable change in the way strangers react to my short, masculine haircut. I should not pose a threat to men and a flattery to women if they think I am a lesbian. I should not have to constantly second-guess every male that passes me on a bus, or a train station, because their presence triggers an irrational fear as a result of being masturbated at twice in the past two months.
I should not need the skills to stand up, yell out and take action when something is wrong because no-one else will,and deal with the trauma of being harassed. I should not be so bitter than I no longer wish to smile at strangers.
But I do, and I have, and I am. I am afraid, so I am defensive. I am angry, so I am cold. I am a woman, and I belong to me.
The above is Lily’s story, but it’s the same kind of story that’s repeated again and again by basically anyone that’s experienced street harassment.
This is not an uncommon experience. This is not okay.
People should be able to walk the streets without fear of harassment, but because this is not case, we should not let people experience these things alone.
If you see something, say something. Support people who have and are facing street harassment. No one should be a bystander.
We know how much it can suck walking through public places where you’ve been harassed before. Having certain songs playing while you walk always help- it’s like having your own bad ass theme song follow you around.
Hardcore Girls is my personal favourite at the moment- it’s all about reclaiming public places and strutting your stuff regardless of the disrespectful assholes trying to bring down your game. Turn up the volume; drown out the creeps.