Where Have I Heard That Before...?

Last Sunday, the Boston Globe ran an article about street harassment in Boston and highlighted groups - including HollaBackBoston - that are working to combat the issue.

Since then, responses to the article have cropped up in the Globe's Letters to the Editor (read HollaBackBoston’s here) as well as in the Weekly Dig's Media Farm. Sadly, they all obscure the point. What they do, however, make quite clear are the all too typical negligent responses from the general public about any attempt to address the systematic subordination of women in public space, as well as understanding the complexity of the task at hand.

Here’s our characterization of these responses -

First, and so often our favorite: the "JUST IGNORE IT" Response:
Unfortunately, women seem to be the biggest proponents of this one. We hear you ladies, and we've tried that one. But sadly, it's just not our experience that ignoring anything makes it go away or prevents it from happening the next time. Instead, silence and denial about sexual violence frequently serve as key players in repeat offenses. Fran Hutchinson clearly illustrates this one:
Sending a message August 13, 2006

I was born in Dorchester and after college lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, and walking and/or the T was my sole means of transportation.
If you want to let someone know what a speck on the landscape they are, ("Hey, Baby!", City Weekly, Aug. 6) simply roll your eyes and stifle an exaggerated yawn as you walk on.

Fran Hutchinson, Newfane, Vermont
Second, and a distant cousin to JUST IGNORE IT, is the "NAH Response":
Conversely, this seems to be a real winner among men. We suspect it might have to do with the fact that harassment is oftentimes outside of their experience, but it usually ranges from downplaying and/or ignorance of the rampant occurrence of street harassment to outright dismissal. We’d throw the Dig’s post into this one:
Media Farm - Unwanted = sexual harassment?

We're a little confused by "this City Weekly story" on sexual harassment, which appeared in yesterday’s Globe. According to fliers distributed by the Hyde Square Task Force, "If it's unwelcome, it's Sexual Harassment." [sic] Not to downplay how annoying it must be for a woman to not be able to walk down the street without some dickhead yelling shit at her, but isn’t this definition of harassment a little broad? For example, is the car insurance bill we just got in the mail sexual harassment--because that's about as unwelcome as it gets. Also: T schedule adjustments? Sexual harassment? You decide.
To be clear, we're all about the lighter side of life, and generally appreciate the efforts of the Dig's Media Farm, but what's with the incessant need to question, invalidate, and doubt a woman's experience? Yes, life's inconveniences are annoying but the threat of sexual assault is terrifying and disproportionately gender-specific, all over the world. The Dig's comments make it clear that they apparently missed other central messages on the flyer, including "please treat me with respect."

And last, but not least, the "HERE, LET ME HELP" Response
We all know this one. It's when a seemingly informed, priviledged person comes along to "suggest" how we could best do our work, while simultaneously displaying a blind spot towards one of the main points of our work: to safely reclaim public space for women.
Suggested solution August 13, 2006

Great article
("Hey baby!" Aug. 6, City Weekly).
In answer to your question, is there a way to amend the law from "accosting and annoying members of the opposite sex" to include everyone, regardless of gender?
Can we simply change "opposite sex" to "the public"?

Ryan Bennett Dorchester
Gender matters. And unfortunately, social change to reconcile gender inequality (not to mention legal amendment) is not as simple as Ryan Bennett may like it to be - which is why spaces like HollaBackBoston.com and the important work highlighted in the original Globe article are so critical.

On another level, if Mr. Bennett happened to be implying that the law is also participating in shoring up restrictive gender norms (and discrimination based on enforcing binary male/female gender differences), then by all means, we would appreciate such a nuanced interpretation of future harassment laws and their possible limitations. From this theoretical standpoint, we still advocate fighting for gender equality, while at the same time strategically employing terms such as "women" in our fight, in full recognition that such sexed/gendered terms are often wielded in our society as tricky and politically loaded identity constructions.

Ultimately, we’re glad the article generated such a reaction and we're looking forward to encountering new and unique responses to our work (which we can also characterize!).

Written by: Hilary Allen, Michelle Riblett, and Brittany Shoot. Protected by Creative Commons License 2.5. Any copying, redistribution, or replication in any form of this work is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the authors.

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At 14:17, Anonymous Lissa Harris said...

Nah, HollaBack folks, we believe you-- just another example of us finding perverse humor in deadly serious issues. (Did you see the Farm column a couple weeks back, with the Photoshopped green, fanged, dog-eating ghostly Entwistle baby? We're sick people.)

By the way, good luck. If you can get those drunk fucks on Berkeley Street to quit yelling "Hey, Mami" at me every goddamned morning on my way to work, I will send you $100. Then again, they are drunk fucks, and I doubt they can read your flyers.

At 17:30, Anonymous Caughtya said...

While hunting for blog postings relating to accessible parking (I run http://caughtya.org exposing disability parking space offenders), one of the search terms I use is "social change". This brought me a link to your blog entry: Where Have I Heard That Before...?

FWIW, I find it a very good entry. I am continually appaled at the reaction of people in regard to abuse, and also amazed to see that people's reaction towards sexual abuse such as street harassment is so similar to that of discrimination on the basis of disability.

I'm a guy, if that makes a difference, but I hope I'm nowhere near the scum that harasses women, and the idiots that turn their head when it happens.

Keep up the good work


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