Rubbed the Wrong Way

“This campaign is groundbreaking. The MBTA is taking bold steps to address this problem,” said Gina Scaramella, Executive Director, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, who joined MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas and Acting Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan in launching a public service campaign designed to increase awareness of sexual harassment on trains and buses, and encourage victims to report such incidents.
[link to full story]

What's groundbreaking? Authorities - as opposed to pissed off, fed up women who take to blogs - doing something after much too long and validating the existence of these gross public actions we know so well? Because it's surely not groundbreaking that it takes multi-faceted approaches to increase awareness of harassment in public space.

Let's back up. We're trying not to hate. But the truth is we were a bit taken aback by the latest efforts of the T, and more importantly, BARCC for that matter.

Infighting and competition amongst allied groups (or at least those working in the same general interest) is divisive and we agree, generally rather annoying. But it's also fracturing to not give credit or promote inclusiveness where they are due. If we seek to provide coalitional approaches to widespread systemic problems, then shouldn't we be acting as a unified coalition? And perhaps even more complex to understand, do we fail each other if we point out schismatic power plays within activist and progressive circles? Or have we all already failed by reaching a point where these conversations are necessary?

Maybe we're caught in - or in this case, ignored and left out of - a disease we call "femelebrity." It includes women who work as a sort of "professional feminist." They often are: white (much like we are), hold a collegiate degree or two (like we do), and get paid to speak and write about their representation of a feminist agenda. Don't misunderstand. We too have done these things - showing up at conferences or writing articles in response to our sought out "expertise" - but it isn't our sole means of income, and we don't aim to make bank from fighting social injustice.

Everyone has to pay the bills, and we know and respect this as much as anyone. Yet what we fear is a feminist critique that lacks a capitalist critique. Ultimately, when our livelihoods are at stake, we might employ methods not normally in line with our values. And that's the benefit of the doubt we are giving BARCC. But we couldn't let the occasion pass without wondering if HollaBackBoston, and more generally the HollaBack movement, were left out of Boston's most recent anti-harassment efforts by way of being perceived as fringe, radical, or too grassroots. We struggled to overlook the numerous historical instances in which the mainstream has co-opted efforts of those unattractive "perpetrators" without giving credit.

Yet we know critique is best offered when coupled with alternatives, so we'd like to contribute some imaginings for how things could have gone differently. Perhaps the MBTA design shop could have checked with HollaBackNYC - the grandmother - about whether the language "use your camera to snap a picture" is trademarked. Maybe BARCC could have worked in some statements about the grassroots and largely anonymous work women of this city - including young people from Hyde Square Task Force - have had to do in the absence of movement from the T. Or by chance somebody could have just sent an email to us with a heads up that this was going down. You know, making a seat at the table for those who have gone before you.

Basically, we just hope that as individuals who will no doubt make mistakes in our movement, we can be more generous in honoring those who have come and struggled before us. That we will share what is given to us - the good and the bad - knowing that the successes are more beautiful and the pitfalls more easy to bear when shared among many. That we will disavow a culture that tells us to only go for ourselves and instead build one that builds community - across issues and organizations and in the face of fame and fortune.

We know we're going to try to remember this next time somebody comes knocking on our door.

Good news is...seems the campaign is already working.

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At 11:26, Anonymous cami said...

i think this kind of thing is really important to talk about. it happens all the time.

also, this ad is super weird, does anyone else think so? girl looks like shes just squished on the train. talk about a mixed message.

At 10:55, Anonymous hazmattie said...

Its cool that the subway did something, even if its kind of a dumb way to handle the situation. An uncomfortable white girl doesn't really show the realities of harassment on public transportation. I also havent seen the signs yet and I take the subway every day to work.


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