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USA: A Brief History of Anti-Harassment Activism in Comics

correspondents, Resources, street harassment | on November, 22, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Katie Bowers, NY, USA, SSH Blog Correspondent

As a community educator, I work with a wide range of people.  On any given day, I might spend the morning with adults talking about nutrition, the afternoon exploding homemade volcanoes with elementary students, and the evening working with high schoolers on a community change project.  I’ve got a Batman-level utility belt of tools and tricks to use whenever I’m teaching.  One of my favorite tools is comics.

When we talk about social justice, we’re talking about complex systemic oppression, small, everyday injustices and big, in-your-face discrimination.  We’re talking about oppressions that, like street harassment, are only experienced by a portion of the population.  Other people may not even believe that a particular form of oppression is real.  As a result, social justice organizers and educators are often trying to make the invisible visible.

Comics are highly visible by nature.  Through rows of text on a screen or in a newspaper, comics jump out at us and demand to be read.  They are usually simple to follow and understand.  They are familiar and inviting, and can be made and distributed by anyone.  Most importantly, they have a long history of activism – including calling out street harassment.

The first editorial or political cartoon dates back to 1720, and there are cartoons documenting women’s struggles in everything from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire to the fight for universal suffrage.  Comics have been talking about street harassment since at least the 1960’s.  In a Fantastic Four title from 1963, Sue gets accosted on the street by a man remarking on her looks and – of course – telling her to smile.  Being busy saving the city from peril apparently isn’t enough.  She also needs to look perky while doing it.  Fortunately for the Invisible Woman, her powers allow her to disappear – something many women wish they could do when they are catcalled.

In 1974’s Wonder Woman Sensation comics, it doesn’t matter that Diana is new to the planet and already cleaning up criminals.  She immediately gets catcalled, with men ogling her and women calling her a “hussy”.  In one particularly poignant panel, one of her male catcallers manages to objectify Diana and the two women insulting her.  As early as 1974, comics were already showing how street harassment isn’t about how a woman looks or what she wears.

These days, more and more cartoonists are offering their commentary and personal experience with street harassment.  I believe that the reason for this is two-fold.  Firstly, the advent of the internet has made it much easier for women (and for all people) to start producing and distributing comics.  Cartoonists no longer have to break into newspapers or long-time comic publishers.  They can do themselves, and they can write about their own lived experiences.  Secondly, organizations like Stop Street Harassment, Girls for Gender Equity, Hollaback!, and many others have worked hard to get people talking about street harassment – and have they ever been successful.  With everyone from Fox News, The Daily Show, and Playboy talking about street harassment, it makes sense that artists are weighing in as well.

Many of the current cartoons are dedicated to making street harassment more visible.  Robot Hugs’ incredible long-scroll comic explores all sorts of different types of street harassment, as well the various things we say and do as a culture that make it possible to maintain a that harassment.

Lefty Comics also has a great example of what catcalling looks like on a day-to-day basis.  Ursa Eyer’s Cat Call takes it a step further to show how a lifetime of regular harassment leads women to be constantly defensive when out in public, and how even that becomes cause for harassment.

Other anti-harassment comics are those that explore the supposed thought process used by the men who street harass.  Kendra Wells’ comic looks at harassers and begs the question “What reaction did you expect to get?”


Some comics of this vein come from male allies who are asking their friends and fellow-Y-chromosome-havers the same question: why are you harassing women?  Check out Matt Bors for a good example, or xkcd’s take on bystander intervention.

Finally, one of my very favorite anti-harassment comics is one that reminds us of the difference between a compliment and harassment.  Ultimately, whether or not it is harassment is up to the person on the receiving end of the action.  But as positivedoodles shows, there are a lot of ways to demonstrate your appreciation for others that aren’t derogatory, vulgar, or demeaning.


Comics are incredible tool for teaching social justice, and it’s fantastic to see so many artists speaking out against harassment.  Do you have a favorite anti-harassment comic you want share?  Send it to us on Twitter @StopStHarassmnt so we can share these tools with the world!

Katie is a social worker and community educator interested in ending gender-based violence, working with youth to make the world a better place, and using pop culture as a tool for social change. Check out her writing at the Imagine Better Blog and geek out with her on Twitter, @CornishPixie9.

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Bulgaria: Running while female

correspondents, Resources, street harassment | on November, 21, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Diana Hinova, Sofia, Bulgaria, SSH Blog Correspondent

Sofia boasts several large parks: the South, West and North Parks (no joke on those names), Boris Gardens, and Hunting Park, for instance. For three weeks this autumn, the Runners’ Survey collected information from runners in Bulgaria about their perceptions of safety. The running community is growing here, thanks in part to initiatives like 5km Free Run which hosts organized runs every weekend in several Bulgarian cities. Running is a great, cheap activity that many people can rely on to keep in healthy shape – when the environment allows it. And since we seem to have the infrastructure, and the community, the Runners’ Survey aimed to investigate whether personal safety concerns prevent people from doing so.

Women runners cite personal safety much more often than men (22 percentage point difference) as a leading factor for the selection of where to run. For 12% of women runners this was the sole factor determining where to run (and for 5% of men runners), and not convenience to home or office, or safety from road traffic.

The forms of harassment described by the survey (since the general is not widely familiar in Bulgarian) included unwanted attention in the form of comments, whistling, gestures; attempts to touch; attempts by strangers to introduce themselves; a stranger following the runner; and physical assault. When asked specifically about instances of any of these forms of street harassment while running, 15% of men and 51% of women report having experienced it.

Logically, men runners use harassment avoidance strategies less frequently than women by orders of magnitude. Women runners most often rely on the selection of route and timing of their runs (31%) to avoid street harassment and other threats to their safety.  Another common strategy is running with a phone and headphones (22%), although the role of headphones in runners’ safety is interpreted differently by some respondents:

“When running in areas that seem dangerous (eg. Borisov Garden in the dark), I take my headphones off in order to react more quickly if needed.” (w)

“I don’t wear headphones and I scan the surroundings when running” (w)

“I typically run with some friends and don’t pay attention to others in the area. If alone, I would be hesitant to run in an area with no one around or in parks at nighttime, even if there is lighting.” (w)

Women runners also often change their clothing choices (18%) and to a lesser degree rely on group runs, or carry self-defense aids like pepper spray, to avoid street harassment and more serious safety threats. These themes and strategies echo the recent #RWsafety twitter chat, where (mainly US-based) runners shared their experiences, concerns, and hope for change. An additional concern specific to Bulgaria turned out to be the sizable stray dog population.

It is important to consider the effect street harassment, which disproportionately affects the choices of women runners (and potential runners), has on women’s ability to equitably use of public space for healthy activity.

The results of the Runners’ Survey will be communicated to Sofia municipal and local government, officials in the Ministry of Physical Education and Sport, and other interested parties. The full summary of the Runners’ Survey results, along with graphics, can be accessed via the One Billion Rising Sofia Facebook page in English and Bulgarian.

Diana has a Master’s in Public Policy from Georgetown University and works as a consultant to INGOs. Follow her on Twitter @dialeidoscope or letnimletni.blogspot.com.

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San Francisco Man Stabbedy by Harasser

male perspective, News stories | on November, 21, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Trigger Warning.

Via Jezebel

“A San Francisco man was stabbed and sustained life threatening injuries simply because he dared to ask a catcaller to leave his girlfriend alone.”

This is one of several stories from the past year where a father, boyfriend or male bystander stood up for a harassed woman and was hurt (or killed, as a father was in Chicago when he stood up for his teenage daughter). We have a SERIOUS problem on our hands that 1) street harassment happens and 2) that some harasses feel so entitled to women’s attention they will hurt anyone who challenges them.

Thank you, Ben, for speaking up and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

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UK: 10 Hours of walking in NYC as a woman in Hijab

correspondents, street harassment | on November, 20, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Siel Devos, London, England, SSH Blog Correspondent

By now, everyone has seen the video of a woman walking around New York for 10 hours and getting harassed over a hundred times.

But did you also know there has been a response in the form of a video of a woman walking through New York wearing hijab? The first 5 hours she is shown walking without hijab, experiencing harassment similar to the original video. However for the next 5 hours, when she does wear the hijab and niqab, she is miraculously not subjected to harassment at all.

The video says “you be the judge” implying that it is obvious to see that the only way to be free from harassment is covering yourself up. Once again, women are shamed and blamed – by both men and women – for bringing harassment upon themselves, merely by what they are or are not wearing. Once again people fail to acknowledge the real issue that is street harassment: the ingrained idea of entitlement and power over women and the fact that harassment is so normalized in both Western and Middle Eastern culture.

Victim blaming happens often when addressing sexual crimes and harassment, and even more in the cultural and social context of Islamic societies where women are seen as sexual creatures who are to blame for inciting men’s sexual urges. The idea of modesty and the concept of honour and shame regarding women’s bodies as a means of protecting women does nothing to solve the problem, rather it reinforces rape culture by always putting the blame on them.

The underlying meaning of this ‘modesty’ is that “good” women are those who cover up and belong to a man, “bad” women don’t cover up which implies that they are available to all men. In other words, respect for women depends mostly on their way of dressing as expected and imposed by men. Victim blaming and slut-shaming are very close related when talking about harassment. The notion of the male gaze becomes crucial here, and I very much agree with what the (anonymous) blogger behind A Sober Second Look says about this:

“What we didn’t notice was that regardless of whether we were measuring ourselves against a more or a less restrictive check-list determining “proper hijab,” we were nonetheless forever measuring ourselves in terms of an imagined male gaze, which we had internalized. We told ourselves that this had nothing to do with the male gaze, because what we were concerned with ultimately was obeying God. But coincidentally enough, the gaze that those check-lists had in mind was the male gaze. According to those check-lists, a woman has to always be aware if her clothing is “too” tight, “too” bright, “too” short, “too” fashionable, “too” eye-catching, “too” insufficiently Muslim… mainly, in the judgment of men—the generations of male scholars who had debated and determined these matters, and the male leaders of our community—and to a lesser extent, of a censorious and judgmental community generally.”

Going back to the message of the hijab video, “you be the judge” which implies that the hijab functions as a kind of invisibility cloak that magically protects against harassment and the male gaze. Problem solved then? Not really. How do you explain that 99.3% of Egyptian women experience harassment, when the majority of them wears the hijab?

The Qur’an and Hadith suggest that both women and men dress modestly in order not to incite sexual urges (an inherent natural aspect of human beings, both men and women). Maybe men who are shaming women for not wearing the hijab and saying this is required by the Qur’an haven’t read the Qur’an properly, as in the same chapter it is recommended that men lower their gaze. Other chapters in the Qur’an encourage men to respect women and treat them kindly. So why are we not addressing this blatant violation of Islamic doctrine? When are we going to focus on changing men’s behaviour and attitude instead of simply blaming women’s appearance and modesty?

Siel is a master’s student in Middle Eastern studies with a major in contemporary Islam at SOAS University in London. Find her on twitter and instagram under @mademoisielle.

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Harasser threatens to shoot woman who ignores him

News stories | on November, 19, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Trigger Warning.

Despite what some people think, ignoring a harasser can lead to escalation too. There is no magic response that can keep everyone safe. That’s why we have to focus on stopping harassment in the first place. I am so glad she was able to get away safely!!

Via Komo News:

“SEATTLE — A woman was threatened at gunpoint in a convenience store parking lot last Tuesday after she ignored two men calling out to her and trying to get her to talk to them, according to the Seattle Police Department.

According to the police report for the incident, the victim was walking into a convenience store in the 12300 block of 15th Avenue Northeast around 2 a.m. when two men hanging out by a black or dark blue Cadillac repeatedly yelled “hey” at her to get her attention.

The victim ignored the men, but they were still there when she left the store. They reportedly asked the victim what she was doing and if she wanted to hang out with them.

The victim continued to ignore the men and got into her car. Unfortunately for her, the men didn’t take the hint, according to the report.

The men approached the victim’s car and one of them reportedly opened her door and wouldn’t let her close it. The victim later told officers she was afraid, so she put the car into reverse and started to back out of the parking lot.

According to the report, that’s when one of the men said, “[Expletive] this; I’m going to shoot you,” pulled a handgun out of his pants and pointed it at the victim.

Terrified, the victim continued to back out of the parking lot and was able to drive home and call 911. Officers went to the convenience store, but the men were already gone.”

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“The first time I experienced street harassment I was 9″

Stories, street harassment | on November, 18, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Over the last few weeks alone:

* A boy no older than 10 pulled my top down in a public park.
* An elderly man groped and verbally harassed me on the bus
* Men of varying ages have repeatedly leered at and catcalled me on the street (I am 16)
* When serving at the pub where I work upon occasion men have told me to ‘smile darling’, ‘show some more skin’ and ‘get back in the kitchen’ (I’m a waitress)

The first time I experienced street harassment I was 9, in a junior school uniform and it has not stopped since.

Optional: Do you have any suggestions for dealing with harassers and/or ending street harassment in general?

Educate men, there is a widespread culture that passes off any harassment towards women as ‘banter’, its not ‘banter’ it is a jail worthy offence.

- Anonymous

Location: Consett, Newcastle, UK

Share your street harassment story for the blog.
See the book 50 Stories about Stopping Street Harassers for more idea

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Saudi Arabia: A Ban on “Seductive Eyes”

News stories | on November, 17, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Well if you thought women’s bodies couldn’t be policed any further… in Saudi Arabia women can’t have “tempting eyes” showing….

Via Pakistan Today:

“A new law in Saudi Arabia banning ‘tempting eyes’ has become the latest example of female oppression in the country.

The law states that women with alluring eyes will be forced to wear a full veil… Sheikh Motlab al Nabet, spokesman of the Saudi Arabian Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, said they ‘had the right’ to force women to cover their face.

‘The men of the committee will interfere to force women to cover their eyes, especially the tempting ones,’ he said.‘We have the right to do so.’

Many commentators wondered how the word ‘tempting’ would be applied. One unnamed journalist in the country suggested it referred to ‘uncovered eyes with a nice shape and makeup.’

‘Or even without makeup, if they are beautiful, the woman will be in trouble,’ they added.”

This outrageous mindset is not new. In 2008, I wrote about this story on the blog:

“A Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia has called on women to wear a full veil, or niqab, that reveals only one eye.

Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan said showing both eyes encouraged women to use eye make-up to look seductive.”

No law was passed at that time and it is disappointing to see that Saudi Arabia has gone backward and has codified this form of body policing.

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SSH will not publish any comment that is offensive or hateful and does not add to a thoughtful discussion of street harassment. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, disabalism, classism, and sexism will not be tolerated. Disclaimer: SSH may use any stories submitted to the blog in future scholarly publications on street harassment.