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A Guide to Approaching Women on the Street

Resources, street harassment | on October, 29, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

By Julie Mastrine

When I first became a social media volunteer for Stop Street Harassment, curating the Twitter and Facebook feeds for the nonprofit was tricky — I could find very few articles, blog posts, or tweets on the matter. Fast forward to 2 years later, and I can barely keep up with all the stories coming from women and LGBTQ folks exposing this cultural issue. The latest content to go viral is a video of a woman walking around New York City for 10 hours and being harassed more than 100 times.

Women have been taught street harassment is normal or even a compliment, but you can see from the video how sobering these incidents are when taken together over a few hours (now imagine them amassed over a lifetime).

And yet, many people take away a twisted message from calls to end street harassment. They assume ending street harassment means squashing all communication with strangers in public. They think women never want to be approached by people they don’t know. Usually the conversation goes like this:

Me: “We need to work to end street harassment.”

Opponent: “So you’re saying we should never approach anyone in public? What will that do to our communities!?”

This argument is a straw man. Feminists fighting street harassment are not trying to end all public interactions. We are simply asking that public interactions be respectful, mindful of personal space, free of unwanted sexual or objectifying remarks, and mutually desired.

Street harassment is rooted in a need to assert power, objectification of women’s bodies, and entitlement to women’s time and attention. But it is possible to have respectful street interactions — we just have to learn how to distinguish street harassment from street respect.

Street Harassment:

1. Saying (or yelling or shouting) sexual or objectifying comments. Some examples from stories women have submitted to Stop Street Harassment’s blog:

“Show me your tits!”

“Hi babe, would you like to touch my dick?”

“Have you got hair on it yet, love?” (said to a 15-year-old)

“That’s what I like, a woman on her knees.”

“Sluts!”

“Bitch!”

“I like your boobies!”

“Fine ass.”

“Take off your top!”

“Wanna f**k?”

Etcetera. Honestly, the examples of lewd comments go on and on and on.

2. Making sexual or objectifying gestures/disrespecting personal space:

Kissy noises

Following via car, bike or foot

Leering/staring

Pinching/groping

Blocking someone’s path

Taking photos up someone’s skirt or dress

Masturbating in public (do I really have to note this one? Apparently, yes.)

It should be pretty clear these actions and comments are disrespectful. So what constitutes street respect?

If you genuinely just want to make a new friend or are interested in speaking to someone who piques your interest on the street, you can absolutely go about it in a respectful way.

Street Respect:

1. Give compliments (but tread lightly).

* Steer clear of compliments that are actually just objectification of someone’s body or body parts.

* Try complimenting an actual object: “Great dress!” “I love the color of your shoes.” “Where did you get that awesome bag?”

2. Find common ground by asking questions.

* “I’ve read that book and really liked it. Are you enjoying it?”

* “Have you visited the bistro on 11th St.? I might go there for lunch and would love to hear an opinion.”

* “I used to have a beagle just like yours. Is he friendly?”

* “Do you use Lyft? I’m trying to get to Market St. and wondered if it’s worth installing the app.”

* “Can you recommend any good cafés nearby?”

3. Read body language. Take the following gestures to indicate someone is not interested in talking:

* Headphones in

* Walking briskly (like the woman in the aforementioned video!)

* Head down

* Lack of eye contact

* One-word answers

Too many women and LGBTQ folks live in fear of violence after a lifetime of being sexualized and approached aggressively in public. It’s absolutely possible to end street harassment while fostering respectful street interactions. Spread positivity on the streets, and exhibit genuine interest in and respect for those around you — don’t resort to harassing and intimidating others.

[Editor's Note: Check out more of our resources on this subject.]

Julie Mastrine is a writer and feminist. She is the Social Media Manager at Care2 and is a social media volunteer for Stop Street Harassment. Follow Julie on Twitter and check out her e-book.

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World Bank Meeting about Harassment on Public Transportation

public harassment, SSH programs | on October, 28, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Today I joined Joe Vess from Promundo at the World Bank offices to discuss how to create an effective anti-harassment campaign on public transportation. The World Bank is preparing to launch a pilot campaign on 30 buses in Mexico City this winter.

Here is more about what and why they plan to do. Stay tuned for more updates:

“In Mexico City, 65 percent of women have been victims of some type of gender violence on public transportation or at mass transport stops, terminals or platforms, according to government figures.

It is a reality repeated in other countries of the region. A survey by the non-governmental organization Action Aid in four Brazilian states revealed that 44% of women had suffered sexual harassment on public transportation.

In the first eight months of 2014, 129 people have been arrested for this type of conduct on mass transport systems in Bogota, Colombia, according to police records….

The World Bank and local organizations are developing a pilot program to implement effective measures to combat the problem of sexual harassment on public transportation and mass transport stops in Latin America.

Preliminary research identified four common denominators in interviews with users and public transport officials:

* Reporting is not easy: there is an overall sense that it is not worth reporting incidents because it is a complicated procedure that almost never produces results.

* There is little solidarity among strangers: if there were more of a sense of community, people would speak up when an incident occurs and would be more likely to support victims.

* Segregation is not enough: many users consider segregation a stopgap measure that does not address inappropriate behavior. Some even believe that it is another way to victimize women since it suggests that they “choose” to subject themselves to harassment if they do not travel in the women’s sections.

* Improved infrastructure = more security: participants feel safer when stations and platforms are in good condition.

Based on these results, experts recommend several measures to address the problem.

These include a public awareness campaign to encourage users to join forces against perpetrators, and new services to make users feel safer (for example, night buses that go to users’ houses, in the manner of the San Francisco system). Recommendations also include the development of mobile apps to report harassment, seek help or information.”

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Video: 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman

Resources, street harassment | on October, 28, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

UPDATE: I posted this before I had a chance to watch it. After watching it and reading comments about it, two things come to mind:

1- I agree with some people who are saying that not everything depicted looked like harassment, but I think the point was to show the accumulation of how often men were speaking to her on the street, unsolicited, in a single day. I doubt they were all saying good morning and bless you to men walking by so in that sense, they are still treating her like public property that they can interrupt at any time. 

2 – I am disappointed that the clip reinforces the stereotype that street harassment is men of color harassing white women when men of all races harass and women of all races are harassed… And some women harass and some men are harassed!! What would be more useful is a video that follows five different people of different backgrounds/identities in different parts of the country for a day to show the different types of harassment they each experience.

But that said, this video is getting a lot of views and attention and that is something this issue needs!

Via CNN.com:

“God bless you, mami,”

“Hey baby.”

“DAMN.”

“You don’t wanna talk?”

This is just a sampling of the taunts one woman experienced in 10 hours of walking though the streets of New York. Her experience was filmed and edited into a 1:56 public service announcement for anti-street-harassment group Hollaback!

Street harassment disproportionately impacts women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and young people, the group says on its website: “Although the degree to which Shoshana gets harassed is shocking, the reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence.”

Inspired by the experiences of his girlfriend, shooter Rob Bliss reached out to Hollaback! to partner on a PSA highlighting the impact of street harassment. For 10 hours, he walked with a camera in his backpack in front of volunteer Shoshana B. Roberts, who walked silently with two microphones in her hands.

The impact? You’ll have to see it for yourself.”

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USA: Why #Ferguson matters

correspondents, News stories, public harassment, race | on October, 27, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Angie Evans, Washington, DC, SSH Blog Correspondent

Walking across the street to pay the parking meter, a man pulled to curb. I kept my “resting bitch face” on but he still rolled down his window to invite me for a ride. He made sure to comment on my pretty face. I wish this was a rare occurrence; but it isn’t. I wish I could say I was wearing something low cut or short; but I wasn’t. I wish I looked too good that day; but I didn’t. I always wonder what I could do differently when these things happen and realize the answer is nothing.

As a woman, you experience a daily barrage of commentary on all things. You can expect the opinion of strangers whether you smile out of politeness or frown as a defense mechanism. As I walked to a coffee conversation about #FergusonOctober and away from my harasser, the parallels between the microaggressions I experience as a white woman on the street and the institutional racism African Americans have grappled with for centuries that spurred the murder of Michael Brown were obvious. Racism and sexism leave us vulnerable and often disempowered in a society that normalizes both problems

One outcome of institutionalized racism is police harassment. There is no denying that black youth are portrayed negatively in the media. For every positive story about an African American thought leader, writer, or everyday joe, there are half a dozen stories reinforcing racial stereotypes about criminal activity or academic failure. And although you wouldn’t know it from watching the news, the majority of all violent crime in the US is committed by white people – not young black men.

Police are fed the same media we are though, so it’s not surprising that an 18-year-old black kid and a white cop would feel tension around one another. And it’s also not shocking that the media engaged in victim-blaming when the #Ferguson story came out. They wanted to find some way to justify this young man’s death…but lets be real, even if the kid had robbed a store, there was no justification for killing him. No law makes that moral.

A group of women in skirts doesn’t provide the grounds for catcalling anymore than black kids hanging out on the sidewalk warrants police harassment and violence.

As more African American families have been sharing their own stories of racially-motivated harassment in recent months, people like me are realizing that what happened in Ferguson wasn’t a one time event. Thanks to more video recordings, we can even see some of these stories. Like when a video was released earlier this month showing a police officer breaking the window of a black family’s car in order to pull the man in the passenger seat from it. Why did the officer stop the car? Because the driver wasn’t wearing her seat belt. Unfortunately the situation escalated quickly. With stories about young black men being killed by police officers are pouring forward left and right, the family was scared and even called the police station from inside the vehicle.

Perhaps the cop who broke through the window isn’t a bad guy. Perhaps the passenger isn’t an angel. But the real problem isn’t the players in this story, the problems are that police disproportionately target persons of color and many African Americans justifiably fear white police officers.

You can’t have a true democracy if one group lives in fear of another and yet, that is our society.

This kind of police violence is a symptom of racism and also poor training, recruitment, and a lack of accountability. If you want to learn more about what can be done to end police harassment, read the suggestions in SSH Blog Correspondent Sarah’s post from earlier this month, for example, offering community-wide trainings on how to report police abuse in your area.

Angie is a community organizer and social worker. Last year she quit her job to travel around the world with her husband. They have just returned and are continuing to write about travel and adventure at http://whereisseangie.com

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India: “SHE” teams to stop harassers

News stories, public harassment | on October, 26, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Via The Hindu:

“Cracking the whip on men sexually harassing women in public places by passing lewd comments or making indecent gestures, the city police on Friday formed ‘SHE’ teams to catch such persons.

‘Hundred of these teams, each comprising policewomen and policemen carrying secret video cameras, will look out for men harassing women at bus-stops, colleges, and junctions,’ said Hyderabad Police Commissioner M. Mahender Reddy at a press conference.

‘Clad in plainclothes, members of ‘SHE’ teams will mix with the general public and lay in wait searching for men stalking or pestering women. They will videotape them and then two members will catch the person while the other will stand by in support in case of emergency,’ the Commissioner said.”

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Iran: 2000 People Speak out Against Acid Attacks on Womem

News stories, public harassment | on October, 25, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

There are many reasons why people engage in street harassment. One reason is to reinforce existing power dynamics (such as sexism, homophobia, racism) and social norms. For example, someone who feels more powerful than another person may feel entitled to comment on and evaluate that person’s appearance or actions (“nice ass” “ugly cow” “should you really be eating that?” “you should let your hair grow out” “you have too much make-up on”). It might mean trying to make someone feel unsafe in the space you are so that they will leave and the space can “belong” to you.

In Iran recently there are men who have taken this to extreme. They are splashing women with acid (to hurt and disfigure them) if they don’t like what the women are doing or how they look (not wearing a veil).

Via Feministing:

Over the past few weeks, at least eight women have been attacked in Isfahan, Iran, by men on motorcycles who splashed them with acid. In response, more than 2,000 Iranians in the city came out to protest yesterday, denouncing Islamic extremism and calling on the authorities to end the attacks. 

The attacks came amidst debate over a new law that, according to the New York Timesis ”aimed at protecting citizens who feel compelled to correct those who, in their view, do not adhere to Iran’s strict social laws”–essentially empowering extremist vigilantes to act as the “morality police” on their fellow citizens. Like, perhaps, by blinding and disfurging women wearing “un-Islamic” dress. Indeed, protestors say that the women attacked were targeted because they were “improperly veiled.” Iranian authorities have forcefully denied that–no doubt less than eager to have the attacks linked to the country’s mandatory veiling policy.

Iran’s president has spoken out against the new law, saying, “May such a day never come that some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause divisions, all under the flag of Islam.” The protestors yesterday were even more clear: “Freedom and security are the rights of Iranian women.”

Bravo to everyone who is speaking out. No one should fear having acid thrown at them for simply going about their day and occupying public space.

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#OrangeDay Chalking for Safe Public Spaces

street harassment | on October, 25, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Message from board member Erin

On the 25th of every month, the UNiTE Campaign hosts #OrangeDay to raise awareness about gender issues. Today, 25 October, focuses on “Safe and Empowering Public Spaces with and for Women and Girls.”

Stop Street Harassment held a chalk walk and flyering in New York City this afternoon for it, led by our co-social media manager Khiara. Thanks to her and to everyone who participated!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m visiting relatives on a farm in southern VA and wrote my own chalk message next to a road where I’ve been harassed while running during past visits.

I am so grateful the UN is bringing attention to this issue today to show it’s a serious global problem. And we at SSH are committed to speaking out about this problem today and every day.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.