What is it? Our mentoring program empowers people to consider what efforts might decrease street harassment in their community, and then propose and carry out a project. Across four months, selected activists receive advice, network connections, input, and up to $350 for expenses from SSH.
In 2013 and 2014, we worked with a total of nine teams in eight countries (Afghanistan, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, Serbia and USA).
As three examples:
* In Afghanistan, college students held workshops on street harassment for hundreds of high school students. For all of the students, it was their first time having the space to talk about the issue, share their feelings, and brainstorm change.
* In Serbia, activists surveyed more than 600 college-age youth. Publishing their findings had two immediate impacts. 1) The college psychologists decided to take action around the issue. 2) Members of the Board Commission for Gender Equality of the City of Nis decided to conduct another survey.
* In the USA, the BikeWalkKC group in Kansas City, Missouri, worked with a number of groups to see the passage of an anti-harassment ordinance in their city.
The projects will begin on August 15 and run through December 15.
SPONSOR A TEAM!
Street harassment can cause people to feel unsafe in public spaces and also can make them feel powerless and unsure what they can do. Your sponsorship of $10+ can help give someone their power back and let them take action to address and work to end street harassment.
The amount of money we raise will determine how many teams we can fund this year. 100% of your money goes to the selected teams. Help make a difference today!
“OC Transpo will launch a new online tool to make it easier to report harassment on its buses next week — nearly two years after promising it.
The goal of the new tool is to collect reports from passengers and witnesses, some of whom may choose to remain anonymous, about incidents of sexual harassment or other “unacceptable or illegal behaviours,” OC Transpo says in a report prepared for the transit commission.
According to OC Transpo, it will be the first transit agency in Canada to permit such anonymous reporting when the reporting tool goes live on June 17.”
“This workshop can empower women to assert their boundaries and defend themselves if needed, but it’s not only about self-defense. It’s also about teaching women to recognize and respond to common dangerous situations, which more often involve people they know—not strangers in the bushes.
Known as the “red zone”, women in university are at heightened risk for sexual assault in the fall semester of their first year. A new poll by the Washington Post found 20 percent of women and five percent of men who attended college in the past four years report being sexually assaulted.
Historically, society has placed the onus on women to prevent sexual assault: Don’t walk home alone at night, don’t wear short skirts and all that. In recent years, public pressure from rape survivors and their allies has forced universities, police and politicians to look at the issue differently.
Slowly the onus has begun to shift away from women to prevent attackers from raping them and instead onto attackers to not rape women.
Consent and bystander intervention programs are also on the rise on college campuses.
It’s in this context that Senn and her co-authors researched the efficacy of a resistance program to prevent sexual assault.
The workshop they developed is one more tool in the rape-prevention toolbox. “
“This Ramadan, spliced into the TV soap operas that are popular during the fasting month, Egyptians will also be seeing some confrontational ads about sexual harassment. The ads launched in early June by HarassMap خريطة التحرش الجنسي, a local Egyptian organization, is part of a campaign that began last month called “Harasser = Criminal.
The public service announcements, each about a minute long, show how women are harassed in public spaces. One clip, which shows a man touching a woman on a bus, has gathered nearly 100,000 views to date.”
An auto rickshaw displays campaign posters, via The Indian Express
“It is seven in the evening and a girl is standing at a bus stop. Few boys whistle at her and pass comments. But the bystanders are mute. Why? Apparently the girl was asking for it. Will she tell anyone about what happened?
These are the questions Breakthrough India, a global human rights organisation, is asking people around the country. Their campaign #AskingForIt, which began in March this year, coaxes people to act, and stop sexual harassment in public places.”
“Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru have passed laws against street harassment that include, in Peru`s case, prison sentences of up to 12 years for the most extreme offenders.
Lawmakers in Argentina and Chile are considering similar bills.
In Chile, nine in 10 women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public, and 70 percent say they have been traumatized by it, according to a 2014 study by the Observatory Against Street Harassment.
An Argentine study found similar numbers.
In a sign of the growing indignation, the Observatory has spread from Chile, where it was founded, to Colombia, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.”
“With growing incidents of children, girls, and women trafficking on various pretensions following the April 25 quake and subsequent aftershocks, Dhading police have maintained special surveillance over such possible criminal acts in the district….
Policewomen from various police cells have been deployed to inquire about the destinations of travelling children, girls, and women, reasons for travelling, their relation with the persons accompanying them, besides other information, said Area Police Office Gajuri Inspector Hemanta Bhandari Chhetri.
As many as 46 children who were rescued from Nagdhunga while being taken to Kathmandu were handed over to their parents. Police had arrested seven persons in connection with the incident.”
“Community organizing group Brooklyn Movement Center is launching its first “Anti-Street Harassment Bike Patrol” in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights aimed at calling out people who hassle women on the street. Once a week, volunteers will bike in groups of four to intervene in situations sparked by unsolicited remarks….
[The] patrol aims to change the culture around street harassment instead of criminalizing the behavior, Arellano said. Organizers see the patrols as a “building tool” to educate the community….The group held its first orientation on Wednesday and will host another meeting in the coming weeks, organizers said. For more information, contact the Brooklyn Movement Center at (718) 771-7000.”
“Researchers have documented the link between concerns about physical safety and psychological harm. Consider, for example, that before puberty, boys and girls experience depression and anxiety at similar rates, but, upon puberty, when street harassment, awareness of physical vulnerability and rape begin, girls are up to six times as likely to suffer from anxiety as teenage boys.”
“New York lawmakers have voted to establish the crime of improper touching or other sexual contact aboard the subway or other public transportation after an increasing amount of complaints from young women…The misdemeanor also applies to public buses or trains and carries a penalty of up to one year in prison.”
“Hey, ladies: On your way to and from work, you might want to think about dropping a few pounds—or maybe getting a boob job or butt injections. Those are just some of the messages advertisements for plastic surgery or diet products send to women whoride public transportationthrough signs that commonly line the interiors of buses and subway cars. It seems some feminist activists in New York City have had enough. They’re slapping stickers that proclaim “This Oppresses Women” on body-shaming promotions on the Big Apple’s mass transit systems….
“It’s hard to ignore [the advertisements] when you’re sitting on the subway and a guy is like, ‘Hey, baby, what’s up?’, and then you see these pseudo-naked women for the plastic surgery ads, and you’re like, ‘OK, this has to be connected,’ ” Munger toldMTV News. “But then you realize the ads are contributing to how men treat you all the time, especially in New York, because it’s such a pervasive part of your life. You see these ads every single day in your face on the subway, on the street; it’s kind of ridiculous.”
“Most victims will freeze, if only briefly. Some will fight back, effectively. Some will resist in habitual, passive ways. Some will suddenly give in and cry. Others will become paralyzed, become faint, pass out or dissociate.
Few who have experienced these responses realize that they are brain reactions to attack and terror.
They blame themselves for “failing” to resist. They feel ashamed. (Men especially may see themselves as cowards and feel like they’re not real men.) They may tell no one, even during an investigation. Sadly, many investigators and prosecutors still don’t know some or all of these brain-based responses.
None of these responses – in women or men – entails consent or cowardice.
None is evidence of resistance too insufficient to warrant our respect and compassion. They are responses we should expect from brains dominated by the circuitry of fear (just as we should expect fragmented and incomplete memories).”
“Sgt. Scott Gaarde said between May 27 and June 8, the police department took five reports from women who described being accosted by a man in or near Willow Creek Park. The victims reported the suspect would ride past the women on a bicycle, then approach them from behind and grab them…
Based on their investigation and cooperation from the victims, Long was charged this week with four counts of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, an aggravated misdemeanor. He was taken into custody on Wednesday and transported to the Johnson County Jail.”
“The researchers note that while women may display a similar dynamic when it comes to femininity, in general, the anxiety about not meeting gendered expectations is likely more severe among men since gender norms have expanded more for women — as the study puts it, “masculinity is more easily threatened than femininity.”
And the ways in which it may be reasserted when threatened are also way more harmful. This study joins a huge body of research on the dangers of threatened masculinity. While the overcompensation in this case is pretty benign — lying about their height, avoiding stereotypically “feminine” products — other research has hinted at how damaging it can be. In one study, men whose masculinity was threatened were more likely to hit a punching bag and, in another, to sexually harass a female interaction partner, and, in another, to blame the victim in a rape case.”
“A music video inspired by Bollywood depicts a woman walking down the street. This short public service announcement makes a statement about street harassment in New York City through a re-appropriation of the lyrics of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”.
“Whether the legislation provides the culture change or the culture change spurs the legislation isn’t clear. There does, however, appear to be a real link between the two, and an ability for each to lean on the other as a means of building into our social fabric some kind of awareness of the damage wrought by street harassment.”
Feminism and related activism require a huge amount of personal reflection and exploration. This is a reflection. My opinions are open to reconfiguration and nuancing. You are entitled to agree or disagree in part or completely. I’d be really interested to hear back from people as to what they think and feel on some of the issues raised here.
There’s been a lot in the media (well, on Buzzfeed…) lately about high school dress codes in North America and students’ challenging them.* It’s something I’ve been following with keen interest for many reasons, not the least of which being that it’s almost completely alien to my Irish school experience.
Image via Ireland’s SchoolWear House, www.schoolwearhouse.ie/
The vast majority of schools in Ireland require their students to wear a uniform. It’s just the norm for us. There’s a lot to be said for school uniforms: they’re convenient (it’s half seven in the morning and you can get dressed on auto-pilot); they can keep costs down for parents (lots of supermarkets and cheaper high street shops stock school uniform-type skirts, pants and shirts at those low, low prices we all love and not-that-deep-down know to be the product of egregious human rights violations in someplace far, far away); and they tend to eliminate, or at least, ameliorate bullying related to clothing, fashion, style and what have you.
And yet, perhaps, dear reader, you can sense my hesitation. I genuinely feel there are many positive aspects to uniforms, not least those enumerated above.
But I hated it. Hated it.
I hated that there was no avenue for personal expression. I hated that we had to wear a tie. I hated the lumpen jumper and tent-like skirt and bin-bag-like school jacket that swamped me. I hated that pants weren’t an option, as though girls automatically must wear skirts. I hated what seemed to me to be arbitrary demarcations – formerly raven-haired students could have bleach blonde hair as it was a ‘natural’ colour, but anything more outré was out. Dubarrys were fine but Doc Martens weren’t. One set of ear studs in the traditional ear-stud place were acceptable, but other piercings and larger earrings most certainly were not. Nail varnish was banned on health and safety grounds, but you’d be sent to the loos with all sorts of huffable chemicals to remove it. ‘Subtle’ make-up was permissible but ‘too much’ and to the loos with you with a stack of make-up wipes. That last one was probably the least heavily enforced. I think it was out of deference to the fact that many people wear heavy make-up to hide their skin and the adolescent travails it can suffer.
Now, before y’all get up in arms about this, I want to put it firmly in context. This is pretty much the norm, give or take a few specifications here and there, for school dress codes in Ireland. Furthermore, I cannot commend highly enough the staff of my former school who very much have the best interests of their students at heart. Finally, and something that international readers may be intrigued by, it was an all-girls school. None of this was to do with ‘distracting’ boys – at least not within the school walls.
Nevertheless, it certainly conforms to and perpetuates many of the stereotypes that underpin dress codes in businesses worldwide and those North American schools. As Shauna Pomerantz, an associate professor at Brock University says in an interview with Buzzfeed, ‘appropriateness’ is defined in terms of class- and race-based values, namely that “[Y]ou have to look like a middle-class, heterosexual white woman.”
And this is where I really have to start challenging myself, because I am all those things, and one of my style icons is Audrey Hepburn.** So I am very much of the less-is-more, the eyes-or-lips-but-not-both, the legs-or-boobs-but-not-both school of make-up and style. To a point. That’s what primarily works for me and my appearance and body type and gender identity. But that doesn’t mean it’s right or good or works for everybody, nor would I be arrogant enough to assume so. And I have to call myself out on this regularly because unfortunately I have internalised the prejudices that float around us just like everybody else. If you want to wear a ton of make-up in whatever configuration you see fit, you should be allowed to. If you want to wear whatever clothes it is you want to wear, you should be able to. Unfortunately though, there is a catch.
I sure as hell don’t like it, but we are judged on our appearance and the way we present ourselves to the world. We shouldn’t be, but we are.
How do we go about challenging this? Are there limits to how far we should go?
I don’t want to reclaim the word ‘slut’. I just want it binned. But I think the Toronto-based SlutWalk is really on to something big. I don’t think crop tops are the ideal choice of clothing attire for anywhere except by the pool or at the beach, but I sure as hell don’t think someone should be stared at, harassed or raped for wearing one elsewhere. I think ideally your foundation should match your skin tone, but I think it’s messed up that ‘skin colour’ usually means ‘white people’s skin colour.’
I also wonder if all this stuff is a big, steaming pile of misdirection – a symptom being mistaken for an illness.
Unless we recognise that dress codes, ‘slut shaming’, ‘beach bodies’ and all the rest are about controlling and regulating the already disenfranchised, we’re going to keep missing the point.
Street harassment has nothing to do with what you’re wearing or not wearing. I know this from personal experience and far too many stories of other people’s experiences.
Enforcing rigid dress codes and reiterating ideas of what is appropriate and inappropriate that have their basis in racist, sexist, classist and heteronormative ideas perpetuate the false connection between how we present ourselves to the world and how the world should treat us.
Other than thinking and talking and writing about this, I don’t know how best to tackle it. If anyone has any better ideas, please enlighten me!
* One important issue I don’t touch on here, at least directly, is that of natural hair. I am white. I am Irish. I have read about and followed with great interest and anger the hostility, snide remarks and suspensions meted out to people of colour of all ages who wear their hair naturally or in locs or braids and myriad styles. I don’t feel it’s my place to say anything other than I think natural hair and natural styles are beautiful. And I don’t mean that in any exoticising, othering, oh-my-God-can-I-touch-your-hair way. I just mean it’s beautiful and the fact it’s seen as ‘unprofessional’ or ‘not in keeping with school dress codes’ is disgusting.
** Also Santigold and St. Vincent and Karen O and M.I.A. but I wouldn’t be quite confident enough to wear exact replicas of their finery nipping to the supermarket. Someday, someday…
Rebecca is currently living, working and stumbling through ballet classes in Barcelona. Originally from Kilkenny, she has a degree in European Studies and a Master’s in Gender and Women’s Studies from Trinity College Dublin, and will be doing an LLM in Human Rights Law in Edinburgh this fall.
This article is the second installment in a two part series, you can find the first set of portraitshere.
A real people’s person, 22 year old Sustainable Agriculture student Sophie is based in Germany when she is not away on one of her hitchhiking adventures. One of the core reasons for wanting to hitchhike is her love for being around many different kinds of people, another revolves around the journey from festival to festival during summer’s festival season. In the middle of nowhere you can more easily find a ride than a train- or bus station.
Harassment while thumbing is familiar for Sophie, she recalls: “During my third time hitchhiking, I was in Romania with a friend when we had just waited for two hours in the scorching hot sun. Finally a car stopped and a Romanian guy offered a ride, but we were having troubles with the language barrier. He took me aside and after some attempts at understanding each other it became clear he only wanted to take us in exchange for sex. Of course I declined, but I felt really embarrassed and unsafe. I would not have known what would have happened if my friend wasn’t there with me and I think every girl should be informed that this can happen. I was a little bit too naive. This incident was a warning for me, now I communicate more with drivers before I get into their car.”
Knowledge and experience in hitchhiking is a factor Sophie thinks a lot about these days; she wants to be prepared for all the challenges she might face. She doesn’t carry pepper spray, because using that in a closed car can literally backfire and the only knife hidden in her shoe is a utility knife with a safety switch, so she herself won’t be cut by accident. Another method to feel safe for her is reading a lot of resources by more experienced hitchhikers, like blogs, guides and documentaries.
“I’m proud when I hitchhike alone, the sense of self confidence and freedom feels great. I wear practical clothes, nothing sexy and I meet a lot of nice people on the road who go the extra mile for a young woman alone. They compliment me and respect my character for being out there on my own, I love that,” Sophie cheerfully laughs.
Diana is a 24 year old woman of the world; originally from the United States, but currently living in Thailand. She first hitchhiked in Japan with a friend who taught her the ropes, following this nice introduction to hitchhiking she started doing it alone. After utilizing her fluency in Spanish on the road in Chile, many different countries would be next on Diana’s list.
Her experiences with harassment during hitchhiking are fortunately limited, unfortunately that can’t be said for other travels or destinations. In Australia she had to face a lot of micro-aggressions (such as being called “a spicy Latina” and men even groped her a few times. And during an emergency couch surf for a night in Paris her host expected her to have sex with him, which resulted in her locking the guest room she stayed in and leaving at sunrise to get away from the creep. Similar situations happened more than once, but always were resolved safely.
“The controversy surrounding women’s safety when hitchhiking is very frustrating”, Diana sighs, “In my opinion it perpetuates the patriarchal notion that women are weak and aren’t able to take care of themselves. Which is not the case, because I’ve been hitchhiking alone many times and I even introduced another girl who never hitchhiked before to the world of it. ”
She explains that traveling alone isn’t the problem. “It’s really suffocating for women to be told that we shouldn’t do it, people should just stop harassing and preying on women. Women aren’t asking to be prayed upon. As a feminist I’d want women to be safe, that is their right, this includes exploring the world and hitchhiking is an amazing way to do that.”
Diana lives by a proverb in Spanish that translates to something along the lines of “Go with a good vibe”. She endorses passing the ways of the hitchhiker on to new people who want to embrace this way of traveling, to both teach them by setting a good example and give them more self confidence; to ultimately simply share the vibe.
At the end of the road.
All in all I think we can conclude that no matter the risks of hitchhiking and the warnings women in particular receive about it, a lot of women aren’t repelled from raising their thumb at the highway, either alone or with a traveling companion. Many women use strategies to ensure their own safety, just like hitchhiking men do, although perhaps a little more consciously. Harassment does happen, but not as often as many people think, nor more often than in other public places, such as the street, trains or other public transport or behind the doors of a building. The responsibility of stopping highway harassment and any street harassment in general lies with the people doing the harassing. Women can only do so much to ensure their own safety and are armed with their intuition and wits to cope in a world that can be considered outright hostile to women. Despite this animosity, every single woman is brave for going on with their lives and doing what they want to do with it in the face of harassment. And that demands nothing less than utter respect.
Are you curious about hitchhiking after reading these courageous women’s stories? If so, be sure to check out some of these resources on the subject of hitching rides risk-aware and as safe and comfortable as possible.
I was walking back to my house after just strolling around the neighborhood. I walked past my neighbor’s house (right across the street a few houses down), and there’s a teenage boy sitting in his driveway. I’m 17, so I assumed I knew him, and waved. He said, ʺGood afternoon,ʺ to which I told him good afternoon as well. He said, “You’re so pretty.ʺ
I didn’t think anything of it and said, “Thank you.ʺ
I kept walking, and he made a kissing sound behind me, and I ignored it. Then, he said, ʺYou’re so fine, mm come back hereʺ or something along those lines.
I whipped around and shouted, ʺHey, F*CK you!ʺ and flipped him off. He started kinda laughing, and then said, ʺHey, don’t be a f*cking bitch!ʺ and some more obscenity, and I began to walk faster. I was feet away from my house and he stood up and came towards me. I booked it back inside, and told my brother. He went to talk to the kid, but the kid wouldn’t answer the door. I was so angry and ashamed, I immediately started playing in my head what I could’ve said better, or what I could’ve done differently. I have anxiety and PTSD from being sexually assaulted, so I began to have an absolute meltdown. It took me awhile to calm down afterwards.
Optional: What’s one way you think we can make public places safer for everyone?
We could teach males in sex ed that catcalling and harassment are NEVER okay; I live in Virginia, and my boyfriend told me when he did sex ed all through middle and high school, they never mentioned catcalling or given any lectures about harassment or rape.
I attended Holla:Revolution in London a few days ago and it was so inspiring, uplifting, moving, exciting, and many other good words. The main thing I felt attending the event was involved. I felt that I already AM involved, just by being there and aware, interacting with others, hearing their stories, and all the astonishing ways they’ve come up with to combat harassment and address the central problem, but also involved with a more ambitious tint to it.
Beynon and Gray
I felt that I wanted to be up there, on that (pretty small) stage, with all those inspirational humans, saying something relevant, adding my voice, and working on something new to contribute even if I don’t quite know what yet. I wanted the younger me to be there and get inspired by it, and I wanted future me to be there, feeling joy at what has been achieved and the pleasure of knowing that sometimes hard work pays off, even when as Julia Gray from Hollaback! London said, everyone is telling you it won’t work out. Sometimes, human beings are brilliant, and those in the Amnesty International building at this three hour conference were a stellar example of that.
The talks began with an introduction from Emily May, founder of Hollaback!, explaining the history behind the project and what inspired her. Many of us found our own stories being reflected in her account of what inspired (if that is the right word, when we’re talking about the frustration involved in being harassed frequently on the streets) her to begin talking to others about their experiences. We had all had those moments of realisation, the first discussions of what street harassment was, the sharing of stories, just at different times, different places, and with different people, and May’s introduction created an intimate space for all of us to interact, and start creating this revolution that we all want to take place.
Then the first speakers were Bryony Beynon and Gray who co-found Hollaback London in 2010, and since have worked incredibly hard to educate various organisations about the issue of street harassment, including most recently the creation of the Good Night Out campaign and their on-going work with British Transport Police to help make reporting incidents of harassment on public transport significantly easier for all.
Following them was Susuana Antubam, currently NUS National Women’s Officer, discussing harassment on campus, along with various campaigns relating to good consent rules and combating lad culture- both of which, she reminded us, are significant in educating about street harassment and the culture that supports its continued existence.
American Nicola Briggs’ confessions of a subway badass was next. She told her story of confronting the man who had sexually assaulted her on a subway train, as well as the experience of dealing with the aftermath when the videos taken by by-standers went viral.
Samayya Afzal from Bradford University’s students union then discussed the specific experience of street harassment as an identifiable (headscarf-wearing) Muslim woman, particularly the normalisation of this kind of harassment for many of her peers, who had come to simply expect such treatment when stepping outside of their own houses. She also touched on the issue of online harassment, and how much weight that can place on the shoulders of activists (and others) who have to cope with multifaceted harassment.
The last speaker before the 10 minute break was a representative from the Sex Workers Open University, along with a proviso that we must not tweet or photograph this speaker. Through the process of relating stories of harassment, the speaker emphasised the importance of addressing why people feel offended if they are called a whore, or identified as one mistakenly, as well as talking about the difference between clients and harassers, and finishing with an emphasis that sex workers need to be included in discussions of harassment, and that we need to end exclusion of sex workers by feminist groups.
The repetition of these stories of harassment may well make the event look like a great big group therapy session, but hopefully that’s only to the cynical reader. It is incredibly important still that these stories are repeated, shared, and added to even if we keep hearing the same thing. Because it’s only through taking part in that kind of cathartic exercise that we will be able to educate others, allow ourselves to recover from what we have experienced, and most importantly, remind ourselves whenever we’re starting to feel weak or tired out by it all, that such harassment is NOT OK, in those big intentional capital letters. We have the support of so many others who have experienced the same, and are sympathetic to the exhaustion that comes with the armours that we clothe ourselves in to cope.
After the break there was an immensely moving performance by (50% of) Sauna Youth, of their piece that will eventually be worked in to a bigger piece called “A Thousand Tiny Pinpricks,” but at present is on their album Distractions as (Trying to take a) Walk. It has stories of harassment in the form of spoken word repeated and layered over music, with both the views of the harassed, and those of bystanders and allies expressed.
Then Laura Bates from Everyday Sexism Project spoke about education and solidarity, the importance of standing alongside one another in order to stand against sexism and sexualised harassment, and reminding us all of the hypocrisy that sometimes occurs, where women are treated equally in some situations but as second class citizens in others.
Bisi Alimi, an LGBTI campaigner, and the first gay person to come out on national television in Nigeria, spoke next about the differences between homophobia and the street harassment experienced by LGBTI people. He touched on the occurrence of corrective rape and aggression faced by trans people, and those with non-binary appearances. Alimi was full of energy, and the talk, although only 10 minutes, was packed full of information, much of which I had not encountered previously even though I am relatively engaged with discourses and media concerning street harassment and campaign work.
Sabria Thompson from Hollaback! Bahamas showed a video explaining the projects they are undertaking, including asking average professional women to wear cameras for several days to record the harassment that they receive, in order to make others understand how frequently the average women receives such harassment and how pervasive it can be.
The final speaker was Vanessa Smith-Torres from Hollaback NOLA, who spoke about how her experience as an architect had influenced her approach to street harassment and the ways in which public spaces need to be changed to make them fully accessible to women. She gave us a preview of the designs for a large scale art project to be created in New Orleans in order to draw attention to the experiences of women and their interactions with being outside and using public spaces.
To finish the event, there was a group panel of all the speakers, taking questions from the audience and discussing various points such as the future of anti-street-harassment work, and finishing with each speaker relating to us the two main things they thought were most important when it comes to combating street harassment.
The one that stuck with me, and has been chiming in my head, every time I go out my front door, has been Briggs’; “Use your voice!”. I think this struck a chord with me, because personally I have always been of a quiet inclination, more likely to ignore someone pressing up against me on the Tube, or simply scowl and say nothing if someone catcalls me.
It served as a reminder also, that we are at our most powerful as a movement when we use our voices in all the ways we can- by communicating the issue, bringing it out in to the open, and making sure that no one can look away or sweep it, or us, under the carpet, or into the quiet corners of nightclubs, or the badly lit streets that we walk down at night, again. That is how we will make this revolution happen.
Ruth is a human rights MA student finishing her MA dissertation on the legal and normative rights of terror suspects in the UK (spoiler alert: rights are being violated). She also plays bass in a band called Kinshot, sews as often as she can, and spends time getting annoyed at the cat sleeping on top of her computer.
A few days ago, I went to an amusement park with two of my friends. With three being such a bad number in those types of situations, we were rotating who was sitting alone, and it was my turn to sit solo on a ride I particularly didn’t like because it jolts you around. (I’ve got bruises from the seat before.) Moving on. As my friends and I were getting in line, I noticed two guys come up behind us to stand in line as well. They were both 15, as I later found out. It wouldn’t have been such a bad situation if they had taken a step back. Even so, they were practically right on top of my friends and I. (Mind you, they were both pretty tall and I’m about 5’2ʺ.)
So we’re minding our own business and we’re waiting in line. My friends are smiling and I’m smiling; we’re all having a good time. Which is very rare for me.
I’m not sure if it was my smile that lead them on, but because my friends had their backs to both boys, I could easily look over their shoulder and see or make eye contact with them. And I did so about 15 times. The taller one (we’ll call him B) even whispered to his friend while maintaining eye contact. It was quite obvious to determine they were talking about me; his friend made eye contact with me only but a second later!
They didn’t say anything in line, though I knew something was coming. I’m usually not the person in my friend group to get hit on; this was my first time going to the park and actually being able to be myself. I felt radiant. I felt empowered and so so happy. I suffer from bipolar depression, severe social anxiety, ADD, and insomnia.
So we get on the ride and it flips, twirls, tosses, and jolts us all around. I was shaking by the time we got off. (It is that bad, but I rode it because my friends wanted to.)
I totally forgot about the guys behind us in the line until we walk out to look at our pictures. I don’t even bother to search for mine amidst the other 10 screens, I decided beforehand that it was terrible.
So my friends and I walked away before everyone else, the crowd was all looking for their pictures, and we got a few steps away before stopping to try and decide what we wanted to eat. I turned so that I was facing both of my friends and it was easier to converse, and once again, over their shoulders, I see the same guys from the line, which was usually normal, but B was looking around as if he lost something. And because I was being self centered (which I would later have every right to be) and thought he was looking for me, I turned around and starting urging my friends to walk to a restaurant that I know had good food no matter what you liked and didn’t like; it had everything.
We had created an even bigger distance between ourselves and the tortuous ride we went on, before I noticed the two guys, once again, out of the corner of my eye. They were looking at me, but I didn’t make eye contact with them, because they weren’t even trying to hide the fact that they were both looking at my ass.
Inwardly, I knew something was going to happen, and the thought sent my mind into a frenzy.
B moved around my friends so that he was now walking backwards in front of me. He asked me for my name, and I, so frazzled at the time, answered honestly. My name is Sarah.
He turned around then with a smile on his face, mumbling my name. I thought he was done. But no, he moved to my side, so that we were now walking beside each other and our arms were brushing absentmindedly. I tried to move away but not even my friends knew what to do. I was on the brink of having a panic attack. Tall and muscular guys quite honestly scare me, and B was just that. He smiled, but it didn’t soften his demeanor.
B walked beside me for a minute before turning to me once more.
ʺWell Sarah, do you wanna make out with me?ʺ he asked, a smirk on his lips. I was shocked and flattered (because this doesn’t happen often to me) and disgusted and scared, all at once. I went with my instinct and clearly said no, my voice unwavering and my eyes remained in contact.
He asked again, and it fazed me because my seconds of being confident were over, though I expected them to tell him off for me alone.
This time, I stuttered because B looked sad that I had turned him down. I still said no, but my faltering pride have him an advantage.
ʺWhy-why not?ʺ he asked with a playful smirk, one that told me he was conceited enough to think I was lying. I told him it was because I didn’t know him, and they only made me sound as if I had known him, I would’ve taken him up on the offer. But honestly, I was just really caught off guard and didn’t know how to respond. B sensed that.
He told me his name and where he was from, adding a chipper, ʺ..and now you know me!ʺ onto the very end. I didn’t respond, and decided to just keep walking. He kept pace. He grabbed my hand loosely, to which I pulled away easily.
He called my name once I had finally managed to lose him walking-wise, and he had drifted back to his friend.
ʺAre you sure you don’t want to make out?ʺ B had asked, and I shook my head no. In response, I asked for his age, and he told me fifteen before I turned around with an exasperated sigh.
Both guys continued to call my name until I was out of earshot, and I made my friends practically run along with me to get away from them.
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.