Being groped, catcalled, followed and flashed should not be everyday experiences for women, but living in our culture of entitled men, it’s a frightening norm.
The truth is, some people regard catcalling as a compliment, or a price women must pay because of their gender. At its core, street harassment affects the mobility of women. If women cannot feel safe walking down the street or taking public transit because their bodies suddenly become public property for men to comment on, there is a problem.
Unfortunately, this issue is often downplayed by men claiming their “nice rack” comments are well-intentioned. It is important to understand that while men may feel their statements are not coming from a place of harm, many women don’t appreciate the comments and view them as serious threats to their safety. That alone should be enough for us to want to end the harassment.
By now, you’ve probably seen the controversial video created by Rob Bliss Creative with Hollaback!’s name attached to it: It showed a woman walking through various parts of Manhattan, experiencing multiple forms of street harassment. You’ll hear the catcalls, witness the stares and even watch one man follow her for five minutes. It shows the prevalence of street harassment and it’s mistaken to pretend that it isn’t incredibly scary for those experiencing it.
The video, posted to YouTube (http://bit.ly/1tFnonu), has garnered over 31 million views.The woman’s experience may be shocking to some, but it comes as no surprise to many of us.
While the video accurately represents the frequency of everyday street harassment, it also falls prey to the unforgiving myth that harassers are predominantly black or Latino, and those who experience street harassment are only white women. (Hollaback! has apologized for presenting this single narrative. It is also creating its own video series to demonstrate the multiple narratives of street harassment.) Through thousands of stories submitted to www.ihollaback.org, there is no denying street harassment crosses the lines of race and class.
Atlanta is not immune to this boorish, damaging behavior.
After being followed down my street, shouted at and chased in one of MARTA’s busiest train stations, I decided to take action and join Hollaback! Atlanta, a growing organization devoted to ending street harassment, with sites in 79 cities and 26 countries.
When I attended Georgia State University downtown, walking to class or hanging with friends in the park resulted in numerous experiences of harassment. I was never able to enjoy the walk to class without some form of verbal harassment. Each time, I was left feeling humiliated, defeated and unsafe. I often instinctively braced myself before walking past a group of men on the sidewalk. If I rode MARTA, I made sure to do so during high-traffic times, making sure that if anything were to happen, there were others around. It was exhausting having to rearrange my day in an attempt to avoid it all.
Upon graduating college, I came to realize this was taking place all over our city. “Smile for me, baby!” and much, much worse have been shouted at me while walking through a crowded MARTA station in Buckhead and on my way to work in Midtown. I’ve been harassed by neighbors, security guards, cashiers, valet attendants and men in cars. I’m not the only one experiencing this. Since its start in 2011, Hollaback! Atlanta’s website has received countless submissions detailing street harassment in our city.
Victims of street harassment must know they’re not alone, and there are ways to respond if they decide to. While Hollaback!’s name may suggest addressing one’s harasser face-to-face, this is not always the safest way to respond. The Hollaback! movement empowers victims to fight back using mobile technology. Hollaback!’s mobile app allows users to record instances of street harassment — even sharing photos of creeps who harass them — and share their stories with a supportive community.
If you’ve never been harassed, I would encourage you to ask your female co-workers, friends or family members if they’ve ever felt uneasy or tense as they walked past a group of men, or if they wear earphones walking down the street to muffle the catcalls. Ask them if they felt empowered and safe after a man “accidentally” groped them on the train.
While the viral video has brought a lot of attention to the issue of street harassment, we shouldn’t let it be the end of the conversation.
Kiersten Smith is director of Hollback! Atlanta, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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