To holla back or not

Whenever we talk about street harassment, we make it clear that all potential victims in public should use their best judgment when it comes to holla'ing back. If the situation in any way feels threatening, we believe in safety first. We think victim blaming is bullshit, and we aren't interested in accusations (like the one you can watch below) that we in any way ask to be harassed, stalked, or assaulted - especially if we happen to blog.

This video, while supposedly cautionary, is also sadly accurate in conveying how women are constantly forced and encouraged to live in fear. While hollaback's goal is to create a more open, public discourse about the spectrum of sexual violence, we are well aware that fighting back is not always the easiest or safest solution.

Sometimes fighting back can work, like in this case of a girl who escaped from being kidnapped by screaming her head off.

But sadly, that simply isn't always the case. Feminists are all too familiar with the equally sexist and aggressive backlash to each of our efforts at creating a just society. It can be a case of two steps forward, one step back. And it is beyond tragic when that one step back is lethal.

Perhaps you've heard about the film that was released last week; Waitress, directed by Adrienne Shelley, also stars the late filmmaker, who was murdered after complaining about construction noise. Her killer, a 19-year-old who'd been working at the site, confessed to her murder, saying he was "having a bad day".

In a similarly bizarre and sad story, former Bostonian, artist Nicole DuFresne holla'd back, albeit unconventionally, when confronted by muggers in Brooklyn in 2005. After she and her friends gave up their possessions to their assailants, DuFrense, drunk and perturbed, is said to have yelled, "What are you still doing here? You got what you wanted. What are you going to do now, shoot us?" Moments later, in retaliation, the thieves did just that.

And two weeks ago, a group of seven lesbian women who attacked a street harasser were convicted and many will serve jail time. Apparently self defense against unwanted public harassment and violent attacks isn't necessarily a defense in court.

I'm not trying to be negative or spread further fear on this issue. But it's disconcerting and incredibly frustrating when harassment situations only escalate and claim more victims, as we all try to stand up against verbal abuse and invasion of personal space in public. Locally, concerns about public safety are starting to be taken more seriously as MBTA safety statistics will soon be publicly available (and we sure do love that kind of transparency) - although since street harassment isn't a "crime", it isn't tracked by the police or local public transit authority. If they're allowed to air their perception of crime in transit, we think our right to do the same is justly protected.

It certainly takes guts, perseverance, and commitment to hollaback, in spite of the personal risk involved. Again, we cannot emphasize this enough: Safety First. Hollaback Second. When all else fails, in Massachusetts, if you don't want to pay the state for the right to carry chemical sprays, at least you can still buy bear mace, which, ironically, I've been recently contemplating. Nothing like turning your harasser orange - literally.

Written by Brittany Shoot. Creative Commons 2.5.

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