Feeding back

Sites like HollaBackBoston.com exist because new media is interactive. Without public discourse, we wouldn't have a site, a purpose, or an audience. We wouldn't be building a participatory community or have a side blog (um, this one) to further open the discussion.

So, to follow up from last week, we've been scanning our RSS readers and news sources for further thoughts. It's not as if this topic is overlooked. Almost every day, someone's mouthing off about audience and interactive content. So, we decided to post what are, in our opinion, the most interesting reads of the week, coming first from Salon.com, Gary Kamiya's The readers strike back.

Perhaps most applicable to our work is Kamiya's statement, "The fact is that anyone who posts anything on the Internet is opening himself or herself up to every conceivable response -- from thoughtful comments to irrelevant ramblings to savage personal attacks." We couldn't agree more, and it's one of the many reasons we believe many of our readers and submitters wish to remain anonymous. The whole point here is fighting back against harassment - not incurring more.

Novelist and former Salon columnist Ayelet Waldman is also quoted so aptly by Kamiya, "The entire blogosphere is a first draft." We're all just learning the ropes, trying to find our ways through new rules of engagement and play. It's only slightly inconvenient that every mistake we make is cataloged by Google along the way.

Kamiya goes on to talk about the immediacy of feedback.
"Now, in the glorious days of 'disintermediation,' when writing a letter or posting a blog is as easy as banging away on a keyboard for a few seconds and clicking 'Send,' that contract has been trashed. Formality? The context of online communication is more like being in your car in a traffic jam than sitting across a table from someone and having a talk -- and it's easy to flip somebody off through a rolled-up window."
While it's hard to argue with this logic, we like the immediacy of a "holla back". There are consequences for all actions - from yelling at someone in the street to writing a nasty email to some writer with whom you disagree - and the implications of that feedback, in our opinion, are vastly different and exist with different intent and purpose.

Kamiya also refers to New York Times writer David Carr's January 15 piece, 24-Hour Newspaper People. Among other topics, Carr addresses the relationships created online with people and the sense of community that results. But when these issues are raised, I always wonder: do people recognize the Internet's false intimacy, awkward sense of connectedness with strangers, and what does that do to our causes and movements? We certainly feel more connected about issues like street harassment because of participatory media, but what happens when we meet in real time?

A lot of times, writers and media makers are told to ignore hurtful feedback. So are women who are bothered in public. And neither response seems particularly helpful or reasonable. Holla BACK.

Written by Brittany Shoot. Protected by Creative Commons 2.5

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Are you talking WITH me?

There's something going on with the current state of interactivity of the media. More people are blogging, uploading video, and generally active online than ever before. Accessibility is a hot button issue, user-generated content is making the Silicon Valley bubble reinflate, and space online has become just as important to some people as their physical space in everyday life.

Check out the message boards of any of your local papers or check social media websites and you'll find that people everywhere are sounding off and about anything and everything. Most times you don't even have to ask for their opinion. They just give it.

Even the producers of reality shows are recognizing that people must have to be able to affect - or feel as if they affect - the outcome of another person's life. Push 4 to vote for your American Idol contestant.

These days, everybody is an expert. Or are they?

We aren't the first to point out the awesome power and potential of the fact that almost anyone has the ability to have a blog or a website. (Of course we recognize that there are certain skill and resource boundaries that prevent this from being a reality for all people, but are just saying IN THEORY everyone can.) This, in turn, means that anyone with a camera - again those with the resources - can upload a video to YouTube and sound off about their political views, their religious stance, or their day.

We get it. And most times, we love it. What we are struggling with lately is the "interaction" component of social media. In his January 2 column, "Have Something to Say, I Don't Care," LA Times writer Joel Stein told us he was fed up with the interactivity.
"Not everything should be interactive. A piece of work that stands on its own, without explanation or defense, takes on its own power. If Martin Luther put his 95 Theses on the wall and then all the townsfolk sent him their comments, and he had to write back to all of them and clarify what he meant, some of the theses would have gotten all watered down and there never would have been a Diet of Worms. And then, for the rest of history, elementary school students learning about the Reformation would have nothing to make fun of. You can see how dangerous this all is."
Of course, Joel Stein is no Martin Luther and we're not all for treatises "tak[ing] on their own power", but that's not the point. While Stein's column is clearly tongue-in-cheek, it's also a very real statement about the current attitude about user-generated content and public opinion.

We personally know more than one blogger who has had to turn off commenting on their site and or posts because it's caused such personally emotional and psychological damage. Is that just the price we pay for putting our art and our perspectives out into the world? We think not.

Yet, we also support the ability for readers to interact with the medium. It was one of the reasons to start this space to begin with. We're just trying to figure out the healthiest and most productive way to interact from our keyboards. To figure out whether there is any way for this to start feeling more like a dialogue (or a polylogue?) and less like shouting from the mountaintops (or some days, into the valleys) is a constant conversation and struggle for us.

But at the end of our days, the ladies of HollaBackBoston still walk the streets of our city, interact with friends and allies, and when we can, meet in person. MySpace friends don't equal activism, nor is commenting on blogs all day going to get us very far. But in order to reach a large audience and potentially have a significant impact, we embrace the power of the Internet and the communication it allows. We're just still working out the boundaries and details on our end, too.

Written by Hilary Allen & Brittany Shoot. Protected by Creative Commons 2.5

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Experience Interrupted

This week, we proudly cross-posted a video holla from Ryanne. Then, she forwarded us this link. Tricia states "While I believe Ryanne attempted to document the men's behavior to demand respect, I believe that she mistakenly took the men's unwanted attention for egregious misogyny." Mind you, this statement follows a paragraph of description of Tricia's personal experience with similarly egregious misogyny. What Tricia misses is that those two behaviors - men's unwanted attention and egregious misogyny - are more often than not, inextricably linked.

HollaBackBoston publishes experiences like Ryanne's because women and marginalized people often feel they have no recourse for the generalized feelings of danger and assault they regularly feel in public spaces. We are interested in solving this aspect of the spectrum of sexual violence, but we also believe that taking the issue seriously and creating a safe space to share experiences is the first step towards any helpful resolution. When women start questioning other women's experiences like Tricia felt so compelled to do, we do nothing but work backwards and against one another.

Tricia also claims that Ryanne "ignores the racial and class issues of the men's action." But then confusingly, she goes on to state:
"Working class construction workers and Black culture has their own forms of cultural practices in appreciating women's beauty. Cat calling on construction sites is practically a tradition inherent to the job. I am not claiming that cultural norms are not sexist or even excusing the men's sexist behavior."
Sounds to us as if she is, in fact, excusing the behavior, not to mention justifying it using stereotypes - false or accurate - that individuals are able to leverage to oppress others! Harassment occurs in all cultures, and just because Tricia offers its stereotypical history within certain racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups does not mean women want or deserve unsolicited comments and verbal assaults on the street that may endanger their freedom. We challenged myths like this when we started the site (and apparently will be continuing to do so).

Tricia also claims to be concerned for the rights of the unrepresented men on sites like HollaBackBoston, when she says, "The cat caller is never truly confronted for his behavior, therefore it's not really effective in preventing harassment as there is no true confrontation."
That's interesting since a), we don't claim that posting on a blog confronts the specific harasser's behavior head on, and b), we didn't realize that "true" confrontation is always going to be the "really effective" way to handle something.

Additionally, we find it repugnant that Ryanne's actions would referenced as a "modern parallel to the lynching of Emmett Til in 1955 Jim Crow Mississippi." To be clear, we don't claim that race and class never play into occurrences of street harassment. But what happened to Ryanne is a real, frightening experience that does not deserve to be equated to an atrocious murder - for an alleged act - during a period of state-sponsored racism.

In reading Tricia's closing question "How do we find empowerment in documentation and effective confrontation while being sensitive to socio-economic dynamics?" we're left with our own: are you asking that we hold people of color and those from lower and working class backgrounds and professions (all perceptions and assumptions) to an alternative set of standards? That when we are harassed by a man of color or a service worker we retreat back into our old ways of ignoring it or keeping it to ourselves?

If you are, then we must posit that what is missed by such an approach is an idea one would hope those like Tricia picked up in recent days. It is Dr. King's message that, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." If we consent to our oppression by others who are oppressed, then we all still end up oppressed, don't we?

Finally, we hope Ryanne is as proud as we are of the labels "vigilante," "citizen journalist," and HollaBacker! Her fearlessness certainly earned her them in our book.

Written by Hilary Allen & Brittany Shoot. Protected by Creative Commons 2.5

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