I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

HOLLA On the Go: “I felt extremely degraded and objectified.”

I was walking down the street to mail a package when a guy standing there looked me up and down and asked me if he could buy me dinner sometime. When I told him no he proceeded to ask me why not. I continued to walk away, but felt extremely degraded and objectified.

I've got your back!

HOLLA On the Go posts are those submitted through Hollaback!’s mobile apps – learn more here!

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

“What, you guys have never seen an ass before?” | Jane’s Story

My mom, aunt and I went for a quick shopping trip to the Square One Mall on Saturday. When we pulled into the parking garage, we noticed a young woman and a boy whom I assume to have been her son walking towards their car. At the same time, two men (probably around late thirties) decide it’s a good idea to stop in the middle of the garage and stare at her butt. My aunt, who has always been outspoken, rolled down the driver’s side window and said “What, you guys have never seen an ass before? Why don’t you take a picture you horny bastards?” and proceeded to park in the next space like nothing happened. I wish I could be more like her.

I've got your back!

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Hollaback! Boston, Local News, Noteworthy

Global Street Harassment Survey: We Need YOU!

We are SO excited to announce that Hollaback! sites the world over have partnered with researchers at Cornell to conduct a global survey on street harassment: we’ve got two months from today to collect data and get the word out, and we need your help!

global street harassment survey: we need you! // hollaback! boston

Last August, when we conducted our first informal survey in Boston, we received more than 500 responses! The information we collected allowed us to focus our programs based on demand: it catalyzed our MBTA ad campaign, broadened our work to include policy initiatives and helped us better serve other marginalized communities. Our State of the Streets survey was far from scientific, but it was a starting point; now we have the opportunity to go further with the help of a team at Cornell.

When you take this survey, you’ll be helping us to better understand the needs of our communities and the public spaces which deserve our attention. When you share the survey link with your networks, you help to broaden the responses and the sample size and to give researchers even more to work with. Data collected from New England will be added to global responses, but will also be analyzed and shared with us separate from the whole so that we can better prioritize our areas of focus locally.

We can’t do it without you! Please take a few minutes to complete the anonymous survey, and then pass along the link. The survey is intended for EVERYONE, regardless of their identity, experience with street harassment or even knowledge of the movement, and is geared specifically towards those 18 years and up. A Spanish-language link will be available in the next few days.

Thank you for all that you do,


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Hollaback! Boston, Kate, Local News

Street Harassment on the MBTA: Why Romanticizing Behavior Matters

Recently while looking for our anti-harassment ads on the T, a friend of Hollaback! Boston spotted something else entirely – a poem, as part of Mass Poetry’s “Poetry on the T” program, with a different message altogether.

poetry on the t // hollaback! boston

We reached out to the MBTA and Mass Poetry with the concerns raised to us:

Earlier this week, a follower of Hollaback! Boston submitted a photo from a red line train calling our attention to a Mass Poetry piece she found upsetting in its portrayal of a common street harassment narrative. Though we have great respect for the “Poetry on the T” concept and believe Ms. McDonough and the program meant no harm, it’s disappointing to see this poem on transit at the same time we’ve made progress in getting anti-street harassment ads on buses and a single train line of the MBTA.

In the 2 ½ years since Hollaback! Boston was founded, one in five stories of street harassment submitted to us originate on the MBTA or its grounds; harassment on public transit is pervasive, and though it changes how people move through our city and makes people feel unsafe and vulnerable in public, the behavior is often romanticized as in this poem and written off as a harmless and unavoidable when we do manage to start the conversation.

In selecting this piece specifically for display on MBTA trains, you’ve chosen to glorify the very behavior we’re working to end. Unsolicited comments, objectification of women, leering or staring, and taking photographs surreptitiously and without consent are all examples of harassing behavior that regularly occur in public and in transit; all contribute to reminding women and other marginalized people that they cannot expect privacy or safety in public, and leave many feeling vulnerable or unsafe in their daily commute.

As these experiences add up, they change the way people move through public space: some will opt to avoid taking MBTA transit, and others will rely on bikes or cars to lessen the times and spaces in which they feel most vulnerable. Over time, this sense of not being able to move safely throughout the city can limit access to education, exercise, health care and economic opportunity, and can impact mental health. This is why street harassment matters.

Hollaback! Boston supports community-based solutions to street harassment: we believe that it is by sharing the experiences of individuals, by turning our communities’ attention to the harassing behavior that is problematic rather than to the behavior of victims, that we can shift the conversation and create safer public spaces for everyone. It is only when we stop glorifying the act of objectifying strangers openly on the T that we can begin to challenge the assumptions of street harassment as harmless and unavoidable. It is neither.

In our work in Boston and throughout New England, we aim to serve as a resource – if you have any questions about our critique or the reasons riders are uncomfortable with the poem’s placement, or any clarifications to help us better understand your selection, we’re happy to discuss further. Several followers have asked us to comment publicly on “The Beautiful Woman” — we felt that reaching out offline first would be more conducive to constructive critique for the program going forward, and we hope that you receive this as such.

Thank you for all that you do,

Kate Ziegler (Co-Director) and the Hollaback! Boston Team

We want to thank Mass Poetry for responding quickly to our inquiry!

Dear Kate and the Hollaback team,

Thank you for your email and for connecting with us about this complaint and concern. We heard from the individual as well, and both Mass Poetry and Jill McDonough have addressed it with her today, but I’m glad you wrote to us to put it on the table as well, and we’re glad to be able to discuss it organization to organization.

We at Mass Poetry were surprised to receive the individual’s email earlier, learning of a negative reading of “The Beautiful Woman.” The response to the poem has been overwhelmingly positive–the best of any poem we have included on the T–so this very different reading was truly a shock. To us, and to the many who have responded so positively to “The Beautiful Woman,” the poem is as far from glorifying harassment as it comes–instead, we and others read it as a celebration of finding joy and beauty in the people and moments around us–something that seems far too rare. A poem celebrating the joy that a fellow bus rider’s laughter brings, and taking a snapshot of that innocent and beautiful moment, to us serves as a reminder that joy is all around us, contagious and to be shared. The idea that innocent and joyful moments don’t need to be stifled by the existence of abuse or harassment just because it occurs in the same space or with the same technology might feel to others a powerful notion and reminder of the good, and of the positive energy that can occur in public spaces like the T.

You say so eloquently in your email: “As these experiences add up, they change the way people move through public space: some will opt to avoid taking MBTA transit, and others will rely on bikes or cars to lessen the times and spaces in which they feel most vulnerable. Over time, this sense of not being able to move safely throughout the city can limit access to education, exercise, health care and economic opportunity, and can impact mental health. This is why street harassment matters.” We understand that completely, and to us, that’s also why poetry matters, and in particular, poems like this one, that celebrate the innocent and joyful moments that can be shared in public places like the T.

We are sad that’s not what “The Beautiful Woman” evokes for you or for the individual we heard from, but we stand by the poem, not only for the joy and innocence that we believe it holds, but for this very conversation we’re having now–poetry has the power to start conversations, open eyes, and bridge communities. While we never want anyone to be hurt or upset by a poem we include in our programming, we are glad to be talking with you, and to be continually working toward a better understanding with those people, communities, and organizations with whom we communicate through our programs.

I mentioned that Jill McDonough also responded to the individual today, as we reached out to her for feedback when we received the complaint, and I’ll share with you her note here, which was sent along with our response:

“I’m horrified that my poem brought up these unsafe feelings. In addition to being a poet and professor, I’m a lesbian who told a homophobe he doesn’t belong on my train, a woman who last Thursday dragged a huge suitcase down the car to get away from a lurching touchy drunk, a boxing class graduate who was very proud she stepped to the guy harassing the woman alone and told him to stop it. I’m sad that a world of too-many nasty subway behaviors has made little space for the sense of wonder and community I wanted to document in my poem.  Just in the way photography has been abused, and the tradition of subway shots like those of Walker Evans and Helen Leavitt has largely been forgotten, negative experiences on the T have made positive ones, like the one in “The Beautiful Woman,” harder to see. I hoped in my way to bring awareness of those small moments back, and I’m sorry I brought something entirely other back for you.  Let me know if you want to talk further about the poem; it never occurred to me until I got this note that anyone would be hurt by what I wrote. I agree with you that art should be used to create ‘a more beautiful and just world,’ and that’s what I thought I was doing. Best, Jill  jill.mcdonough@umb.edu

We are happy to discuss this further, and glad to be in touch.

Thanks, and all my best,


We appreciate the power of art to spark conversation, but this conversation needs to be about the power of context: placing poetry which romanticizes racial and sexual objectification of a stranger to the point of taking photographs of that person without consent on the very transit on which such behavior occurs regularly is not appropriate or productive.

One in five stories submitted to Hollaback! Boston since our launch in 2011 occurred on MBTA vehicles or grounds; 63% of respondents to our 2013 State of the Streets survey who had experienced harassment in Boston had that experience on the MBTA.

mbta ads // hollaback! boston

We know that street harassment on public transit is a common experience, and it is one we’ve chosen to focus on through our current ad campaign. Art glorifying that same behavior, heralding it a celebration of wonder, positivity and community, perpetuates the idea that women and LGBTQ folks can be safely and harmlessly objectified on transit and, by extension, in all public space.

Hollaback!’s work is not about crushing the positive interactions that strangers can have in public; we’re not out to destroy small, joyful moments. We are working to undo the damage that recurring street harassment causes by changing the ways victims interact with their communities and limits access to opportunities; we aim for a world in which a moment of connection between strangers is not a vulnerability or a threat, in which victims know that their fellow riders and neighbors will support them if harassment occurs and will respect their desire to keep to themselves if they wish. The placement of a poem like “The Beautiful Woman” on the T, where so many experience a sense of humiliation and vulnerability through street harassment, breaks down community rather than building it, pushing victims further into a sense of isolation when they see poetic proof that society does not respect their right to move through public space as a person rather than an object to be admired and photographed without regard for their wishes.

These are the small moments that matter; these are the small shifts that need to be made for victims of harassment to know that they are not alone and are not to blame, and for our communities to begin a real conversation about the harm that street harassment can do to our positivity and sense of wonder. This is why context is critical to public art, and we hope that October’s selections for Poetry on the T bear that more in mind.


image credits: 1-Poetry on the T; 2-Natasha Vianna

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

HOLLA On the Go: “He shouted so loud it made me jump.”

Was walking home with my boyfriend on Saturday night. Two men were sitting on the other side of the road and were clearly watching us. I was ahead of my boyfriend 5-10ft because I was dragging a grocery cart. After watching us creepily and closely for a ways, one man shouted so loud it made me jump.

I've got your back!

HOLLA On the Go posts are those submitted through Hollaback!’s mobile apps – learn more here!

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

HOLLA On the Go: “I love it when bitches play with themselves.”

I was walking out of the post office on Avenue de Lafayette, heading back to my office on my lunch break, and a man fell in step not far behind me for a block. I assumed he was mumbling to himself, but the stream of commentary got louder and was topped with a perplexing, ” I love it when bitches play with themselves.” It’s unreal that I can’t even go to the post office in broad daylight without unsolicited company and commentary for the short walk from one building to another. Welcome to 2014.

I've got your back!

HOLLA On the Go posts are those submitted through Hollaback!’s mobile apps – learn more here!

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

“It took all of my willpower not to throw the bag of dog poop at his car.” | Kiki’s Story

I am a nanny and I walk the family’s dog before I pick the kids up from school. I was walking the dog through residential Brookline, which was mostly empty because it was mid-day on a weekday. As I was walking, a car drove by and honked at me, then slowed down so the driver could yell “Nice ass!” at me before speeding off. It took all of my willpower not to throw the bag of dog poop at his car.

I've got your back!

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

“His friends defended him and said ‘He’s drunk, we’re trying to get him home.'” | Lucy’s Story

I was just coming out of a dinner with an amazing girlfriend of mine and I hadn’t been on the red line in a while…I noticed as I got on the train that the lighting was brighter than the orange line and thought to myself “Hmm this lighting is great it must deter creeps and jerks.”

Not as soon as I sat down this group of three guys in their mid-twenties sat down next to this woman. She had her headphones in and one guy reaches down and brushes her shoe and foot and says “Nice shoes.” and she was obviously disturbed and tried to put her headphones back in when he went down again and brushed her shoe, foot and then up her leg — she looked terrified and frozen in shock. His friends were saying things like “Bro…” and in the middle of the action I said “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? She did not tell you you could do that or invited you into her space. Absolutely not.” His friends defended him and said “He’s drunk, we’re trying to get him home.” I said “That’s no excuse and try harder then.”

I invited the woman to come sit next to me across the aisle. I told her I’m so sorry that this happened to her and that she is entitled to privacy and not to be touched by men who feel entitled to her body. We talked a bit and the guy turns to me and asks “Yo, is that assault?” and I said “yes, that is assault. You can’t do that absolutely not.” and he responds “In Boston? We’re in Boston man…how?” (who knows what that even means.) I turn back to my new friend and chatted a little bit and she thanked me for helping, she didn’t know what to do and I asked her if this has happened before and she said yes. I told her that she can speak up and say no to whoever approaches you or touches her and that there will always be people to try to help her and pointed out the MBTA police and conductors as well. She then said the most upsetting thing to me “But…he was drunk so..” and I reiterated that it was not an excuse for him to touch you without your consent. Just as I explained that to her another man came up to us and told me it was a cool thing for me to do, I told him it wasn’t cool that I did it, I did it because we have to do it and to stand up to stop harassment. It actually SUCKS that I had to do that. I wish that I didn’t have to stand up for myself and sisters because of entitled jerks.

I told my new friend that I wanted to her to feel empowered and strong now to tell these men that they are wrong and can’t touch her or invade her space without her consent and if it happens again to alert the MBTA police. We shook hands and smiled together despite having just gone through a really scary experience together. Thank you Hollaback Boston for helping me find the words to confront this harasser and feel empowered to help my fellow sister on the redline. I couldn’t have done it without this resource.

I've got your back!

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