Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbia MO, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Los Angeles, Muncie IN, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond VA, San Francisco, Tucson, Twin Cities
Lindsay Allen is new to the Des Moines Hollaback! leadership team as the Communications Coordinator. She has a background in higher education, social justice, and women’s studies.
“Can I holla at you a minute?”
Those were the first words of the first time I remember being yelled at on the street, just for being a woman and being there. It was strange to me, as I rarely saw anyone I didn’t know in my dinky hometown of just around 1,000 people, let alone on my short two block walk to the local grocery store. As I walked into the parking lot, wearing my shorts and new t-shirt purchased with my babysitting money, a car rolled up behind me and slowed to a stop next to me.
“Can I holla at you a minute?” A young man leaned out the window and looked me up and down.
“What?” I shifted from foot to foot, looking around the parking lot for anyone else.
“Can I holla at you a minute? You look good.”
“What? Uhm, I’m thirteen?” I said as I turned and took quick, long strides to the doors of the store without looking back.
It was a weird experience for me as a young girl, and frightening. It left me wondering what I could have done to prompt this random stranger to say those things to me, and particularly to continue pursuing me once I was clearly uncomfortable. I couldn’t figure it out, no matter how hard I thought about it. I was scared, and it made me worried to go out in my own hometown for some time afterward. Should I stop wearing shorts? Should I not go to the store alone, even in the middle of the day?
I think back to that day, and think of the many times since then that I have been yelled at on the street. Even today, at my own place of work, I was whistled at and hollered at by some young men. I thought it would be apt to tell my original story, given the words used and how that experience has always made me question a culture in which I was made to be scared of these men on the street for fear of what they might say, a culture in which I was told I needed to alter my behavior so it wouldn’t happen. Don’t wear revealing clothes. Don’t walk alone. Don’t respond. Take self-defense classes. Don’t make eye contact.
I didn’t have the words for years and years afterward for what it was that was happening to me, and even to this day I sometimes excuse the behavior, but it is something I’m working on. I came to Hollaback! because I want to change the culture; it is damaging to all genders. I know now that I have a community that will encourage me to Hollaback!
Jess Staskal is the newest addition to the Hollaback! Des Moines leadership team. Jess joins us from the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, where she serves as communications director. We asked her to share why street harassment is an issue for her and how she came to Hollaback! Here is her story:
I’m sure it happened before this, but my first real street harassment experience happened when I was about 14.
I was on a family vacation in Mexico with my mom, dad, older brother, my grandma and my aunt. We were walking around going into little shops and restaurants, and I was walking a little behind the rest of my family, but still close enough to tell I was with them. This man came up to me, ran his hand down my neck and then down the rest of my back and whispered something in Spanish. I felt his hot breath in my ear. I froze. I had no idea what to do. All of the sudden I realized that my parents were already 40 or 50 feet ahead and were turning around a corner. He kept saying things to me that he knew I didn’t understand, and then several of his friends started hollering things at me too. He was stroking my long, blonde hair, so rare in southern Mexico, and he smiled when he saw that I had started crying. I was so scared, I didn’t know what to do, and so I just kept standing there, shaking, letting it happen to me. It wasn’t until he ran his forefinger down the front of my stomach toward my bikini line that my fight or flight kicked in and I started running. He didn’t chase after, thank god, but just laughed as I ran away.
I didn’t tell my parents why I was crying, or why I didn’t want to leave the hotel for the rest of the vacation.
I didn’t hear about Hollaback! until I got to college, but since then I’ve always been an admirer and a supporter. I’m glad to be able to join the team at Hollaback! Des Moines. Though I didn’t understand it when I was 14, I now know that street harassment is about power and control, just like sexual assault and domestic violence. Men are taught that their actions will always be excused by “Boys will be boys,” and “Well, did you see her? She looked much older than 14.”
Most of the time, I still freeze when I’m harassed on the street. If they’re far enough away, or if it’s light out and there are others around, I may yell something back or flip them off. But there have been countless times when I’m walking home and its dark, and I’m alone, and a stranger says something, and I’m instantly taken back to when I was 14 and he kept touching me, even as I was shaking and crying in the middle of the street. Hollaback has helped teach me that it’s not my fault, and that I am not powerless against street harassers, but sometimes it’s just too much, and I run. And that’s ok.
A bunch of boys driving past me at the state fairgrounds whistled and were making rude comments.
Have you have ever been curious about using “personal safety products” to protect yourself from street harassers? We have an event for you!
Join Hollaback! Des Moines for a product presentation and safe-space discussion of personal safety products, co-sponsored by Damsel in Defense!
Tuesday, August 6 from 6-8 p.m.
1611 11th Street
Des Moines, Iowa
The event will feature a demonstration, as well as a raffle and silent auction, of Damsel in Defense products, with proceeds benefiting Hollaback! DSM. Hollaback leaders will be on site to facilitate a safe space discussion of using PSP’s in the event of street harassment. There is no purchase necessary to attend this event–everyone is welcome to come learn and discuss!
Questions? Contact email@example.com or RSVP on our Facebook page!
I had wanted to see a movie tonight. I had to change my plans because I was supposed to baby-sit. I shouldn’t have cleared my schedule, because the woman whose kids I was supposed to baby-sit never called me. I sat at home for a while, waiting for her call. Anyway, I decided to ride my bike to the grocery store at about eight o’ clock. I couldn’t go two miles without being yelled at or honked at. Shouting “let’s see some titties” only makes me hate you.
by Becca Lee
We are officially ONE WEEK AWAY from the first-ever HOLLA::Revolution, a 1-day anti-street harassment conference being held at New York University! The conference is featuring TED-talk type speeches from international Hollaback! site leaders, including founder and Executive Director Emily May, Ottawa’s Julie Lalonde, Philadelphia’s Rochelle Keyhan, and many more, as well as some heavy-hitters in the feminist world: Jennifer Pozner, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Jamia Wilson, Nicola Briggs, and still more! Yes, this is a day dedicated to channeling some major energy against street harassment, and the best part is….
I GET TO BE THERE!
Yee haw, this little ole Iowan gal gets to pal around with Hollaback peeps in Hollaback’s very own birthplace, the Big Apple! New York City, baby!
Needless to say, I’m excited.
Perhaps more needless to say…my mother is freaking out. Because of the pimps and shit.
Going to an anti-harassment conference = panic over harassment that could happen in transit. Oh, the irony!
I don’t share really personal stuff all that often, but this seems relevant. To be very clear: my mom is a HUGE Hollaback supporter, and on any other day, she could not be more proud of this little loudmouth she’s raised. (And she’s still beaming with pride, that’s not the point.) But she’s also a mom–a good one–who has raised her daughter in a world that is saturated with harassment and rape culture. What does any good parent do? You protect your kid from what threatens to harm them.
My not going could protect me….potentially. But my going is what will protect my daughter, and your daughter, and your gay brother, and your transgender niece, and people you will never even know exist in the future, but who deserve to be safe.
(And obviously, staying in Iowa, the good ole Midwest, has not protected me anyhow, or else Hollaback! Des Moines would never have been born under my co-leadership.)
Parental fears are natural, but they also prove exactly why it is we need this HOLLA::Revolution. Everyone takes safety into account when they travel, sure, that’s a given. But when our fears are specifically for our daughter, who is traveling alone to a large city that looms with threats of sexual violence and minimal protections (particularly while in transit), the solution is all the more to let her go.
A moment free from worry that your kid will be groped on a subway = happy, supportive momma!
I read all our blogs, all our submissions, from across the world. I know that harassment in New York City is very real. But I also know harassers want you to stay inside, to think twice before you move through public space. They want you to plan your day, and your life, in consideration of their power.
I defy the threats of violence and your rape culture. If some creep shouts at me next Thursday, I will gladly stride past, knowing his days are limited because in a week, or a year, or ten years–sometime soon–the sound of the revolution will forever silence the destructive, oppressive forces that currently cheer him on.
Don’t believe me? There are currently more than 60 cities on a waiting list to join the Hollaback movement. When they all launch, we will effectively double our numbers. Oh yes–oh fucking yes–we are turning up in droves against the “pimps and shit” who haunt our mothers’ nightmares.
Neither your silence, nor your stillness, nor your “safe” city will protect you. Who will protect you are your sisters, and brothers, waiting with open arms to join you in solidarity. Hopefully you find some of these people in your own hometown, but other times you need to venture out. Brave uncharted flights, streets, and train stops, because perhaps the act of going to the revolution is a revolution in itself.
by Becca Lee
I love music, I love feminism, and dammit if I don’t hate it when the two don’t come together. Unfortunately, this perpetual tension is way more common today than I could thoroughly relay here (but see exhibits Robin Thicke, the music video industry, and I don’t know, EVERYTHING ELSE to start). I think I’ve more or less just come to expect it from modern day Top 20 hits. But then, I have to say I’m still sometimes a little bit shocked/peeved when I realize I’ve been be-bopping along to “classic oldies” that turn out to be nothing but woman-degradin’, rape culture-perpetuatin’, street harassin’ tunes. This weekend, I woke the hell up to one.
They singer/songwriter in question: Roy Orbison, folks. Sweet charmer whose creamy lyrics made Julia Roberts’ famous strut down Rodeo Drive all the more memorable? Or really a slimebag weasel who can’t take a hint?
I am of course talking about the song “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and it’s pretty stunning I never noticed before. I mean, check this shit out:
Pretty woman, walking down the street
Pretty woman, the kind I’d like to meet
I don’t believe you, you’re not the truth
No one could look as good as you
Classic scene. Poor lady is just doing her thing, out for a walk, headed for Noneyabusiness. Some guy comes along thinking he’s special and starts laying on the perv vibes. Just another day in lady-paradise.
Does Julia look like she has time for this asshat? Nope.
Then it really gets going:
Pretty woman, won’t you pardon me
Pretty woman, I couldn’t help see
That you look lovely as can be
Are you lonely just like me
Pardon you? There’s no pardon for harassment. She knew she looked lovely even before she started rockin’ that hat, so you can save it. And that growl? Sexy in a song, perhaps. On the street, not so much.
Not an invitation, Roybison.
But sigh. It continues:
Pretty woman, stop a while
Pretty woman, talk a while
Pretty woman, give your smile to me
Loser, she has places to be, and she smiles because she’s happy, not on your command. Stop and talk to a creepy stranger late at night on the street? Or even in the middle of the day? Hell to the no. Move out her way.
But he doesn’t:
Pretty woman, look my way
Pretty woman, say you’ll stay with me
‘Cause I need you, I’ll treat you right
Come with me baby, be mine tonight
Pretty woman, don’t walk on by
Pretty woman, don’t make me cry
This is getting pathetic. And if I were this woman, I’d be a little terrified by his persistence. I think that’s the part that’s most disconcerting, that here is how the song then ends in dudebro Roy’s harassment-is-sexy fantasy land:
Pretty woman, don’t walk away, hey…okay
If that’s the way it must be, okay
I guess I’ll go on home, it’s late
There’ll be tomorrow night, but wait
What do I see
Is she walking back to me
Yeah, she’s walking back to me
Hold the fuck up. So in the last verse, not only do we learn that our singer is a repeat offender (“There’ll be tomorrow night,” AKA more chances to harass women), but then she starts walking back. The implication is that Mr. So-Smooth-Not-Really has wooed her with his crooning melodies and animal noises, so she has no choice but to go to him. I bet he pictures something like this:
GUH-ROSS. And unrealistic. ”Oh yeah, you like how I walk? You think I’m pretty? I’M YOURS!” …said no one ever.
Newsflash, Roy. In the age of the revolution, she is headed back to HOLLABACK in your face. It looks more like this:
WORK IT, JULIA. POWER TO THE BITCH FACE.
Do you think Roy Orbison was really a scum-sucking harasser in disguise? Do you know any other golden oldies packing age-old sexist bullshit in a jukebox candy wrapper? Call that shit out in the comments!
by Alysa Mozak
Why are we still debating if women’s clothing and personal behavior holds them responsible if they get sexually harassed or assaulted?
The feminist movement has done EVERYTHING to make this issue a top priority–from mass messaging and grassroots efforts to strategic policy and laws (hello, Rape Shield Law!). Yet it has and is still being severely undermined and challenged by political backlashes and media messaging that influences the everyday consumer (not to mention the vulnerable populations they purposefully market to, like adolescent girls). This makes me more and more motivated to continue the conversations, like the wonderfully written piece by Bitch Media writer Shira Tarrant, in order to ‘right the wrongs.’
In Tarrant’s piece called “The Great Cover-up,” featured in the Winter 2008 issue of Bitch, she is right on in her argument defending women’s right to sexual agency. (By the way, if you have never read a full issue of Bitch, go NOW and grab a copy and support their work, as they are one of the only feminist nonprofit magazine companies providing thoughtful feminist response to mainstream media and popular culture!) Tarrant stomps out the myths surrounding female modesty and purity movements that use the guise of ‘female empowerment’ but oddly enough subject females to a standard that blames them for their sexuality and freedom to express it. THIS is what the WHOLE Sexual Revolution was founded on; why again are we still fighting? Yet Tarrant writes:
The modesty movement is at its heart an essentialist one: Men are sexual brutes, and women must keep them in line with crossed legs and high necklines. (Not surprisingly. Girls Gone Mild and Modestyzone don’t bother to ask what effect the mod/slut binary has on young lesbians.) Its justifications keep women’s bodies and women’s sexuality—especially young women’s sexuality— at the core of female identity. Forget about focusing on achievement, dreams, and education (although the modesty movement claims that by removing pressure to hook up, they are providing this opportunity for young women).
I wish I could say that this blatant hypocrisy is rare, but it seems like it is being packaged into nice little ‘empowerment’ gifts to women of all ages in our culture in various settings, everything from church groups to corporate businesses. These efforts to co-opt feminism, to lure women into becoming ‘real revolutionaries against sexism’ are actually coercive in their framing and reiterate the whole notion that women are personally responsible for self-policing their sexuality. As Tarrant states, “they are exclusively about female modesty, and say nothing about male entitlement,” and to force the message of modesty onto women is not helping. Messages of “modesty” will never deter our culture from seeing women as a commodity or minimize the male gaze, especially when that message is soooo ingrained in our culture!
Instead we need to keep fighting on a conscious-raising level to honor all of what our former feminist sisters (and brothers) have done to shift cultural thinking away from policing women’s sexuality. Blaming the feminist movement for “pressuring young women into wearing short skirts and having casual sex” is just asinine people, just asinine!