Why HollaBack Works

We still get asked the question by both men and women how “effective” it is to hollaback. This begs the question of how effective any other means of combating street harassment can be. The truth is that women can never be sure that more traditional responses will quell the harasser or instead spur him on. Maybe today, telling him, “Stop it!! DON’T touch me!” will help; maybe tomorrow it won’t. No one has any control over another person. Who knows what a harasser is thinking or plans on doing or how he will react to more direct confrontation? What we do know is that a street harasser is already willing to intimidate, humiliate, sexually coerce, or even physically assault another human being.

So, how can using multi-media technology like snapping a picture and posting the story online help women?

***Hollaback empowers women. With cell phones, cameras, and computers, women now have the techno-savvy ability to upload the same violating words and images that were used against them, but with a different broadcasting message: a message that strips the harassment of its threat in the critical re-telling of such experiences. Diverse women are therefore defining what it means to be sexually harassed from their own various perspectives, one incident at a time. The harassers never get the last word. We do!

***It is immediate and direct action. Every woman can take care of herself. No need to wait for tedious legal processing or be further traumatized by official debates or approval that determines whether women have, indeed, been violated.

***Hollaback is a nonviolent, discrete, anonymous, and safe method of resistance. As a self-defense tactic, it realistically addresses the often paralyzing and frightening quality of harassment. Yelling at a harasser, “Stop telling me to smile. I don’t like it!” or “Stop sexually harassing women!” are brilliant confrontational responses, but may only work if you feel safe enough to use them. If not, women who hollaback no longer need to fear repercussions of direct verbal confrontation.

***Anyone can hollaback. People of all gender orientations who are allied against street harassment can choose to post a blurry picture, a clear picture, a couple sentences, or several paragraphs. All are experts at transforming their experiences.

***The posts are educational. For women to stop harassment, they first have to understand what is happening to them and to recognize sexual harassment in all of its myriad forms and guises. Reading the posts knits together the big picture: a continuum of sexual power abuse and victimization of women. According to Martha Langelan, author of Back Off! How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers, “Analysis is not a luxury; it’s a matter of self-defense. Women are much less likely to be caught off guard, to be taken in by excuses, or to feel compelled to tolerate abusive behavior when they can recognize the harasser’s motives, identify the power dynamics involved, and analyze what’s really going on” (1993; p. 63).

***It reclaims public space for women. The blogosphere acts as a parallel universe, brimming with digital discourse. We are increasingly digital beings - cyborgs - enacting our online lives with just as much intensity and commitment as our lives away from the screen. Traditional media now reference blogs even prior to other sources to get "the story." Hollaback's newly reclaimed digital space, built with live information structures, is not merely virtual, it is real.

***Hollabackers have kicked off a global social movement. Thousands of women a week (sometimes an hour) read the stories. A post from someone in Canada can remind someone in Brazil of the time when she experienced something similar, and she in turn may decide to post, or even to engage in further self-empowering dialogue with friends or family. This cycle has built a vast resource of women’s voices, a coalition of witnesses, an international media frenzy, and historically unprecedented documentation and awareness of street harassment as a serious social epidemic. Secrecy and silence has safeguarded harassers in the past. Now, hollabackers are justice-seeking spies, signaling a future wherein harassers are unable to slip away from public watchfulness and accountability.

Written by Michelle Riblett. Creative Commons 2.5.

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