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Earlier this year, I was out for a run on part of the Southwest Corridor. It was spring, still cold; I was wearing running pants and long sleeves.
At Ruggles Street, I turned to head toward the Fens along the periphery of Northeastern’s campus. I heard a bike behind me on the sidewalk, and grumbled to myself because the cyclist should have been in the street, but I moved to the edge of the sidewalk to allow them to pass.
Nothing. Just the click-click-click of a freewheel coasting right behind me, for two blocks.
At the corner of Parker and Ruggles, I had to stop to wait to cross. The creeper cyclist behind me, whom I was trying to ignore and was hoping was just texting while riding or some such thing that would explain the slow pace, rolled right up next to me.
“Yea, baby, that’s the stuff. That’s the stuff!”
He pedalled off into traffic and I did my best to show no signs of having noticed. There was no one around, as it was early on a weekend morning; no one to witness.
I’d like to think, of course, that this particular…admirer…was well-intentioned, but the simple fact is that it was an unsettling experience at the very least. Whether he realized it or not (and the skeevy leering grin makes me think he did), the shift in power dynamic not only of approaching a woman with lewd commentary on an empty street, but on a bike while she is on foot, and having followed closely behind her for two blocks…is terrifying, and not complimentary or funny.
Britni finds the empowerment aspect of speaking up and fighting back to be quite in line with her naturally feisty disposition and is happy to have the chance to bring the Hollaback! movement to her community. Britni has a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling and her passions include activism, women’s rights, writing, volunteering, the Red Sox, napping, and being as fabulous as humanly possible.
Britni hollas back because she wants to feel safe walking down the street alone, and thinks that everyone should have that basic right.
This happened last year, but it still sticks with me the way a lot of these types of situations do. I am a survivor of sexual abuse that spanned years of my childhood, and so any unwanted aggression from men usually acts to throw me into flashbacks, or causes me to begin dissociating (blocking things out), or full-on re-traumatizes me – so suffice to say, street harassment is intensely upsetting to me and makes me incredibly weary of men that I don’t know in public spaces. A big FUCK YOU to people that say it isn’t a big deal.
This particular incident took place at the library in Copley Square. I was typing away at my computer, trying to get some work done and already in a pissy mood when an older Caucasian fellow (I’m African-American) appeared from nowhere, leaning FAR too closely into me.
(I believe*) His hand slid down my back and he leered at me, muttering, “Are you into white guys at all?”
Typically the question itself isn’t something I would find offensive, as approaching someone you’re attracted to is daunting enough – wanting to know if that attraction could possibly be mutual is normal. However, this situation is OBVIOUSLY not a sensible inquiry during a polite conversation or something – a) I’m clearly in the middle of working, sir, I don’t come to the library to be hit on; b) I never gave you permission to touch me*, and c) I don’t need to be able to count every pore on your face to answer you.
Completely sure that I had either misheard him or hallucinated the entire incident, I blurted out “I’M SORRY?!”
He repeated it matter-of-factually and without hesitation. Everything that happened next was totally involuntary on my part. I’m not actually sure when my hands went up, but when I regained consciousness*, I was leaning away from him, arms up and blocking my body, ready to shove him away, and I exclaimed, “YOU NEED TO STEP AWAY FROM ME.”
Thankfully he did. Immediately. I shuddered as he walked away, as I do even now, writing this. Everything in my mind recognized this situation as threatening and somewhere I reverted to being that scared child again, trying to defend her body against someone that decided that access to her was something he was entitled to.
It angers me to an incredible degree when people insist that sexual harassment of any kind should just be taken as a compliment or that any reaction that isn’t positive is incorrect. These men don’t know who they’re forcing these advances upon – they don’t know what horrors their behavior is recalling for someone, they don’t care what interactions that person doesn’t want to have, they give no fucks for who you are or aren’t, what you do or don’t want. There is NOTHING complimentary about this. This man, any man that does this, doesn’t care about the repercussions of his actions or how they echo on in that woman’s life. You’re just a thing to be commented on or to put their hands on or to force sex onto. How is this a compliment again?
*The reason that I put asterisks beside those sentences is because I believe that I began dissociating IMMEDIATELY after he put his hand on me. Everything became hazy and by the time he walked away, I had to ask myself whether he’d done it or not. I’m sure he did now, but it still stuns me how quickly my brain shut down retention of what was happening.
I still remember, quite vividly in fact, the first time I felt uncomfortable in a public space–the first time I felt that my body wasn’t my own. I still remember what I was wearing, who I was with, and where I was going.
It was 10 years ago, and I was in the fifth grade. I spent that weekend visiting my mom in Allston, visits I always looked forward to. We were on our way to have a late Saturday morning breakfast on Harvard Street, about a ten minute walk from her apartment. The shirt I was wearing that morning was my absolute favorite at the time; it was mostly black with a glitter-filled heart in the center with shiny white letters spelling out the word, “Diva.” I was also sporting black, faux-leather pants that had a slit up each front pant leg, revealing my shins. Hideous, right?
As I walked next to my mom, a man passed. He was older than me, but most people are when you’re 10. I remember how underwhelmingly normal he looked. Just another man on the street, surely not a creep. But then he leered at me. It wasn’t a normal glance in my direction. I knew the difference between a passing glance, friendly eye contact, or a creepy stare even at that age. I immediately felt uncomfortable and unprotected even though my mom stood inches away. The look he gave me lasted lifetimes. I watched as his eyes slowly looked me up, and then down, and then up again. As I’m sure my face reflected, I was horrified. And then he smiled at me. I still remember that smile. I could see his perfectly straight teeth as he slowly raised his eyebrows and smiled.
I was embarrassed. I didn’t say anything to my mom, because what could I say? His look silenced me. It made my body his, not mine. I told myself that it was what I was wearing. I shouldn’t have been wearing such a flashy shirt in the city. That was the only explanation. I shouldn’t have worn those shiny pants. I was sorry that I looked older than I was at the time and I wished I hadn’t physically developed so fast, giving him more of me to look at. I contemplated if I should have taken his gaze as a compliment, if I was merely misinterpreting his intentions. It meant I was attractive, right? Wrong. I was 10, he was probably 30. That, I knew was wrong.
By the time we made it to breakfast, I felt shaken up. Every glance felt violating. I felt scared and alone, even with my mom sitting right across from me. More than anything though, I felt ashamed. I felt put in my place. That day has taught me to always take extra time to think about what I was wearing before leaving the house to go anywhere–even out to breakfast with a parent in broad daylight. It taught me that I had some sort of “price to pay” simply for being a woman–a girl, even–in a public space.
I’ve never actually shared this incident with anyone until right now. So thank you, Hollaback, for listening. It’s just been a memory, sitting in my mind, replaying itself over and over again whenever I was reminded. I always wonder who that man was, and who else he’s looked at, and all the other days that he has ruined without even saying a word.
I wish I could say that this is my only memory of street harassment. But unfortunately, as millions of women know, it only gets worse. The older I get, the more often men feel entitled to make uninvited sexual comments as I walk by, or yell out their car window as I’m on my way to work. Everyday, a reminder that I seem to exist only for men to comment on my appearance. Well, I’ve had enough.
I am involved with Hollaback! Boston because I want to live in a world where street harassment is not a part of my, or anyone’s, daily life. I want to walk to my evening classes without wondering if that guy up ahead is going to say, “Hey baby,” or, “Smile for me, honey.” So with optimism, I look forward to my time with Hollaback! Boston and to getting a discussion going about the problems street harassment pose in the greater Boston area. So please, share your experiences and thoughts with us. Together, we can change the world!
Your friend and fellow Holla-lady,
We’re feeling a bit of HOLLA love throughout the city during this launch week, today from Boston Magazine’s Courtney Hollands.
Thank you, Courtney! We, too, hope that Hollaback! can help Boston start some difficult but productive conversations.
Recently, on a fairly typical Sunday afternoon, I went for a fairly typical run with my boyfriend, on our typical route along Boston’s Southwest Corridor path. Though we’ve had an atypically mild fall this year, it was still November, and I was dressed in full-length running tights and a long sleeved shirt.
We played the usual game:
“What do you think? Was that one for me?”
“Surely a middle-aged man wouldn’t honk at you with a lady in the car?”
“Oh…but that yelling was definitely for you.”
And on we ran.
That same evening, fairly typically, we biked to Cambridge for an event. Decked out in a long-sleeved dress, scarf, tights, bike shorts and sexy, sexy cowboy boots, I trailed behind my boyfriend in traffic by MIT. At Vassar and Mass Ave, a car full of young men nearly collided with him as they made a right turn sans signal (typical) or second glance. They didn’t even notice; they were too busy leaning out their windows, hollering at me.
“F#*@ you, don’t harass women!”
I kept riding. We were running late, and I really didn’t have the energy to trail my partner while he chased down a car full of men to explain that he isn’t fond of them harassing me. (But, that he sometimes does just that is one of the many reasons I love him.)
When I’m biking, I’m much more bold. I’m willing to give chase, to reprimand, to hollaback, because my two wheels are empowering, my u-lock offers protection and I know I stand a chance at confusing them out of harassing me further. When I’m running, though, or otherwise conveying myself by my own two feet, I grow meek – a habit I do not pride myself on – because I feel the threat much more acutely.
On two feet, all I can muster is a concerted effort to show no sign of having heard or noticed, and miles of fuming over what I wish I would have said. On two feet, I am vulnerable – and why must I live in a world where venturing out with my ladyparts on any given day entails fending off unsolicited commentary?
I’m not a man-hater; I’d like to think I’m not humorless. I am cognizant of the critiques that we at Hollaback! are being overly sensitive, that we should be grateful for compliments and just ignore the complimentors if we’re offended. The grey area between inarguably problematic sexual harassment and nice people trying to talk to strangers is exactly that – grey, murky, tricky to navigate. At its root, though, we have a miscommunication of sorts – I feel threatened, for my own reasons and due to my own experience, by “compliments,” commentary, being approached. When I react to a situation that I deem to be street harassment, whether I ignore, engage or holla, I am not passing judgment on an individual – I am passing judgment on a situation, on a circumstance, on a context that I find not to be in my best interest.
In this way, street harassment is very personal for each victim – we must each know our own experiences, and what makes us feel harassed, uncomfortable, unsafe. Arguably, that makes certain things absolutely unknowable to the Nice Guys who may just want to say hello – but that, we hope, is what sharing the entire spectrum of street harassment victims’ experiences here may help illuminate. That personal perspective is the experience we want to allow people to share at Hollaback!, in a forum where we understand that street harassment is pretty much the pits for everyone.
This is why I Hollaback!, and why I’m so excited to get things started in Boston. Friends, peers, colleagues: I know you have some things to say. Help us kick things off – Hollaback!
Earlier today, I shared this ad (and a petition against it) from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on Facebook.
A friend quickly commented, pointing out that the fine print is a message of personal responsibility, not victim blaming – you wouldn’t consider a campaign in favor of cyclists wearing helmets for safety’s sake as blaming the victim of car-bike collisions, after all.
The campaign, overall, truly does seem to be about drinking responsibly, making safe choices and looking out for friends – but I still believe this ad in particular is guilty of perpetuating a damaging construct of victim fault. The headline does not encourage a reading of the fine print; anyone whose eyes are caught by the gams agape will read the main slogan and move on. Would it have been equally provoking and less dangerous if it read, “She didn’t want to do it, but you were too drunk to notice.”? I think it’s possible, though likely unpopular – no one wants to consider themselves capable of rape.
There are, of course, a littany of complaints regarding this ad floating around – but I’m curious, what do you think?
I start my introduction to Hollaback! Boston returning from a late night trip with one of my close friends in search of Hostess Cupcakes, as she was feeling sad. Before deciding to leave our house at 11 PM, I told her I didn’t want to venture into the real world and see people and she told me she didn’t want to buy something from a vending machine on campus because she didn’t want to see people she knew. Thinking it over, I was fine with Tedeschi’s and tried not to think too hard about thinking about what I was wearing and how I was being perceived (ironic, since I had to think about not thinking about it. …Still thinking about it, in the end.). But since I know you’re all dying to know, I was wearing pull on grey sneakers from Payless, college sweatpants, and a navy jacket zipped up to my neck.
Fast forward to the potato chips aisle of Tedeschi’s as I scan the racks for my beloved Bugles. “Hey beautiful.” No response. “With the short hair– hey beautiful.” I turn around, replying with “Hello.” “Hey beautiful, that’s a nice haircut.” To which I reply, “Thank you, but do you think next time you could address me as ‘Hey miss’ or ‘Hey ma’am’ instead of ‘Hey beautiful’ if you want to talk to me, because it makes me feel like I am only here to be commented on.” To which he was genuinely offended that I took this interaction negatively, because I put on my earrings and make up to be seen (i.e. how I sexualized myself from the neck up). Thus begins our long-winded (albeit surprisingly calm, respectful) back and forth about women in public places, how we should just “smile and take it” and how I am lucky someone is commenting on me for being pretty because (essentially) if I was ugly and no one was telling me I was pretty, I would kill myself. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)
This conversation lasted thirty minutes and ended slightly amicably with a handshake and good night well wishes. This was one of the better interactions I have had with a man, but the premise is the same: As a woman, I cannot leave my home at 11:00 PM on a week night with my close friend in search of Hostess Cupcakes because she’s feeling sad without my presence in a public establishment being free reign to comment on and make deductions about , such as my intentions because of the way I wear my hair (which is in a lesbo-chic pixie cut, which I am surprised has not put off more men) and choose to leave on earrings past five o’clock. And my college age male peer looking at the pretzels behind with his biggest concern being “Should I get the sourdough or the honey mustard?” never has to have a second thought about his emergence into the public sphere. This man chose to insert himself into my life and I didn’t have a say about it, and even after a thirty minute conversation where I did have my say, I still don’t believe much of it will change the next time he sees a woman on the street with a pretty haircut. This thirty minute conversation was inserted into my life where it did not need to be, as in doing so, my 11:30 bed time was instead filled with typing this incident instead of buying a pack of cupcakes, walking and chatting with my friend, and saying goodnight, till tomorrow.
And so I close with this. I am goddamn thankful that I have this forum, this community, to speak to about street harassment and how it’s not the inability to take a compliment, because I know that it is so much more than that. Thank you, Hollaback!, for understanding.
We finally made it! Hollaback! Boston is HERE and ready to take your stories of street harassment! We are joining *ten* other sites internationally who are launching today, including:
Meet our new group of site leaders in our awesome video, below!
We couldn’t be more happy to be here and are looking forward to sharing your voice and working to make our city safer! What makes you most excited about having a Hollaback! in your city? Leave a comment below!
Ladies – be careful in the park. About a month ago, it was a sunny day around 11am and I was walking from Whole Foods up Joy Street into the Common to the Park Street station.
I got lost in the park trying to find the stop and was looking down at my phone. There were probably about 20 people in my vicinity. A man came up behind me and shoved me hard. I fell, and in the process of falling he grabbed my arm and tried to steal my cell-phone.
My instant reaction was to pull back, so he only managed to steal the top part of my phone charger and kept running. I yelled after him, but he was running full speed.
Even weirder still, all the people stared after him, but no one asked if I was alright. I was surprised because it was the middle of a sunny day, with people everywhere.
I didn’t get a good look at him, but here is the limited description I can give: 5’10-6’0, medium build, hooded sweatshirt.
Ladies, just be on your guard when you have your phone out at any time of the day – he was definitely trying to use the element of surprise to prey on a lone woman.