Happy Women’s History Month! Here are two examples of street harassment resistance in the U.S. about which you may not know. They are both included in the introduction of my forthcoming book about global street harassment activism that I submitted to my editor on Sunday (!). The book will be out in early September 2015.
1. From the 1940s to 1960s a large number of black women collectively challenged the centuries-old practice of white men harassing and raping black women with impunity. In 1944, for example, white men harassed and then gang raped a twenty-four-year-old black sharecropper, wife and mother Recy Taylor as she walked home from church with female friends. Her story caught the attention of a Montgomery NAACP member Rosa Parks, an established anti-rape crusader. Parks led a national campaign for justice for Taylor that resulted in the assailants admitting they committed the crime — despite white male police trying to cover for them — and the case went to trial. Sadly, the all-white, all-male jury did not indict any of Taylor’s assailants.
Despite not gaining justice for Taylor, Parks’ campaign lay the foundation for other campaigns. In Danielle McGuire’s 2011 book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance, she chronicles Taylor’s story and this important time period and how the civil rights movement began not just out of outrage over the lynching of black men, segregation, and general discrimination, but also because of people’s indignation over white men’s assaults of black women in public spaces.
2. During the 1970s and early 1980s, street harassment was occasionally addressed within the Women’s Liberation actions, the rape crisis center movement, and Take Back the Night rallies. Women hung up and distributed flyers, patrolled places with high rates reports of rape, and even held demonstrations. An example of a demonstration occurred in New York City in June 1970. Newspapers routinely printed the commuting schedules and physical measurements of pretty women who worked in Wall Street, and men would line up outside their workplaces to harass them. In response, Karla Jay and Alix Kates Shulman organized an “olge-in” during which they yelled sexualized “compliments” at men on the street.
“We’re trying to point out what it feels like to be whistled at, pointed at constantly every time we walk down the street…they think that we’re just sexual objects. And we don’t want to be sexual objects anymore,” one of the women said in an interview.
The work we do today builds on decades of resistance and the bravery of women like Recy, Rosa, Karla and Alix.