Hollaback! is a really incredible movement to end street harassment.
I used to think that when I heard about women being abused, it was this really rare thing that barely happened to anyone, but then I got older, and realized just how incredibly wrong I was. I was shocked to hear my friend tell me stories of being grabbed at on a train in London at roughly the age of fourteen. And then it started happening to me, too. I was walking at dusk one summer night to go help my friends work on our school’s vegetable garden, when some guys sped by in a car and yelled something I couldn’t understand at me. I didn’t know what they said, but I figured it had something to do with my clothes or my being alone. I felt good in those clothes when I left the house, but I felt horrible after this incident, knowing that I couldn’t say anything back to these particular guys because they were already far away by the time I had even processed what happened. Another time, I was walking home from the farmers’ market, on a Saturday, in broad daylight. Ahead of me, I saw this woman who works at a cafe on that block leaving her apartment, watched this group of three or four guys gather around her and make noises at her, and I had this terrible sinking feeling when I realized that I was next, I would pass them soon, and they were going to say something to me, too. I looked straight ahead, not giving them the attention they may have wanted, and as I passed, one of the guys looked at me and said, “I do thirteen-year-olds” at a volume that only I and his little posse could hear. His friends all snickered and we both continued on our ways. It upset me especially because I knew he said it like that on purpose so that no one else would know what disgusting words he was spewing at me, this young teenager just trying to walk home with her groceries. By the time I had realized what had happened, they were a good distance behind me, I shot back a muted “Fuck you,” in awe of what had just happened. Thankfully I wasn’t actually thirteen, I was fifteen, but his comment hurt just as much. I didn’t like him belittling me by commenting on my not even true age, and I thought “What if I had been thirteen? Does he do this to actual thirteen year olds, too?” The most recent time I experienced street harassment was this fall, at school. I had to make up the mile run after class got out, at around three in the afternoon. I changed into my gym clothes and headed across the street to the track to run, but while walking, some guy from my school passed by in a car and yelled at me, telling me to pull up my shirt. My shirt and my body are none of his business. I’m pretty sure I saw the people from the car later, when I was heading back to the gym to change out of my controversial shirt and back into my normal clothes. It was the principal’s son, in a car with his female friend (perhaps girlfriend or hook-up buddy, I’m not that well-versed in high school gossip). For some reason it bothered me that this had happened while she was in the car. We don’t know each other at all, but I wondered why she would let this happen, hadn’t people said disgusting things to her, too, that had made her feel just as bad as this made me feel? I know that it wasn’t her responsibility in any way to stop this from happening, I just wondered why she would sit there and not say anything to him when she must have experienced similarly unpleasant remarks just the way I had. I now understand that it seems every woman has at least one of these stories to tell, which shouldn’t be the case. I was still surprised to find, though, through my regular feminist-flavored internet adventures, the amount of people that spoke of being survivors of sexual abuse or rape. I was happy to see these women speaking out about it, but just disgusted to hear that it had happened to so many women, so many young, incredible women. This has to stop happening. But just because abuse may not be physical, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Sexual harassment, both physically and verbally, in the street or elsewhere, should not have to be a constant worry for women. I should be able to put on my shorts and my crop top and walk to the garden without a comment from anyone. The solution, I think, stems from people speaking out about their experiences. Take Hollaback! as an example. Join their movement, which is active not just in New York City where it is based, but all around the world. Because of organizations like this, New York City held the world’s first hearing on street harassment in 2010. Although it is disturbing that it took that long, this is a step in the right direction.