I’m a flirt by nature. I believe flirting has a space in society. As Arianna Huffington tweeted today, “Athens voted most flirtatious city….Once you’ve devised a system of representative government, it’s time to socialize.” I also have a particular penchant for strangers. I enjoy meeting folks while I’m out and about. So, when someone approaches me with a smile, I get geared up for a heart-to-heart (or, at least some pleasant banter).
Meanwhile, some crude statement spills from their lips and my spirit crashes. “Baby you are so ___, I want to ____ you,” is not a great start for dialogue or banter. It’s street harassment. It includes unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public spaces which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary or insulting way, according to Holly Kearl, the author of Stop Street Harassment. She also runs a website by the same name. Women are the main targets of street harassment, but a person of any gender identity can be harassed.
Street harassment is bullying and it’s bullshit. Kearl calls it a form of sexual terrorism –because of its pervasive and unexpected nature, women are put in a continual state of alertness, and, at times, fear. It’s a behavior that leaves folks feeling isolated and intimidated — less able to take up space and move about this world.
But, we are not powerless. In fact, we’re pretty bad ass. We can respond in a way that gives us power and keeps the swing in our step.
First, you can intervene. Refuse to participate. Shut it down when you see it in your friends. Assist women in moving away from the harasser. Ask the woman who was just harassed if she’s okay, or if she needs anything. While those are just basic tips, there’s a whole lot more information here.
Second, you can respond. I have trouble with this. Typically, I go all Rahm Emanuel on the gentleman (or woman, which is much, much less prevalent, but does occur). I throw a couple fingers and an insult or two into the air. This, folks, is not productive and can be quite risky. I wouldn’t recommend it. On an old blog from “Don’t Be Silent DC”, Martha Langelan recommends saying something short and simple like “Show some respect!”.
If that isn’t safe, comfortable or possible, there’s a phenomenal new trend you can join: holla back. ihollaback.org is not only a wonderful blog on street harassment, but a platform where you can share your own experience of harassment. An interactive Google map displays the locations of street harassment all over the world, including Minneapolis. They also have a new (and free) app that allows you to immediately holla back, with the option of including a photo. You can also holla back immediately via text. Now, that is more powerful than flipping fingers. Hollaback creates a sense of community and power in women.
We can take that power and use it for larger, systemic change. With the snow melting, the catcalls are about to intensify. Holly Kearl is organizing an International Anti-Street Harassment Day on March 20th, the first day of Spring. Here is her website with more information, and the Facebook event page. This is an incredible opportunity to collectively confront street harassment. So, dear Feisty Femmes community, let’s brainstorm. How do we, or just you, want to participate in the first International Anti-Street Harassment Day? What should our March 20th plans be?
I’m really looking forward to hearing from and engaging with you all.
In the meantime, check out this wonderful piece done by Third World Newsreel Workshop and Messages in Motion: