Question: OK, but what exactly is street harassment?
Answer: Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life. At Hollaback! Twin Cities, we believe that what specifically counts as street harassment is determined by those who experience it. While there is always the classic, “Hey baby, nice tits!”, there are many other forms that go unnoted. If you feel like you have been harassed, HOLLABACK!
Question: So let’s say a man sees a woman he thinks is attractive and tells her so. Are you saying that makes him a harasser?
Answer: Some do not find comments such as “Hello, beautiful” or “Hey, gorgeous” offensive. Many do. Others may find them intimidating, intrusive, or just an annoying pain in the ass. Keep in mind that many women experience unsolicited comments, as well as violent verbal assault, from men in public spaces on a regular basis. As many as 25% of women are sexually assaulted before the age of 18. For them, street harassment can feel like ripping off a scab. Rather than deliberating the “gray areas” of street harassment, treat everyone you encounter with respect.
Question: I heard something about your position on antiracism. What’s that about, and what does it have to do with street harassment?
Answer: Replacing sexism with racism is not a proper hollaback. Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, Hollaback! asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary. If you feel that race is important to your story, please make sure its relevance is explained clearly and constructively in your post.
Initiatives combating various forms of sexual harassment and assault have continually struggled against the perpetuation of racist stereotypes, and in particular, the construction of men of color as sexual predators. There exist widespread fictions regarding who perpetrators are: the myth of racial minorities, particularly latino and black men, as prototypical rapists and as being more prone to violence is quite common. This stems in part from a tragic and violent history in which black men in the U.S. were commonly and unjustly accused of assaulting white women, and as such were lynched by mobs and “tried” in biased courts.
Because of the complexity of institutional and socially ingrained prejudices, Hollaback! prioritizes resisting both direct as well as unconscious and unintentional reinforcement of social hierarchies. Simultaneously, Hollaback! aims to highlight the interrelations between sexism, racism, and other forms of bias and violence.
Question: But isn’t street harassment a cultural thing?
Answer: Street harassers occupy the full spectrum of class, race, and nationality. Sexual harassment, and street harassment specifically, is resisted by people around the globe. To condense another’s culture into vague assumptions about who and what they are is to generalize dangerously about a wide range of experiences and perspectives that exist within any one given culture.
Question: I want to hollaback and I don’t have an iPhone or a Droid, help!
Answer: The iPhone and Droid apps are just one way to tell your story – but they aren’t the only way. If you want to hollaback on the go from your cell phone, type the email address ‘[email protected]’ in the field where the number usually goes. Tell us where you are, attach a photo if you like, and your text will go straight to our email. From there, we’ll post it. Don’t have a cell phone? You can still tell us your story on-line.
Question: Confronting street harassers can be dangerous. What about safety issues?
Answer: While everyone is vulnerable to stranger rape and sexual assault, studies show that those who are aware of their surroundings, walk with confidence and, if harassed, respond assertively, are less vulnerable. Nevertheless, direct confrontations with street harassers may prove extremely dangerous, particularly if you are alone or in an unpopulated space. While it is each individual’s right to decide when, how, and if to hollaback, do keep issues of safety in mind. Upon deciding to photograph a harasser, you may consider doing so substantially after the initial encounter and from a distance, ensuring the harasser is unaware of your actions.
QUESTION: Do I really need to take a picture of the person who harassed me?
Answer: Nope, that’s completely up to you. The picture is about telling the story. We live in a world where the first public reaction to most reports of violence against women is doubt. A picture can help people see the world from your eyes. Over the year we’ve gotten pictures ranging from the street sign nearby, to your shoes, or to the skyline. For most folks, it’s not about catching the turd—it’s about having a badass response. That said, holla’ing back is not right for every situation. If you don’t feel safe, don’t do it.
QUESTION: What should I do if I recognize a person or business in one of the photographs?
Answer: We definitely appreciate your enthusiasm, but we’re on potentially shaky ground here. Hollabackers aren’t police officers and we are no court of law. Our site is premised on the idea that women tell the truth, and in over five years we’ve never had anyone contact us and say “that’s not me.” We want to keep this site a safe, empowering space. If you think you know someone, email us at [email protected] and we’ll reach out to the person who sent in the submission and see what she would like to do with your information. After all, it’s her hollaback. Shouldn’t she be the one who gets to make the call?
Question: I am a man who was recently sexually objectified by a woman on the street. I think this is reverse harassment. Why won’t you post my story?
Answer: While a woman making unsolicited sexual remarks to a man is certainly conceivable, the power dynamics of such an encounter are very different in a society where women comprise a historically subordinated group. Hollaback! is a project dedicated to combating a particular form of violence that designates subordinated groups (such as women and LGBTQ folks, for example) as targets in public spaces or otherwise vulnerable to unsolicited, nonconsensual encounters with strangers. It is thus not a forum for reporting other unpleasantries.
Question: Isn’t street harassment the price you pay for living in a city?
Answer: No, local taxes are the price you pay for living in a city. We would love to see some portion of our local taxes go towards preventing street harassment, but alas, they don’t. In fact, street harassment is not confined to urban areas. It occurs in shopping malls, cars, parking lots, public parks, airplanes, fast-food restaurants, gas stations, churches, and numerous other public spaces.
Question: If you show off your boobage, shouldn’t you expect some compliments?
Answer: Sure, expect them, but don’t accept them! Just because it happens doesn’t mean it’s okay. A compliment is not a compliment if it makes the recipient feel bad.
Question: Sure, but if “the harasser” were hot, wouldn’t you like it?
Answer: This has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power.
Question: You’re just a bunch of prudes, then?
Answer: Like we said, this has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power.