Since we started HollaBackBoston.com, we've had more than a few encounters with what we like to call "repressed hollas". Both in our own circle as with allies and friends at events and everyday life, we've found a high volume of women walk around, remembering incidents of harassment from years earlier. At first, the HollaBackBoston ladies would get together for planning meetings and end up sharing old stories of our own. Pretty soon, people would share the same stories with us, mostly unprompted.
"When I was twelve...and I mean, I was twelve!"
"Oh geez, I was ten the first time someone tried to reach under my dress."
"I'll never forget the time that guy followed me home when I was on vacation. I was totally convinced I was going to be raped and killed...yeah, I was, what, thirteen maybe?"
If you've been reading the site for a while, you may even recall some repressed hollas we received from our elderly readers. Women can often remember incidents that took place decades prior. Unsurprisingly, these accounts can be retold with clarity and the same frustration, if not more, due to years of simmering anxiety.
What does this mean? Critics of our work would blame it on the fact that we can't get a sense of humor, accept the way things are, and that we can't brush these things off.
But I believe repressed harassment experiences - or vivid memories, for that matter - are telltale signs of the real and actualized trauma many women experience, just for existing in public. Sexual harassment is commonly known to trigger trauma responses and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms due to the sudden, unexpected nature of verbal or physical assault. When a woman is followed home, the survivor of a violent verbal assault in public transit, or physically intimidated due to her gender alone, it's no wonder those accounts stay with us, reminding us that we can't feel safe in public.
I haven't listened to a lot of women who want feedback when they share their experiences. What I do hear are women who need to vent. Before we started HollaBackBoston, we, along with countless others, felt we had no recourse. In traumatic situations, there is often a "crisis reaction" when a victim isn't able to quickly respond due to situational danger, paralyzing fear, or shock. Women who tell us their stories are often still angry that they didn't react differently, acting with self-blame, and still pondering what went wrong.
Whether women take pictures or write in with their accounts, we hope creating space for validation and legitimacy unburdens us all.
Sexual Harassment Support
Sexual Harassment resources: California NOW
Sexual Harassment and PTSD: Is Sexual Harassment Diagnosable Trauma? - Journal of Traumatic Stress * (requires paid download)
Written by Brittany Shoot. Protected by Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5.