By: Maggie Freleng, NYC, USA, SSH Correspondent
“Say thank you, bitch, when I compliment you!”
I was walking to my house and walked past a group of men foaming at the mouth for anything with a vagina. In my normal fashion I did not acknowledge their comments and kept walking, not skipping a beat. Just brush it off and get from A to B. Numb. When I did not respond, their desperation turned to something different. They tried to break me. I was verbally assaulted as they screamed after me.
I am never the kind of person in my personal life to stand by when I feel attacked, wronged, and taken advantage of — but this time I did.
Not only did I feel violated by their comments when I was minding my own business, but I felt disgusting for letting it happen so easily. I should have fought. I felt hopeless. Helpless. Disempowered. Most of all, I felt alone.
Alone is when you down the street and are powerless against being an object of fair game for whoever feels like spewing crap out of their mouth at with slim to no repercussions.
Alone is when it feels like there is no justice and there will be no justice, we just have to live in constant fear, shame, guilt and disgust.
We all share our stories of street harassment to aware others of the problem, but many of us also just want to say: hey, you’re not alone.
Instead of just sharing my street harassment story, I want to share where I found community and solidarity and empowerment. I want to let everyone know they have a support group — an international support group. We are not alone
Thursday July 25 was history. It was the first ever international speakers series on ending street harassment hosted by Hollaback!, a network of international activists dedicated to ending street harassment across the globe.
I have never felt such a strong sense of empowerment, community and solidarity as I did being there.
“It’s definitely really empowering,” Rachel Morillo, a student at Swarthmore College attending the event told me. “Especially to see that women are interested in discussing street harassment. Even when I try discussing street harassment with my friends it is sort of brushed off. It is great to see that there is a community of people interested in ending this.”
The community of people attending involved everyone from feminist media critic Jennifer Pozner, to Jimmie Briggs, human rights activist and founder of Man Up Campaign, to the amazing Nicola Briggs who became an icon of the movement when she went viral on YouTube after confronting her violator on a NYC subway in 2010.
These people showed me there is solidarity in the fight to end the torment many of us experience on a daily, hourly basis.
They showed me that there are people taking action and making an initiative towards change and building communities for people like myself to join to take back our pride, our power, and our streets.
Nefertiti Martin, community organizer for Girls for Gender Equity taught me, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but the words used to hurt you can be transformed to heal you.”
Rokafella, female breakdancer, taught me that breakdancing is a way to feel empowered against sexual harassment. “Breakdancing was my answer to being grabbed while dancing. You might get kicked in the neck,” she said.
Ryann Holmes co-founder of Brooklyn Boihood, an organization empowering queer and trans bois* of color, taught me that we can join or start groups like his to undo stereotypes of masculinity and masculine privilege, including misogynistic views of women.
Genevieve “Danger” Berrick, roller derby enthusiast and founder of Hollaback! LA, taught me derby is about bodies in space and bodies in contact, just like street harassment, and to vent those frustrations, join a group where women make their own rules about their own bodies.
Julie Lalonde, social justice advocate and feminist, taught me haters are gonna hate, and the only way not to be silenced is through solidarity.
Pamela Shifman, director of initiatives for girls and women at the NoVo Foundation, taught me the epidemic of violence against women is starting to make its way into the public consciousness because of groups like these. “If we combine the true potential of philanthropy, the love of all people, with the transformative power of women and girls organizing for justice, we will see change.”
And finally, Rochelle Keyhan, a member of the board of directors of Hollaback! taught everyone that as long as we have been street harassed we have demanded the right to equality in public life, including the right to feel safe in public spaces.
Street harassment is not a new thing. But now that there is a mobilized campaign against it, as Keyhan said, we will end “this long lived chapter of our collective history.”
Being part of this movement makes it impossible to feel alone. This community of men and women make me feel like I have a team, a crew, an entire posse of allies across the globe standing behind me, telling me not to break and keep my head up, every time I am invaded, violated, and harassed on the street.
In the words of Emily May, founder of Hollaback!, “You’re witnessing the birth of a global movement that will change the way we walk down the street.”
For me, just knowing I am a part of this movement gives me power.
Maggie is a Brooklyn based freelance writer and photographer focusing on social justice and women’s issues. She currently writes for Vitamin W. Maggie graduated with a B.A in Journalism and English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2011, concentrating on dystopian literature. You can read more of her writing on her blog or follow her on Twitter, @dixiy89.Share on Facebook