Black Woman Walking

We don't have a lot to say these days as we continue to balance our feelings about the importance of fighting street harassment - what we believe is a part of the spectrum of sexual violence - and dealing with the racism and classism so apparent in the work being done to combat unsolicited advances, particularly the homogeneity of the dialogue as it exists online.

Nevertheless, we wanted to post two items of note: a new street harassment survey is out, compiling information for a forthcoming book on the topic - go check it out! And take eight minutes for this amazing video by Tracey Rose. Hat tip to WhatAboutOurDaughters for the link.

source file here

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Intentional silence

We usually like it loud. People should be loud to be heard. These days, you have to smack someone over the head before they hear you. There is so much noise.

We're being intentionally silent right now. There are screaming thoughts in our minds that we can't quiet yet, but before we share them, we have to understand them ourselves. This includes understanding privilege, activism, and the union of the two. This includes understanding hierarchy and the way it, and related systems, impact the intersection of technology and activism as well.

It used to be that in times of despair, we would all honor a moment of silence. We don't despair, but we do think it's time for a period of quiet reflection. We may not have a lot of thoughts here in the near future, but stay tuned: some thoughts from one of us will soon show up in print elsewhere, and it may help folks in the anti-street harassment movement think more critically about their practice, action, and activism as they know it. We hope to push forward, even if it means scaling back here and at HollaBackBoston.


You Are What You Wear

Sadly, Elle Magazine - which usually errs on the side of intelligent (well, despite its advertising revenue, but let's be real) - has crossed the line into contrived and offensive Glamour-dom.

A new feature with the magazine’s creative director, Joe Zee, features women lined up on the street accepting his critique on their clothing choices.

Thanks to Wendy at Glossed Over for her apt explanation that it is exactly this sort of media that reinforces street harassment. It also, no doubt, perpetuates the women-to-women "hating" that keeps us mired in decision-making about what we will wear walking out our doors rather than how we can help each other be more free.

And Elle, your shareholders might be telling you differently, but from those of us who actually read your magazine... Stick to the great journalism. Leave the misogyny for the others.

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Nearing extinction?

This week, we heard the news: catcalls nearing extinction. While we suspect our allies in DC (sites like DBS and Stop Street Harassment!) would disagree, we appreciate this type of media coverage.

In the article, it is stated the supervisors on construction sites have been battling the stereotypes against their workers - often by taking action if women complain. Women's social capital is also credited - both women who increasingly hold construction jobs, and women in general, who have gained more rights as the years have gone by. Now, their complaints are taken seriously, have more weight.

So it seems to go. Only once we've gained "credible" social status, our legitimate complaints are taken seriously by men in power. Only when one of their own is harassed - in this case, a construction worker's wife mentioned at the end of the article - do they pay attention. How often have you told a man about being harassed to be met with incredulous stares and disbelief? We'd love to believe street harassment is on the decline, but evidence from our walks of life tells us another story.

And, always a good place to find humorous (if not particularly PC) ways to holla back, via Overheard in NYC:
Black dude following girl: Hey man, check out that ass! Look at that ass! That's some fine ass. Look at that ass.
Black chick being followed: (into her phone) Hold on. (turns to man) Nigga, go away!

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We object

This week, a video about street harassment on New York cable channel news.
We'd have embedded it for you here, but their embed code is atrocious and breaks in Blogger.

Also, better late than never, we found this article about anti-rape arm bracelets.

Photo: 3arabawy/Flickr

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(Guy sits next to perfect stranger {on the subway})
Guy: Are you dating someone?
Girl: No.
Guy: Can I have your number?
Girl: No.
Guy: Is it because I'm black?
Girl: Of course not.
Guy: Is it because you're a lesbian?


Also this week, Boston Rantida got holla'd at by some lewd ass cab driver. Please, folks. Warm weather ain't no excuse for your behavior, 'cause we sure as hell don't ask for it by existing.

And, this wildly offensive commercial suggests that any man who keeps his eyes on his wife and doesn't ogle unknown women deserves a treat. Thanks, asshat advertising execs at Klondike.


Notebook: Sexual harassment and an index

Get it done, Ms. Couric. She has little ones too, you know.

We also dig this cartoon from indexed, via HollaBack CHICAGO.

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Guys at the gym, a gat, and the North End

We're late this week, though not for lack of news...for lack of words. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say in face of all this madness in our world.

We either visit ladies-only gyms or not at all (just a personal choice), but we've heard stories about this before. Check out this video from Slate.com about being harassed at the gym. We're relieved the advice isn't "ignore it," at least not in total. Ignoring - nee ignorance - has never gotten us anywhere.

In our own city this week, police have learned more about the string of assaults in the North End. These sketches, released by the BPD, depict the potential attacker. Women are being encouraged not to walk alone, and the police are also offering free self-defense courses. We don't want to hate on efforts to keep us safe, but wouldn't the money be better spent on more fuzz out there working the streets so that we don't have to take this on ourselves? If we're going to live in a police state, it should at least work to our advantage once in a while.

And in what is also the most disturbing incident of street harassment to date, a woman was shot and killed after refusing to hand over her phone number to an unknown man. We see guys get aggressive about digits on the subway here in Boston, but murder? She didn't write for that.

Like we said, hard to find the words. But we keep having hope.

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Hands up

All kinds of cool is the newly launched Stop Street Harassment! resource website and companion blog. Submit your stories or practical solutions for fighting harassment.

Also out this week is another Guardian Comment Is Free article about street harassment. The lovely ladies at The F Word followed up with an excellent short piece that once again had women confessing their experiences in droves.

Is it just us or do people want to talk about their experiences and get a little validation?

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Serials on and off the television

Weird but happy news from Seattle this week: police may have finally apprehended the man connected with some twenty-plus gropings in the area over the past two years. Even if there is a second perp involved, all targeted women have been Asian (leading the fuzz to suspect a copycat perp is still at large). Despite how horrific we acknowledge these attacks to be, we are relieved that no one was sexually assaulted and that justice may be served for all of these women.

In HollaBackBoston news, we found this HBB-like art for sale this week. It isn't any of us - is it you?

Also, is it just us or is this T Mobile commercial oddly reminiscent of the lines we get for existing in public? "Maybe if you weren't so cute, you wouldn't get harassed." "Only the ugly girls think it's an insult." "You should be thankful for the attention."

We're glad our daddies had a better grasp on respect than this one.

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The annals of catcalling

Where to begin this week?

We were so pleased by the CNN article covering Holly Kearl's thesis research last week...and where did it go? Perhaps not surprisingly, Kearl had to go on the defensive as a sick amount of blogging men and women somehow found it difficult to believe that women don't like or want to be harassed. I guess we don't walk the same streets or live in the same imbalanced world as these hostile folks.

Whole lotta links, almost not worth visiting except to admire and add to Kearl's continuous defense of her work, and to view the occassional apologies that follow people's wack judgments of her:

Ugh. All in all, we continue to applaud Holly for standing up for herself and her work. We shy away from large forums because the trolls make us tired and unhappy, so we have much respect for anyone who faces it head on.

Today's Miss Conduct's blog in the Boston Globe is one of the more insightful, balanced pieces that has shown up in the wake of CNN's report. At least someone in our city knows what's up. NPR also covered Boston's MBTA anti-harassment campaign, though with some curious omissions and a focus on the "grope patrol," plainclothes cops who ride dem trains and try to mitigate dangerous situations. But, they awkwardly note, "We're not looking to discourage guys from talking to women." Um, okay.

And last but not least, Salon.com Broadsheet writer Tracy Clark-Flory talks high tech street harassment in Saudi Arabia.

Make a Point at Current.com

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Keeping Boston safe

It's pretty important to connect with our young folk when this kind of wack shit is happening in our world. That's why this past weekend, HollaBackBoston showed up to listen to the ladies at the Boston Public Schools' Anti-Violence Girls Conference. We have pics up on Flickr from the event and always love talking to young people about their strategies for staying safe.

We were also pleased to find, via the Boston Photo Mob on Flickr, a newly updated official policy from the MBTA regarding snapping photos in public (download the MBTA pdf here). We've previously mentioned the problems Boston transit has had getting their policies straight, even amongst themselves. This time, the MBTA has specified that non-commercial photography is perfectly acceptable, which pleases us greatly. But just in case the grossly underpaid MBTA employees didn't get the memo, the Photo Mob folks suggest keeping a copy of the policy with you at all times, just in case T officials get cranky in defense of what they've long been told. We do have to wonder: are we really supposed to tote more crap around in our overstuffed bags and satchels, just in case we get harassed? And didn't the MBTA just start encouraging us to take pictures of harassers? Regardless, we think this is a step in the right direction.

And, always excited about street harassment coverage on a national or international scale, we were thrilled to receive news that our ally Holly Kearl was interviewed for a CNN story, Catcalling: creepy or a compliment? For the article, Kearl stated, "For me, anyone who interrupts my personal space to objectify me or make me feel uncomfortable or threatened is harassing me." Echo, echo, echo, right over here.

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This week in harassment

Stuff we like this week:

The Speakout, which launched on International Women's Day (March 8), collects stories of street harassment from around the globe, as well as reports news about rape culture. We don't like street harassment; we do like allies and blogs that collect and spread important information.

We also dig this write-up from Restructure, which points to a recent UC Davis study about how men and women interpret direct and indirect messages about sexual intimacy. According to the study, men's faulty introspection is to blame, many of them assuming that women's indirect refusals ("I have to get up early" or "I'm seeing someone else") are just ways of conveying messages like "Let's speed this up" or "Don't tell my boyfriend."* These responses, what are often thought to be "polite" and "ladylike" in our culture, should instead be replaced with more direct messages, according to the research findings. But as the Restructure critique points out, "These studies that show men accept direct resistance messages 'easily and without negative reactions' should be investigated for more details." No joke. Even though we know and love some excellent men, we'd love to know a few more guys who hear us, whether we speak indirectly or otherwise.

Last but not least, we'll be hanging with some smart young ladies this weekend at the Boston Public Schools' Girls Conference. Looking forward to it!

*The study does not include research or data about men who hear/understand "no" and ignore it.

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Ladies and the urban landscape

Why the summertime misogyny, NY Times?

Last week, our friends in white people's big media ran a real gem inappropriately titled, "Pants May be Touted as the Coming Thing, but Women Seem to Prefer Dresses." What women? We wear skirts to stay cool in the summery breeze, but the unwanted attention we get often makes us chafe. But not according to this man's "fashion diary" (and of all the things to keep a diary about, can't we think of at least a few more deserving than fashion?).
That is because... I am not eager for women to become “a little more hard-core, a little more androgynous, a little more butch.” Yes, gender play is fun, and trousers are a useful wardrobe default for the woman in business. But unless you are Thomas McGuane and find nothing sexier than a woman with crow’s feet, tight Wranglers and suede chaps, you will have to concede that, for flattering a woman’s body, nothing is quite like a dress.
Gee, really? We were thinking confidence was the most flattering feature women could possess. Silly us. But wait, it gets worse.

Irwin Shaw covered all this is in his classic story “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” the tale that secured him a permanent place in anthologies if not exactly a perch on literary Olympus. And for all the creakiness of this warhorse about the fragile dynamics of love and desire, there remains in Shaw’s descriptions of the women on the streets of Manhattan, in their ripe young multitudes, something unexpectedly fresh and also recognizable.

Shaw wrote the story decades ago, in the era that directly preceded the feminist one that first killed off the dress, a time when women wore them all the time and not with irony. When, as Shaw wrote, “the warm weather comes” and the streets of the city were filled with women in shifts and shirtwaists and tunics and baby-dolls and sheaths, arms and legs bared, the effect they had on the urban landscape was a glorious thing.

We can't decide which is worse: that this passes for actual news, or that it doesn't seem to occur to the male writer how blatantly offensive his assumptions are to a wide variety of people, far beyond women alone. Who the fuck cares about anthologized Irwin Shaw? That old white people high-brow lit shit doesn't apply to us. Feminism had an era?? That killed fashion?? And really, women in shifts had a glorious effect on the urban landscape? We were pretty sure graffiti and architecture were first in line for those honors. Holy hell.

Interviewed for the story, some shopping lady in NYC was quoted as saying that a dress is her "anti-mommy-blob outfit.” Now a mama is a blob by default? Dear lord, ours sure ain't.

This whole depressing piece ends with some man reminiscing about a woman he saw weeks ago in a white dress (the archetypal virginal uniform). Funny - we can't get the creeps who leer at us out of our minds either!

I guess next time you consider wearing pants, maybe you should first consider, "Shit, the urban landscape needs my legs!" Or you'll remember Guy Trebay reminding us what clothing we apparently belong in.

For a more enlightened take on summertime in public space, go read Adventures in Street Harassment from this week's Shameless Magazine blog.

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Rubbed the Wrong Way

“This campaign is groundbreaking. The MBTA is taking bold steps to address this problem,” said Gina Scaramella, Executive Director, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, who joined MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas and Acting Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan in launching a public service campaign designed to increase awareness of sexual harassment on trains and buses, and encourage victims to report such incidents.
[link to full story]

What's groundbreaking? Authorities - as opposed to pissed off, fed up women who take to blogs - doing something after much too long and validating the existence of these gross public actions we know so well? Because it's surely not groundbreaking that it takes multi-faceted approaches to increase awareness of harassment in public space.

Let's back up. We're trying not to hate. But the truth is we were a bit taken aback by the latest efforts of the T, and more importantly, BARCC for that matter.

Infighting and competition amongst allied groups (or at least those working in the same general interest) is divisive and we agree, generally rather annoying. But it's also fracturing to not give credit or promote inclusiveness where they are due. If we seek to provide coalitional approaches to widespread systemic problems, then shouldn't we be acting as a unified coalition? And perhaps even more complex to understand, do we fail each other if we point out schismatic power plays within activist and progressive circles? Or have we all already failed by reaching a point where these conversations are necessary?

Maybe we're caught in - or in this case, ignored and left out of - a disease we call "femelebrity." It includes women who work as a sort of "professional feminist." They often are: white (much like we are), hold a collegiate degree or two (like we do), and get paid to speak and write about their representation of a feminist agenda. Don't misunderstand. We too have done these things - showing up at conferences or writing articles in response to our sought out "expertise" - but it isn't our sole means of income, and we don't aim to make bank from fighting social injustice.

Everyone has to pay the bills, and we know and respect this as much as anyone. Yet what we fear is a feminist critique that lacks a capitalist critique. Ultimately, when our livelihoods are at stake, we might employ methods not normally in line with our values. And that's the benefit of the doubt we are giving BARCC. But we couldn't let the occasion pass without wondering if HollaBackBoston, and more generally the HollaBack movement, were left out of Boston's most recent anti-harassment efforts by way of being perceived as fringe, radical, or too grassroots. We struggled to overlook the numerous historical instances in which the mainstream has co-opted efforts of those unattractive "perpetrators" without giving credit.

Yet we know critique is best offered when coupled with alternatives, so we'd like to contribute some imaginings for how things could have gone differently. Perhaps the MBTA design shop could have checked with HollaBackNYC - the grandmother - about whether the language "use your camera to snap a picture" is trademarked. Maybe BARCC could have worked in some statements about the grassroots and largely anonymous work women of this city - including young people from Hyde Square Task Force - have had to do in the absence of movement from the T. Or by chance somebody could have just sent an email to us with a heads up that this was going down. You know, making a seat at the table for those who have gone before you.

Basically, we just hope that as individuals who will no doubt make mistakes in our movement, we can be more generous in honoring those who have come and struggled before us. That we will share what is given to us - the good and the bad - knowing that the successes are more beautiful and the pitfalls more easy to bear when shared among many. That we will disavow a culture that tells us to only go for ourselves and instead build one that builds community - across issues and organizations and in the face of fame and fortune.

We know we're going to try to remember this next time somebody comes knocking on our door.

Good news is...seems the campaign is already working.

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From a male view

Big shout-out to men getting it done. This week, Robert at Larvatus Prodeo wrote an excellent, concise piece about being in public with his girlfriend.
My girlfriend startles quite easily in some contexts. But she’s had far too much practice at this - she expertly feigns nonchalance and stares laser beams directly down the footpath. I, less trained in such encounters, turn around to identify the source of the noise; a human voice, though the actual words are impossible to make out. The tone is unmistakable, though; it’s the tone of contempt, mixed in with a not insubstantial level of implied threat. And it’s coming from the open window of a car driving past, with the three other burly young blokes smiling as their hero yells at us.
We wonder if he knows the good ladies of Hollaback Australia, who sure know how to get it done with feisty style. Regardless of similar country of origin or otherwise, we love to hear men's take on street harassment. We prioritize the voices and experiences of women and marginalized groups, but because we firmly believe educated, informed, conscientious men are a key component to ending violence against women, we send Robert (and anyone else doing similar work) some love this week. Keep it coming from far and wide, allies.

Also worth watching for the first minute is this Current.com clip about a Dutch student in trouble for flashing the Taj Mahal on a school trip. We get the cultural and social significance, but why can't a guy flashing us the subway get this kind of coverage? That's pretty fucking violating, too.

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Everyday feminism

In increasingly warm weather, it never surprises us when harassment narratives loom large. Two worth noting from the last two weeks:

One, from The London Projects, half joking but somewhat serious, asks: how should I be responding to harassment? What's the most grammatically correct, appropriate response?

And, perhaps predictably, another long thread started up on Feministing about men masturbating in public. We believe harassment and sexual violation live on the same spectrum, so while we always enjoy conversations that validate women's experiences and simultaneously raise awareness for an issue, we grow quickly tired of debates about how to define the difference between catcalls and assault. We hope these kinds of spaces will inspire more women to speak out, but we're wary of arguing online about legal definitions and the like. That sort of "discussion" has never done us any good...yet not surprisingly, standing up for ourselves in real time has.

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Short skirt, long jacket

Lots of holla action in the news this week. No introductions, we're jumping right in with highlights.

First off, we're big fans of Female and Breathing, who documents her every unfortunate run-in with unwanted male attention. We hope blogging brings her solace and doesn't make her ultimately head the way of Don't Be Silent DC, who found this kind of work too overwhelming to regularly blog about. That sentiment resonates with us, which is why we limit ourselves to posting once a week here (though we post on HollaBackBoston as we receive submissions).

Always excited about radical feminist art, we're thrilled by 52 Acts, created by one of HollaBack Australia's two moderators. One cyberfeminist project per week, the site this week (Act 12) features a project of reverse gaze using famous art. She says, "I love that these women, whose sole purpose in existence has been to be viewed, have now become the viewers," and we love it too.

In the news a few weeks back, we were ridiculously disturbed to read about an off-duty Northwest Airlines employee who assaulted a woman on a commercial flight. But despite ejaculating on a sleeping female passenger mid-flight, the suspended equipment service employee may only serve six months in jail or pay a fine. The appalled airline officials who were interviewed for the article said they'd never heard of such a thing. Funny - we hear about it all the time. Guess when the threat isn't directed at you, it's easier to ignore.

In more positive news, South African women recently marched for their right to wear short skirts without being preyed upon or assaulted. Take to the streets to keep them safe, we say.

Last but not least, we enjoyed several personal musings on harassment this week, ranging from safety while walking to race and harassment politics to cultural norms and catcalls while living abroad.

Busy weeks as springtime approaches. Stay hot and safe as springtime weather brings skirts, whistles, and more of the same. Let's hope for a future where less of the same exists.

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Jack in public

While the always unfortunate but sadly predictable usual crap has been going down on local college campuses here in Boston, we want to also draw attention to a story from about a month back.

Over at Tufts University in our neighboring town of Somerville,
complains have been made about a man who has been habitually masturbating in the school's library. The Tufts Daily quotes a reference librarian, who said: "The Tufts police talked to the man and determined that he did not know that his behavior was offensive. They thought that he might have a medical condition. They asked him to leave the building and find another place because there had been a complaint."

While some local media think this kind of thing is funny, we wonder what's going on in Boston libraries. Aren't rooms full of free books safe for anyone? And is a "medical condition" - what we'll assume is the traditional, ridiculously biased assumption that unkempt masturbating men are all schizophrenic and homeless - an excuse for jerking it in public? Since when does anyone not know that's improper? And we let him leave with a "there's been a complaint?" Maybe if the police handling the situation were better educated about how scary that situation can be for women, we'd have a different world where things were handled with respect for all. But we digress for this week.

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Advertising harassment

To follow up our distaste of Arby's new set of ads from last week, NOLA radfem commented that she too was fed up with gross sexual innuendo commercials (though she posted her analysis way before ours - we're just following up on our own oversight, in other words). Holiday Inn Express has a whole new set of strange, awkward commercials depicting men harassing women at "the new hot bar in town" - known as the continental breakfast bar. Not only do we find this deeply offensive - it's fucking stupid. We've shown this distasteful crap before - and we'll keep right on doing it - but we aren't going to pretend we know how to solve the pervasiveness of our culture's acceptance of sexual harassment and assault. Read NOLA radfem's post - she throughly and effectively echoes all of our thoughts.

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