Global safety

This week, Mexico City rolled out women's-only buses, responding to complaints of harassment and groping from women's groups, which now compliment the city's already-in-place segregated subway cars. The new buses have pink cards in the windshield to ward off the men, and more routes will be added over the coming months. The city reports letters of gratitude from women all over town, despite some grumbling from male riders. Other countries have had separate public transit for years, including India and Japan.
Thanks for the tip, Luke.

Also this week, travel website Brave New Traveler had an informative story about women's safety abroad, prompted by this story about mob groping in the Hindustan Times. Writer Emily Hansen discusses how women have to gauge whether strange men are harmless or potential threats, and she distinguishes between fight or flight responses to harassment and violence, naming both as personally and situationally appropriate. Traveling isn't necessarily more dangerous than anything else women do alone, but being in unknown areas can change the dynamics of how we handle threat. Hansen states:
Women everywhere are victims and at the same time catalysts for change. Men can also be helpful in eradicating the violence, by supporting women in their struggle to be free.
She also recommends that female travelers use their cameras to fight back, to document harassers, because silence isn't a weapon.
When we put a lens in front of someone’s face and call harassment a crime, we are putting a name to the problem of female abuse everywhere, and bringing it out in the open where it can be mediated.
On all of these points, we couldn't agree more.

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Public displays

Meet ladycoy - a female decoy - who hangs out at night in Cambridge with a secret camera in her glasses. Just because she's standing there, this paper mache mannequin is defiled in numerous gendered ways, including being groped and simultaneously photographed by men (though women stand by and laugh at the chauvinist "fun") and being called a "slut." Informative local project by a feminist male.


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Men who stare

We really like it when attention in the media is given to the pervasiveness of street harassment. And while we don't discourage public conversation about the issue, we wonder about the true effectiveness our message.

Consider the article, Men who stare, that appeared Friday in the Guardian. While we applaud Abby O'Reilly for writing the piece and starting her own new blog on the topic (don't look don't touch), we're a little miffed about how these stories keep being rewritten, asking the same questions again and again, providing no solution and inadvertently encouraging further cyclical flaming in comment sections (which is not necessarily the fault of the authors). While explaining her own background with gendered harassment, O'Reilly asks the standard questions: is this a symptom of patriarchal culture? is it threatening if it's funny? how do you fight back and remain safe? are men victims too? And while O'Reilly is a clear writer who highlights very important points, I wish every article on the topic didn't end so similarly:
But will public humiliation and shaming help to eradicate this problem? Or do we need to take a grassroots approach, providing greater education at school level to permanently remove the need to grab, grope and leer from the male psyche? Can we help initiate change, or is that something confined to the male realm? Whatever the case, all I can say with certainty is that the next time I'm followed on the tube or accosted in the street by a random man I'll make sure my distaste is well and truly registered.
It can be hard to list action steps without seeming to blame the victim or recommend what may be inappropriate in some situations. Women are often accused of attacking one another, and offering suggestions to some may offend others. But I wish by now, with street harassment being covered in the news now for quite some time, we could speak more proactively about how to protect ourselves, as well as educate men and equalize public space.

The problem is that no matter what women write, they will be criticized for explaining their experiences, often with the mocking responses of "that's your issue, not mine." O'Reilly followed up on her blog, and her post is refreshingly honest. She discusses how unsettling the comments on her article made her feel, and she lays out her points in more detail in with more clarity than is sometimes forced by a news article or opinion piece.

Ultimately, one of the things to be appreciated about the article is O'Reilly's distinction between harassment and pitiful men everywhere. While we're not ones to let folks off the hook simply because "they don't know better," we also encourage women to talk about what feels legitimately threatening and what doesn't, and then be ready to respond accordingly, including action steps to holla back and keep themselves safe in threatening situations. And while some of her writing frustrates us, that doesn't mean we don't agree with or fully support O'Reilly's aim. Every woman who speaks her truth is one less silent victim.

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Allies everywhere

A lot of folks - us included - work towards similar missions, sometimes without knowing it. MobileActive.org encourages the tracking and reporting of human rights violations with cell phones. We're either supporting their message or they're supporting ours, and either way, we'll take allies however they come.

Outside the pseudo-official HollaBack web, Don't Be Silent has taken up the cause in Washington D.C. after HollaBackDC became a splog (spam blog - in other words, save yourself time by not looking for it). Adding a personal touch, DBS has also started a group for women and allies to meet in person to talk about how to best handle street harassment in their city.

In London, another anti-street harassment blog was just established out of a personal desire for such a forum. Abby O'Reilly, who is also a blogger for The F-Word, started writing at don't look don't touch after a disturbing incident on the London Underground left her shaken long after the fact. After writing about the incident on The F-Word and hearing from other women all over the country and world, Abby realized that these incidents are part of a pattern of regular threat and violence against women - a real moment of clarity more and more women have as these conversations develop and grow.

We even started a tiny Flickr group where people can link to photos taken in public of harassers - and we even have one contributor from Michigan so far! Who says there aren't various allied ways to holla back?

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Roaches should die. You should shut up.

Dear Moron at Duane Reade,

Earlier this evening, I spotted a roach in my apartment. The brazen bastard walked around like he owned the place, ignoring me even as I picked up my shoe and prepared to crush him. Well, he's gone, but of course roaches have friends, so it was on. My wife hates bugs, and her problems become my problems. She's out of town, allowing me to take swift action without her needing to know about the roach I hunted and killed. I headed out to Duane Reade to purchase roach poison, the kind the bastards carry back to their nests, thereby serving as my tools of destruction.

Poison in hand, I saw with disappointment a long line facing the register, at which a manager was helping a cashier with some sort of problem. Good news for the roaches, whose death was briefly delayed. Moments later, you too discovered the long line. Unlike the rest of us, who suffered our disappointment silently, you loudly asked (of whom I cannot say) for permission to cut the line. It turns out this isn't Mayberry, and a woman near the front of the line replied.

"No," she said.

You then tried to hit on her in a ham-fisted fashion, asking if that was her "real hair." Eventually you moseyed to the back of the line, which had lengthened during your pathetic attempt at courtship. (By the way, your focus on hair was especially amusing considering your long blond hair, two-day beard, and blazer. You were sporting the "Kid Rock at the country club" look.)

Then our troubles began. You commenced a barrage of annoying comments directed at the "No" woman, suggesting at one point that you would gladly be "a piece of trash crushed by [her] boot." This is America, and you're entitled to your fantasies, even of a "crushing" nature. But keep it together, son! You were in public, speaking loudly to a stranger seven-or-so people ahead of you in a Duane Reade line. Muttering to yourself "This isn't working; she doesn't like me at all," while perhaps meant to be endearing in a cute, self-deprecating way, did not make up for the awkwardness you created. People in line winced as you continued to embarrass yourself.

Eventually, the manager solved the cashier's problem and opened a second register. Things started moving, albeit slowly. Your comments continued unchecked. "Can we get married? I love you." Really, have some self-respect. You went on at such length that I recalled those experiments showing that the larger the crowd, the less likely anyone is to help during a crisis. After all, surely that other guy will confront the loudmouthed Kid Rock clone at Duane Reade---why should I get involved? Was I in a psych experiment? If you turn out to be a graduate student of human behavior, please accept my apologies for this rant.

I could stand it no more. The manager's slowness had allowed you to subject the woman to one too many obnoxious utterances, and I turned to you and said, "I know this is New York, and people generally mind their own business, but could you give it a rest?"

"No," you said. "Are you gonna punch me and make me stop?"

"Probably not," I replied.

I think we all would have bet good sums that I wasn't going to punch you. I certainly it wasn't worth a night in jail and risk to my law license just to teach you some manners that Joe C neglected to share with you before shuffling off this mortal coil. What would I tell my cellmates in the Tombs, "I'm here 'cause I punched some pantywaist at Duane Reade?" I don't think so.

I would have needed to cook up some more exciting story, which some jailhouse snitch would have repeated in hopes of a reduced sentence. And it would have been just my luck that whatever nonsense I made up ("I killed a clown in Union Square for looking funny at my cilantro.") would have actually happened last weekend, leading to my arraignment and unemployment. Yes, yes, I'd have gotten the indictment dismissed eventually when the real clown killer came to light, but that wouldn't get me my job back, would it? And my picture in the New York Post below the screaming headline "FANCYPANT$ LAWYER BRAINS MIME WITH BRIEFCASE" would have linked me with clown murder indelibly in the public mind, which isn't easy to live with.

Regardless, you don't even know I have a law license, and for all you know I like fighting people at Duane Reade. You couldn't be sure, could you? So you quieted down for a while.

Then, as the woman headed for the door, her purchases in hand, you muttered all-too-loudly, "She's hot, and I have a right to say so."

Finally, something we can agree on. She is hot, or at least cute; I didn't get a good look at the front of her, what with her working so hard to avoid making eye contact with some idiot behind me in line. Your legal reasoning skills, however, leave much to be desired. Before you mail your application for a faculty post in First Amendment law at Columbia, consider this: Her being attractive does not provide you with a license to harass and humiliate her. Every time a woman hesitates before walking outside wearing something flattering, people like you are the cause. I wonder if she considered whether her Duane Reade trip was all that urgent, if maybe she shouldn't walk out after midnight but should wait until tomorrow instead. If she did, you and your ilk were part of her concern.

I for one enjoy seeing women walking the streets in attractive garb. My personal taste aside, women---like everyone else---should be free to walk around without being bugged by morons.

So pull yourself together. Leave the nice women alone, find your dignity, and stop making problems for the rest of us.

Sincerely Yours,

A Man More Annoyed with You than with Roaches, Which Is Saying Something

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