Every day that I suit up for running I am mentally preparing myself for what I am going to encounter out on the streets. No, I’m not worried about my route or the looming danger of shin splints. I am concerned about what street harassment I am going to face. As a solo runner, I often ask myself, “How am I going to respond?” or, “What if it turns physical?” Over the past year I have added pepper spray to the plethora of accessories I wear during a jog, just in case. Thankfully, it’s only served as a safety blanket, but how do I protect myself mentally and emotionally from the attacks that come in the form of honking, yelling and sexually explicit comments? I started running three years ago in response to major life changes. I quickly realized that running made me feel alive and in control of my life. I felt strong. Resilient.
Then I moved to a slightly more urban locale and began running in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. The harassment amped up considerably. My internal responses range from disgust to rage. On a good day, I am fueled by the harassers. I go faster, farther even. If the main source of street harassment comes from the harassers need to dominate and take the power away from women, than I will show them how powerful I can be. But on the bad days, I feel defeated. By the third honk or heckle I am ready to burst into flames from anger. I’m left wondering how other women do it. Especially women in a considerably larger city, with packed streets and sidewalks. There are horror stories all over the internet and in message boards about the harassment that is subjected upon runners in large cities. I am reminded of an article that went viral earlier this year by Katie Prout for The Toast.com in which she describes her worst experience with street harassment while running in Chicago, when a group of pre-teen boys threw debris at her head while telling her to suck their dicks.
Image via Flickr
So what advice are runners being given to combat street harassment? Women who run solo are often told to run in groups. But what if they don’t like to run in groups? And why should a runner have to change their routine? Victims of street harassment are often naively asked, “What were you wearing?” and the same goes for female runners. Personally, I’ve been harassed in the dead of winter, completely bundled up with a mask covering most of my face. The tumblr page But What Was She Wearing? is a place where women are submitting their actual outfits that they were wearing when they were catcalled. It’s become glaringly obvious that choice of outfit does not make or break whether or not you are harassed. I’ve read blog posts by women and members of the LGBT community that don’t want to wear bright colors for fear of harassment. Runners are told to wear bright colors so drivers can see them, but many may be opting to wear drab colors so they don’t stick out to potential harassers.
Women may also be choosing to run more trails to get off the streets, but this comes with another set of dangers. Just last month, a young woman in my community was dragged off of the Bicentennial Trail in Portage, Michigan and into the woods by a male attacker. Thankfully, she escaped and got help (runners are a tough bunch). This incidence just adds to the growing list of worries that come with the decision to run outdoors.
There is also much debate over HOW to respond to catcalls. If you read the comment section in most articles about street harassment you will see that there are many conflicting views on not only how to respond, but how we should feel about being harassed. I am shocked when people say, “Just ignore it”, “It’s just life” and “You’re too sensitive.” While I can physically ignore verbal harassment, and usually do, I cannot forget the man who pulls over to honk at me or the young boy who comments on my body as I run past him. These little everyday harassment incidents are insidious. We cannot ignore the fact that we are being treated like public property.
So what is a runner to do?
Remind your friends and family that you are dealing with harassment on your runs and you need some support and solidarity. Download a safety app, or buy a TigerLady. But maybe most importantly, keep running outside. You are in control of your own run and every time that you lace up your shoes you’re running with countless others that won’t let street harassment put them on a treadmill.
Chelsea is a full-time sales assistant for an advertising company in West Michigan and a part-time Graphic Design student. She is proud to call herself a feminist and feels passionately about speaking up for women’s rights. You can find her on twitter @LitSmitten.
“As Safe As Before” is a new anti-harassment campaign in Alexandria, Egypt. “Volunteers are split up based on gender, with the men dispersed to spot potential cases of harassment, and the women distributing information to girls and families about victims’ rights and encouraging them to report any case of assault to the police.”
“Nirali Shah, Ishani Dasgupta, Kaneez Surka, Ahvanya Sharma, RJ Malishka and Lipi Mehta have all been the subject of unwanted advances by strangers in public — and on more than one occasion, victims of sexual abuse.
The women recall uncomfortable and confusing instances of harassment from when they were as young as 10.”
“Sexual harassment is not flirting. It’s more like hunting, with the whole city becoming a giant hunting ground. For women, walking in the street can become an excruciating, fearful experience…
The hunting happens everywhere in broad daylight, with the tacit approval of all – including the very authorities supposed to protect women. There is no risk in this hunt.
The feeling of incapacitation and helplessness for women is overwhelming. “It gives you a feeling of powerlessness because it seems that, since they aren’t physically attacking you, you don’t have a right to do anything to them,” says Lucille.
The irony of a system that goes to great lengths to “protect women’s bodies” is that while harassers are acting freely, stalking and groping under the eyes of all, the moral police is arresting women for “bad hijab”, skimpy manteaus or tight leggings.”
“I remember a stranger saying something nasty to me on the street while walking home,” Rodriguez explains recently in an interview with Yours Truly. “I was so mad but I couldn’t say anything back at that moment. What would be the point? When I got back I started to work on this aggressive sound on a track. As soon as I turned the mic on to record, I started to sing what I wanted to say to that guy on the street, but now I get to sing it every night in front of a crowd.”
“Street harassment can also cause those of us who experience it to avoid certain places, or to feel shame or self-blame after we’re harassed. We may question why we were walking in a certain location or why we wearing a particular outfit, looking for ways to blame ourselves for our harassment.
People who are harassed for nursing in public experience similar things. They may stop going out in public, and, in some cases, it may even cut a parent’s nursing relationship with their child short, as nursing in public becomes too challenging for them and they can’t keep their supply up.
Or they may engage in self-blame for the harassment, thinking that they should have used a cover or gone out to their car to avoid being seen.
All of these consequences are a big deal – they have a damaging effect on the people experiencing them and affect people’s mental health, emotional well-being, and physical safety.”
“After Tuesday’s emotional match at the U.S. Open where Williams defeated her sister in three sets, reporters only wanted to ask about one thing–how it felt to play Venus.
After being asked the question multiple times, Queen Serena was rightly irritated, but when a reporter asked her why she wasn’t smiling during the press conference after her win she kept it all the way real.
To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here,” Williams said.”
“We should train our sons to be respectful to women and our daughters to be confident enough to report a disrespectful man. But most importantly, we should tell men that women shouldn’t only be respected because they are some ones daughter, sister or mother but because of the fact that they are fellow human beings, worthy of it.”
“A controversial new mural went up in downtown Chicago earlier this month. It tells viewers: “Stop telling women to smile.”
Brooklyn-based artist, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, created the piece to address street harassment of women. As soon as I saw her latest work, displayed near Columbia College Chicago on 8th and Wabash, I was ecstatic…
During first week of school, I was feeling a little stressed, so I walked around campus. As I walked down the street, I started trying to think of something happy to brighten my mood.
Naturally, I began to smile. No sooner did that happen did I hear a guy say, “That smile is for me, right?” I just kind of rolled my eyes and kept walking. Then, I got angry. I wanted to say, “No, my smile is not for you. My smile is for me.” I couldn’t say that though. There are a lot of reasons why, namely that I wanted to avoid confrontation and the best way for me to do that was to keep walking.
The most unfortunate part of these types of situations is they take something beautiful — a smile — and turn it into something dangerous, something to be ashamed of, something that gets patrolled. What I do or don’t do is no one else’s business. That should be respected.
So thank you, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, for publicly saying what I could not. I hope that everyone takes notice.”
“To relegate women to a special women-only social network rather than address the fundamental issue of enforcing widespread online civility is both putting our heads in the sand and blatantly, purposefully removing women’s voices from public conversations…
I propose an alternative — how about men and women alike embrace online civility and help each other loudly confront inappropriate behavior when present. A salient and creative example is Kari Traa, who recently founded Trollfighters and staged a fashion show to give victims of online harassment a venue to very publicly shame their harassers.”
“On Friday, Sgt. Mason was arrested and charged with misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure and engaging in a lewd act. San Jose police spokesman Albert Morales confirmed on Wednesday that Mason has been placed on paid administrative leave.”
“She recounted further tales of harassment from her time as a homeless person: “I’ve never been more propositioned by businessmen in my life. It was almost like they were sharks that could smell blood, like of vulnerability. I’d go back to my car, writing songs, and men would literally come up and proposition me. They would be like, ‘Hey, do you need rent money?’ you know, and things like that. It was pretty wild. I never took anybody up on it, but it was interesting to see this side of men that basically would prey on somebody vulnerable.”
“A coalition of NGOs and other stakeholders on Tuesday identified sexual harassment, intimidation and lack of support as some causes for the declining rate of women’s participation in elections….The coalition of NGOs and stakeholders observed that cultural norms, male dominance, high illiteracy level among women also caused the participation and interest in politics to dwindle.”
“A variety of United Nations and non-governmental organization reports have illustrated that Syrian refugees are increasingly vulnerable to street harassment in host communities. Because there have been no official statistical studies on the prevalence of street harassment in Jordan, there is no evidence that the rate of street harassment experienced by Syrian refugee women in Jordanian cities is any different than the rate of harassment experienced by Jordanian women in Jordanian cities.
The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of street harassment experienced by both Syrian and Jordanian women in Jordan.”
“I used to think it was kind of flattering, and then I noticed it happening all the time. I realized it wasn’t about me; it was about these guys wanting to exert their animal prowess and dominance over women.”
“Ultimately, fines won’t stop street harassment alone. Only structural changes—greater education in schools, publicity campaigns, more and better policing and legislation if necessary—will eradicate street harassment. Unfortunately, all of these measures are expensive, and difficult to introduce. If lawmakers view street harassment as a real crime, and commit real funds to tackle it, with fines if necessary, there’s every possibility we can wipe out catcalling in a generation. But will our governments make this a priority? I wouldn’t count on it.”
“I remind her: If someone harasses you, fight back however you feel most comfortable and most safe—in the moment with your words, or by crossing the street. Make art that expresses your thoughts and feelings. Write it down. Educate people. Talk to your friends. Talk to me.”
“With a view on maintaining law and order in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, as many as 20,000 police personnel deployed as bandobust during the 11 days of Ganesh festival and the same forces would also be deployed for the Assembly sessions and Bakrid festival that fall on September 23 and 25 respectively.
Along with 20,000 police personnel from Hyderabad and other districts of Telangana, additional forces from Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are being drawn for bandobust, in order to maintain peace during the festivities and to curb pick pocketing,eve-teasing in the city.”
“I was so angry I could barely get any words out. We have the right to be angry when a man stares at us. We have the right to be angry when a man passes a remark about our bodies. Because no, it is not a compliment. It does not make us feel beautiful. We get to decide when a stare makes us uncomfortable. We can tell the difference between a man “appreciating our beauty”, and a man who is trying to “put us in our place” by making us feel like we don’t belong.
We all know the stare I am talking about — the kind that makes our skin crawl. The kind that makes us avoid eye contact. The kind that makes us retreat into a shell, just so that we can make ourselves invisible. So no, it is nothing remotely romantic, it is not personal, it is not friendly. It is an expression of power designed to make us feel vulnerable, to assert the masculinity of public spaces.”
“However, is keeping women away from men the answer to resolve this major societal issue?
“Keeping women away from men is not the answer to sexual harassment because at the end of the day, I may not be harassed by a cab driver but I am positive that a minute’s walk down the street would result in a few unwanted words and looks,” said Sara Mohammed, a 21-year-old Mass Communication student.
“Men in Egypt need to understand that we are not inferior, and they have no right to harass a woman regardless of what she is wearing or how she’s acting,” Sara explained. “It’s time they accepted that!”
The Pink Taxi initiative does resolve a small fraction of the sexual harassment epidemic in Egypt; women no longer have to fear getting sexually harassed, assaulted, or violated by a cab driver.”
“Tens of thousands of people around the world are now using a free personal-safety mobile app that allows friends to virtually walk you home at night.
The Companion app, created by five students from the University of Michigan, enables users to request a friend or family member to keep them company virtually and track their journey home via GPS on an online map.
Although they can do so, the friend or family member does not need to have installed the Companion app, which is available for both Android and iOS.
The user can send out several requests to different phone contacts in case people are not available to be a companion or not with their phones at the time.
Those contacted then receive an SMS text message with a hyperlink in it that sends them to a web page with an interactive map showing the user walking to their destination. If the user strays off their path, falls, is pushed, starts running, or has their headphones yanked out of their phone, the app detects these changes in movement and asks the user if they’re OK.
If the user is fine, they press a button on the app to confirm within 15 seconds. If they do not press the button, or a real emergency is occurring, the Companion app transforms the user’s phone into a personal alarm system that projects loud noises to scare criminals from the scene, and gives you the option to instantly call the police.”
But there’s also a lot of people here and, consequently, a lot of room for mischief. There’s over 4,000 people per square kilometer in Amsterdam to be precise, which is about twice the amount of people in the same amount of space in New York and London.
So many humans sharing so little space doesn’t only lead to horrendously clogged roads (and bike paths) during rush hour, but also inevitably to more catcalls, more groping and to more instances of harassment in these overcrowded public spaces.
In January and February, I conducted a detailed survey of people’s experiences with street harassment in this ‘great small city’.
In just two weeks, I received a flood of over 150 responses from women, men, LGBTQ-identified folks and people of color. What their experiences underlined was that street harassment was happening in Amsterdam and that people were itching to talk about it.
The three most popular types of harassment reported were ‘Greetings’ like Hey baby and Hi sexy, Hissing or Whistling and Sexual Comments. Below is a chart of all reported types of harassment by the survey respondents in Amsterdam:
Along with the types of harassment listed above, a significant number of people also reported experiencing non-verbal forms of harassment like leering, or smirking. One respondent described their harasser(s) as, “Looking at me with their eyes like they are already ripping my clothes off and raping me very violently. Looking at me like me fighting back would only turn them on more”.
What do these and other forms of street harassment do to those who experience it? What are the effects and long-term consequences, if any? To some survey respondents, the answer to these questions was that there were none, and described their experiences as ‘benign’ or ‘normal’.
Some respondents described their experiences as complimentary. Last year, New York Post writer Doree Lewark spoke to such interpretations, pointing to the euphoric nature of catcalls: “[W]hen a total stranger notices you, it’s validating…What’s so wrong about a ‘You are sexy!’ comment from any observant man?… For me, it’s nothing short of exhilarating, yielding an unmatched level of euphoria”.
But for many people in Amsterdam, what they experienced was far from euphoric. One respondent explained that she has been diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) as a result of years of street harassment in Amsterdam, a recent encounter of which left her with a broken nose after she called her harassers out.
Below are two figures illustrating the extent of the effects of street harassment on the folks like the respondent above. The first shows 14 different effects that street harassment has had on people’s day-to-day lives in Amsterdam. The second gives a glimpse into some of the emotional effects that street harassment has on people who experience it:
Survey respondents used words like “suspecting”, “fearful”, “frustrated”, “depressed” and “angry” to describe how they felt after being harassed in the streets or on public transport in Amsterdam. The experiences of these respondents were far from euphoric—rather, they are red flags that what is understood as ‘harmless’ or ‘playful’ to some is in actuality having a huge impact on how people move through public spaces and interact with others.
In April, I launched a local Hollaback! chapter in Amsterdam to provide an outlet to folks who have experienced street harassment to post their stories, get resources and mobilize on-the-ground actions. A local partner, StraatIntimidatie, is also currently running an online petition, vying for a nationwide law against street harassment.
One story told and one signature at a time, street harassment is being named and fought here in Amsterdam and around the world. Next time, I’ll talk about some cool new ways that online and digital technologies are being brought into the fold to really shed light on the pervasiveness of street harassment in Amsterdam and beyond. I’ll also talk about some important challenges that come with using these newer forms of activism and how they risk perpetuating certain racial and ethnic stereotypes about who harasses, who is harassed and why. See you next month!
You can find the full analysis of the Amsterdam survey results here or by contacting Eve at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Eve and Hollaback! Amsterdam on Twitter at @evearonson and @iHollaback_AMS and show your support by liking Hollaback! Amsterdam’s Facebook page here.
“Nottingham Women’s Centre is coordinating a summit on Thursday 24th September which will explore ways in which attitudes can be altered and behaviour changed to make public places safer for women. The summit will bring together representatives from the Police, local transport providers, universities, businesses and the City, District and County Councils, to discuss the behaviour women are subjected to in public. The most effective ways in which women can be encouraged to report incidents of harassment – confident that they will be taken seriously and that appropriate action taken – will be considered in a bid to ensure Nottinghamshire is the destination of choice for women in terms of work, study, socialising or retail.
The event will culminate in a call for individuals, agencies and businesses to make a pledge towards a new Women’s Safety Charter for Nottinghamshire. Nottingham Women’s Centre is welcoming messages of support for the summit and examples of the everyday harassment that women face. Please use the hashtag #Nottacompliment to show your support or share your examples. More info.”
It’s 1991, and Courtney Love, performing with ‘Hole,’ stage dives in Glasgow. It’s 1991 and Love stage dives and is violated by the crowd. It’s 1991 and I am 10.
It’s 2015 and Iggy Azalea gives an interview saying she had to stop crowd surfing because “Fans think it’s funny to finger her.” It’s 2015 and I am 34. In 24 years it appears nothing has changed.
Fandom, proper, all consuming fandom that devours your being and speaks to your soul, whether that be sport, cult TV or music, takes effort. My friends and I have repeatedly travelled the British Isles to see “one more gig” by that special artist – the ones that make life complete. Safe to say I don’t just like music, I am obsessed with it. So when the thing I love comes to represent something seedy, it breaks my heart.
Over the years I have been doing that “one more gig” or spending some of the best days of my life in a muddy field, at a festival. I have more than my fair share of harassment stories. I have been groped on more than one occasion, cornered, cat called, told by a male security guard – someone employed with the purpose of keeping festival goers safe – that the theft of my tent was nothing to worry about because “I could always sleep in his tent”. So fast forward to June 2015, I’m watching my favourite band play a career-defining gig and I‘m groped again by a complete stranger, no small talk first or even an introduction. A two handed full on grab, passed off as acceptable because “it’s the last song.” I’ve now finally had enough.
A blog written in haste the next day provokes a huge response – women telling me similar stories, and worse. Stories telling of how worryingly common harassment is happening in the background of dark, sweaty, packed-in music crowds. Some women tell of multiple experiences. Some tell of how this has impacted their own behaviour, like choosing to not go on their own to gigs or even not going at all. The music obsessive in me hates this. How can the thing I love be reduced to this?
In response, I established the ‘Safe Gigs for Women’ Twitter account, as a way for women to share their stories in an anonymous way, in order to highlight the harassment being experienced by women at gigs. This has been picked up on by a local authority in London that is well known for its music scene. Together we will be looking at improving the gig going experience with venues, gig goers and bands, in order to ensure all people, male and female get to enjoy live music, for the enjoyable, beautiful thing that it is.
Born and raised in London, Tracey is a graduate of City University. She has spent the best part of her life at gigs and festivals and obsessing about music and created the “Safe Gigs for Women” project.
When I was 21 years old, I went to live for a year in Mexico as part of a cultural exchange. Once I took a bus to a small town and as soon as I got off the bus an older man, maybe 50ish, starting following me and saying rude things to me and looking around to make sure everyone heard him. He was feeling proud of himself. I thought he would stop after a while if he got no reaction from me but he didn’t. Eventually I’d had enough. I stopped on the street, turned around, looked at him and screamed as loudly as I could (in Spanish) ‘LEAVE ME ALONE!’
Everyone saw and heard and he was so embarrassed he slunk away. I felt great!
Optional: What’s one way you think we can make public places safer for everyone?
Lately the weather in California has been very hot so of course I wouldn’t go out of the house in a wool sweater. Instead I went out in a tank top. As soon as school was over, I immediately walked home so I could quickly get back to my cool home. I was a block away from my home where I see two young teens. They were already looking at me and I got a very uneasy feeling. I took out my phone and called my sister who was already home. While the phone was ringing I could hear the to boys trying to get my attention. One seemed to be laughing while the other tried to call me over as if I were a dog. My sister eventually answered and I asked her to come out of the house because I was being harassed. She hung up the phone and from a distance I saw her waiting for me at the front door.
I could still hear the boy yelling at me. Only this time he began to say, “Hey bitch!” over and over just because I wouldn’t turn and look at him. I felt so disgusted and angry. I tried to calm myself down to not start crying because of the frustration I felt. I found it so unfair the way they were treating me. I don’t deserve to be harassed. I was not “asking for it” because of the way I dressed. NO ONE (male, female, lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, etc.) DESERVES TO BE HARASSED OR WORRY IF THEIR OUTFIT IS “TOO REVEALING”.
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.