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New Book Tackles Street Harassment, Other Feminist Topics

In Activist Interviews, Resources, Stories, street harassment | on 08.27.13 | by | Comments ( 0 )

By: Julie Mastrine, USA

In the fight against street harassment other gender inequalities, our voices are our most powerful weapons.

This is something I’ve always believed. The fight for social justice is difficult and fraught with roadblocks, chief among them flawed cultural attitudes. The best thing we can do to create change and end issues like street harassment is to fight the fear in our bellies and give a face to these incidents. Stories have power, and they can provide the groundwork we need to help others understand the links between personal injustices and how they connect to a broader, global issue.

This was the thinking behind the creation of my new ebook, Make Your Own Sandwich: A 20-Something’s Musings on Living Under (And Smashing) The Patriarchy. Plenty of people have pegged Millennials as lazy, entitled and narcissistic, but the truth is, our generation has championed the use of new technologies as a way to create lasting change in the world away from our computer screens. Opening up about our experiences online through ebooks, blogging and social media has proven an effective and pervasive way to ignite the change we want to see.

And just what change do we want? My book delves into the more subtle ways we harm and oppress others, like creating conflicting media messages about how women should look or act, using language that pegs femininity as weak or trivial, criticizing how — or if — women wear makeup, taunting women who engage in self-portraiture like the selfie, and yes, street harassment.

The following excerpt from Make Your Own Sandwich delves into the issue of street harassment:

“At some point in their lives — often starting at a very young age — 99 percent of women will experience street harassment. One in four will experience it before the age of 12. Some will endure it every day. Some will experience hateful and sexualized comments. Some will be threatened with violence. Some will be assaulted. Some will replay the incident in their head for years, wondering how they could’ve retaliated, what it was they’d done to deserve being the victim of such behavior…

Too often, women and LGBTQ persons are told street harassment should be taken as a compliment, that it’s just “boys being boys.” But street harassment is not a compliment — it is scary, threatening, and a human rights violation.

Men and women have competed for access to public spaces since the beginning of time. Now that women are no longer expected to stay at home tending to house and children, we’re seeing these power struggles being doled out on the streets. And consequently, it’s made plenty of women afraid.

When I told my mother about my first street harassment incident at age 11 — I was catcalled while walking my dog — she brushed it off, saying, “Oh, that’s always happened around here.” We’ve created a culture in which women are often told to take harassment as a compliment, and if we don’t like it, to watch what we wear, travel with a companion, or otherwise police our own behavior to avoid being targeted. And plenty of women and LGBTQ folk simply accept that they should “choose” to restrict their actions to avoid harm…

“It wasn’t until I started to get wind of the anti-street harassment movement — efforts fueled nonprofits like Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback! — that I learned this wasn’t just an isolated incident, but an issue happening on streets worldwide. As a volunteer for Stop Street Harassment, I learned how powerful it can feel to share these incidents with others to take the power back, whether that means standing at a demonstration with the comment scribbled on a sign or simply sending out a tweet. Just telling other people what happened can be an effective tool that affords the incident less strength over our consciousness and sense of self. It opens up others to the idea that this isn’t something we should tolerate, but should fight back against.”

I hope you’ll give my book a read, and hopefully come away not just with an understanding of the complex sociopolitical landscape of gender issues, but with a sense of empowerment to affect change. Make Your Own Sandwich is available for download here.

Excerpted from Make Your Own Sandwich. Copyright ©2013 by Julie Mastrine. Reprinted with permission from Thought Catalog.

Julie Mastrine is an activist, feminist, and writer working in the PR industry. She holds a B.A. in Public Relations from Penn State University, and is a social media volunteer for Stop Street Harassment. You can follow Julie on Twitter.

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