I’ve known Shawna Potter, Director of Hollaback Bmore (and the frontwoman for the band War on Women) for a year and a half, and I’m always impressed by the creative ways she brings attention to street harassment! Here are just two recent examples.
Then, last week, she led a group of activists in an outreach effort at the harbor during Otakon, a fan convention for East Asian popular culture (“anime”). Otakon occurs in Baltimore every summer.
The Indypendent Reader published an article about what happened:
“As one of the largest anime conventions, the city fills with costumed attendees –each one personifying their favorite anime (or other East Asian icon) character. For many, it is a delightful and fantastic sight and experience to behold.
Wanting to make the most of this highly populated opportunity, the activists trekked over to the Convention Center for some direct feminist outreach.The group set-up shop on the corner by the front doors. Stuffing their pockets with “Hollaback! Bmore” buttons, for an hour the predominantly female organizers confidently approached the hundreds of Otakon attendees streaming in-and-out of the Center.
Potter began the outreach. Grabbing a stack of papers, where people could share their harassment stories, she walked up to a costumed group of presumably female-bodied individuals and said, “We’re documenting women’s and LGBTQ folks’ stories of street harassment. Has this ever happened to you?”
Soon the other activists were following her lead, passing out flyers, buttons, engaging in candid discussion on street harassment, and documenting written and video stories.
Brooks, the only male-bodied Hollaback! activist present, observed, “It’s interesting to do direct outreach at an event like this. When they see us, they think we’re part of the convention. Then when they start talking to us, you can see the realization that what we’re talking about is really very serious. And most of them, are expecting attention due to their costumes. So you can see the exact shift towards thinking about how attention can be incredibly unwanted.”
Many of the attendees were teenagers or of college age, experiencing street harassment in its first confusing waves. Some expressed the “behavior” as “annoying” but “harmless”; one young woman even stated the all-too-common conception that the “behavior” was complimentary. This is an idea that Hollaback! actively works to combat; aiming to expose women to the truth that they do not need to find their worth as sexual beings and people in this world from this form of the objectifying male conduct — that when they allow objectification they allow the oppression of their identities.Others stated that they were from small towns and didn’t recognize what was being discussed. It should be noted that much street harassment research conveys that it is prevalent regardless of location, whether urban, suburban, or rural. However, more data is needed; hence the need for more Hollaback! geo-tracking.
This being stated, many also engaged excitedly about the topic. They discussed their street harassment stories, filled up our pads of paper, and went on camera to tell their tales.
Some didn’t want to share their stories but vocalized their support for the movement. One young woman became emotional when an activist approached her, stating that she had been “jumped” just the previous night. The activist strongly encouraged her to seek support through a variety of means..
As the flyer collection diminished and handfuls upon handfuls of buttons were dispersed,the activists excitedly gathered to discuss their work. Immediately palpable was the organizers thrill to have interacted so intimately with so many about street harassment.
“We’re definitely going to do this more often,” reflected Potter.“So much of this movement is about education. This is a simple yet obviously effective way to publicly discuss and bring awareness to such an often invisible issue.”
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