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#RapeCultureIsWhen we need a week of street harassment awareness in order for it to be taken seriously.
I mean, Happy International Anti Street Harassment Week!
It’s a weird thing to celebrate, no? To celebrate being aware that people are daily humiliated, degraded and made to feel unsafe because of their gender, sexuality, race, fatness, (dis)ability, or some other facet of their being?
But really, yes–because lack of awareness feeds into a culture of denial and that’s the culture we’re living in. Simply acknowledging that (1) street harassment exists and (2) it exists as a societal problem is a HUGE step–a human walking on the moon, grandiose-scale leap–towards making our communities safer.
And in the daily reality of the hundreds of people around the world who do this work the other 51 weeks of the year, a week of awareness means at least one time a year when the work we do is more widely acknowledged and valued, at least on a slightly better scale than being scoffed at or trolled as ugly bitches who need to get a real life.
(Though there is still plenty of that, because y’know, attempting to prove there’s no harassment by harassing people for talking about harassment is a great strategy!)
But perhaps more importantly, this week may be the first time that thousands of people find support–that they become aware that Hollaback! and organizations like us are a global response to this type of violence. We don’t like that harassment has happened to them, but we celebrate that from a larger awareness, they may find a place of refuge from it (whether virtual or IRL) and use their power to fight back.
So the way I see it, this week is an open love letter from badass to badass–to those already dug into the trenches and those just starting out–and a celebration of our collective badassitude: of our speaking up and not taking shit, our sharing of stories, chalking of sidewalks, screening of films, writing of op-eds, joining of hands, blogging and tweeting and social sharing, delivering of workshops, poetry, artwork, research, and everything in between or related.
This week is where awareness meets power and solidarity–and that is something to celebrate!
It’s easy to get involved: share this post, share your story, share your time. Keep up with us all week at facebook.com/HollabackDSM and on Twitter @Hollaback_DSM. Tweet your own love story to badasses worldwide using #endSHweek.
March 30-April 5 is the third annual International Anti-Street Harassment Week, and to mark the occasion, we are rallying on Saturday, April 5 for a full Day of Action! Here is a schedule of events:
ABOUT MEET US ON THE STREET CHALK WALK
Chalk walks are a super easy, inexpensive way to organize our Des Moines community to take a stance against street harassment. All it takes is some sidewalk chalk, anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours of your time, and some great energy!
Chalk Walk is your way to Hollaback!, your chance to turn the tables. Chalk Walk is us reclaiming the street, proclaiming our freedom, healing ourselves, and telling the the world, “I have the right to be here. To be me. To walk wherever, whenever, however I please.” We will literally use sidewalk chalk to reclaim our streets, by writing messages about our right to be there and to walk safely, without harassment. (See http://wechalkwalk.tumblr.com/ for examples!) We choose chalk because it isn’t damaging, doesn’t cost us much money, and the message lasts in our photos!
If you can’t make it on Saturday, take back your own street! Sometime in the week of March 30-April 5, go back to a street where you experienced harassment (or any street, really). Reclaim that space by writing an empowering message; then take a picture and send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org! We’ll post all the photos to the blog after the event!
ABOUT TAKE BACK THE BAR CRAWL
Are you sick of feeling unsafe when you go out at night? Have you been harassed, groped, bothered, or otherwise made to feel like you don’t belong somewhere? Then help us take back the bars!
Together we will occupy public space known to be particularly unwelcoming to women, queer-identified folks, people of color, gender non-conforming folks, and anyone else who has been made to feel unsafe when going out. We take our idea from our sister Hollaback! Boston (and their affiliate group Take Back the Bar Boston), who describe the event as follows:
What is our main goal in Taking Back The Bar?
We want to empower people to reclaim space that is traditionally unwelcoming. So much of our movement through space is dominated by other people and the way we’re treated—we change our routes, avoid certain streets and neighborhoods, don’t go to specific clubs or venues—and we think that’s not okay. We want people to feel like they have the ability and the right to occupy whatever public space exists, and we’re doing our best to facilitate a safe and supportive space for people to do that.
Why we are taking space in areas we usually feel unwelcome/unsafe?
This is more about empowering people to feel like they don’t have to avoid certain places. It’s about reclaiming space that has been off limits for whatever reason. It’s less about making a statement to the people in the bar and more about creating a safe, empowering space within it for our group to enjoy.
How are we going to proactively make people of color and the LGBTQ community feel safer at these establishments?
By promoting Hollaback! Des Moines to community organizations of color and LGBTQ organizations we can make sure they are aware that our events are inclusive. Our objective is to create a safe space, so although we cannot guarantee that the establishments themselves will be more welcoming, we can guarantee that our group will be a supportive one.
What are we going to do specifically when we are uncomfortable? Is this a confrontational statement?
This is not confrontational if we can help it. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m not interested,” “Don’t talk to me that way,” or “I’m here with my friends.” If someone feels uncomfortable and they don’t feel safe to say something, they can and should look for support within the group. We are all there to have each other’s backs as much as we can, but there is also no shame in walking away from a situation if that feels right.
What are we going to do if there is a group of people who are particularly hostile?
Don’t be afraid to walk away or to get a staff member of the establishment. The group at large also has your back. We’ll act in solidarity with whatever you decide to do. However, we don’t condone violence and meeting aggression with aggression is not what we see as the answer.
Why aren’t we talking to the spaces beforehand to let them know we are coming (in case an act of violence happens or an incident)?
We aren’t talking to venues in advance because we’re not going to do anything abnormal or radical. We’re quite literally just hanging out in a bar, which is exactly what all other patrons are doing. We shouldn’t have to announce our presence, as it makes it seem even more like we don’t belong there. If there is an incident or an act of violence, we’ll report it to the venue immediately, and they are trained to handle those things, like they do when it happens to other people in their establishment. If we don’t feel like it’s handled appropriately, we can take action, whether it’s calling them out online or contacting authorities. The sponsors of Take Back The Bar Crawl are not responsible for the actions of individuals, and creating an event in the eyes of the establishments could lead them to single us out as a group if things go awry that we had no knowledge of or involvement in.
Who is invited to Take Back The Bar Crawl?
Everyone! This event is open to all individuals who have ever felt unsafe, unwelcome or harassed in the Des Moines nightlife scene, and allies who want to support safer spaces for all.
Still have questions?Email us at email@example.com, find us on Facebook or holler at us on Twitter. We hope to see you soon!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.