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7. Hollaback!

April 8, 2012

In all parts of the world, women who walk down their own street risk being harassed. It could be somebody on the packed train feeling you up; it could be a group of guys coming out of a bar yelling their fantasies at you; it could be an old man who flashes you as you walk home, then rushes off. These things happen to women on a startlingly regular basis, but very often, nothing is done about it. Women feel that their experience doesn’t merit reporting to the police, or the police say there is nothing they can do about it.

The way things are now means that there isn’t much hope of the situation being improved. The perpetrators never feel repurcussions, and most people just accept it as “normal”. Even men who aren’t street harassers will often defend them, saying that women should see this kind of behaviour as a compliment, or that they should just be more relaxed about it.

The problem is that street harassment is not a compliment. It makes women feel unsafe and threatened, and it shows that the men doing it see these women as objects rather than people.

Hollaback! is a movement that emerged in response to street harassment. Some women, sick of being targeted, started retaliating by taking photos and videos of their harassers and posting them online, along with their stories of what had happened. It sparked a worldwide movement; now, there are posts from 45 cities in 16 countries. People post about their experience, add a photo or video if they’ve taken one, and add the location to make a map pin.

Here are some recent posts from London:

I was walking along Harleyford St. to Vauxhall tube station at roughly 4.50 pm on Friday 30th March when I felt a painful slap across my bottom and a squeeze between my legs from behind. The man who had done this then ran off in front of me.

My friend has a habit of playing with her hair. A security guard starts talking to her, and being the good natured and polite girl that she is, she maintains the conversation. Soon enough, he comes out with this comment. “You shouldnt play with your hair like that. It turns security guards on”. Naturally, she gets scared and runs away. He mocks her.

Shocking. If you can’t trust a security guard, who can you trust?

I was cycling by myself down the canal and had stopped to check my phone to see where I was, and was standing by my bike. A group of teenage boys on BMX bikes cycled by me and one grabbed my bum and another laughed at me. They were about 14-years-old.

Source: HollacbackLDN!

There’s a huge variety of posts on the site (and there are country/city specific sites and maps that give more details). Hollaback! is in many ways catalogueing a problem that is otherwise often ignored or accepted.

This is a great idea for a number of reasons. Firstly, it shows the extent of the problem. Reading the stories can be hard at some points, but they really demonstrate how many women have these experiences, regardless of their age, the time of day they’re out and what they’re wearing. When women see other people sharing experiences, they are more likely to share theirs, so in many ways it’s a more accurate representation than police reports. In New York, this led to a hearing on street harassment, which was the first in the world.

In addition, the action of responding to a harasser and sharing the story is one that shows that the harassment is not ok. It confronts the harasser in a way that a lot of other reactions don’t. It calls them out on what they have done, and that might make people think about what they’re doing before yelling sexual suggestions at lone women.

Finally, it’s empowering for women to be able to share these stories and have a voice. If you don’t talk about what’s happened to you, you can be left feeling that you’re overreacting, or that you deserved harassment. Hollaback! allows women to discuss what has happened, receive support and be assured that they have done nothing wrong.

Here’s how you can use Hollaback! for the best. If you’ve been harassed, report it, even if it’s just a few words and a map pin, because that’ll add to the catalogue of harassment in your area. If you’ve seen somebody being harassed, then you can do the same. And you can go read the stories and give people who have been upset or scared support – which can make a huge difference and shows solidarity against the normalisation of the public abuse of women.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2012 9:46 am

    Can men post on Hollaback?
    Also I note that it isn’t as easy a process as just ‘a few words and a map pin’ if your city doesn’t have a Hollaback already set up… 😦

  2. May 13, 2012 6:57 pm

    I believe that the Hollaback focus is on gender-based street harassment, which could include men – the site specifically says women, girls and LGBTQ individuals, so if a man was harassed because of his perceived sexuality, they could post.

    Maybe I’m looking at a different page, but it looks like you can post a story from anywhere here: It encourages you to set up a Hollaback but as far as I can see, you can still just post for anywhere.

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