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By now you’ve probably seen that video of a woman, Shoshana B. Roberts, walking silently through the streets of Manhattan while she is catcalled or harassed over and over again. This experience is familiar to many women; in fact, it happens every day. Experiences like this, no matter how “minor” they seem on their own, are cumulative and over time can make people feel vulnerable, anxious and unsafe in their communities; this is exactly why our work is important and exactly the kind of behavior that we are working to end. Everyone has the right to feel safe in public space.
That said, we want to clarify a few things about the video, the first thing being that here in Boston, we had nothing to do with the making of the video. We did not see it until the day it was released, like the rest of the world. The video has received very valid criticism for showing mostly men of color harassing Shoshana. We know that this is a common, harmful stereotype and a myth that is perpetuated about street harassment, and we are saddened to see it happen again. We know that people of all racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds can be harassers, and that knowledge is essential to the work we do here in Boston: the culture we are trying to change is one of entitlement to others’ bodies and time, and not one rooted in racial or ethnic identity.
It has also come to light that the creator of the video, Rob Bliss Creative, has admitted to editing white men out of the video due to “poor sound quality” or “sirens [in the background].” This may very well have been the case, and while the harm may not have been intentional, the fact of the matter is that the impact is harmful. If the hope is to make a (viral) statement about who experiences street harassment and who perpetrates it, there is a responsibility to do so thoughtfully and intentionally.
For Hollaback! Boston, a huge part of our work revolves around recognizing the intersections of harassment. We know that the identities we carry with us into the world affect the kind of harassment we experience. We know that not everyone has the privilege to hollaback in the moment, as some people (particularly women of color, trans women, and trans women of color) run a greater risk of having that interaction escalate into dangerous physical violence. We recognize that sometimes the best hollaback is no hollaback at all. We also recognize stop and frisk and the public violence that black and brown men face to be a form of street harassment and vulnerability in public space. We are anti-criminalization and have always supported community solutions, because we know that criminalizing street harassment would further harm communities that are already affected by over-policing and mass incarceration– namely, communities of color.
Hollaback! Boston is committed to racial justice as part of the work that we’re doing here in Boston and New England. We apologize for posting the video before it went viral without comment or critique. We also want to say that these criticisms of the video itself in no way take away from Shoshana’s experience that day and every day. We stand in solidarity with her as she receives rape threats for simply appearing in the video: no one deserves that, and her experience that day looked truly frightening and exhausting
Thank you for your support, Boston. As always, if we can do better, please tell us. When you call us in, when you challenge us, we all become better at what we do, and we’re one step closer to safer public spaces for everyone.
The Hollaback! Boston Team
If you’re interested in reading the statement from Hollaback! (NYC), who was involved in the PSA, their statement can be found here.one comment
Did you know that navigating public space as a sexualized body can cause reactions similar to those experienced by soldiers who have seen combat? Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Maybe you find yourself taking different routes, avoiding certain areas, not wanting to leave the house, or replaying incidents over and over again in your head. This is all normal, but definitely unpleasant and maybe traumatic and upsetting.
Try to relax. Work on taking deep breaths with measured, controlled breathing. Try counting to 5 for an inhale and 5 for an exhale. This can be done immediately following an incident, if need be! Or try downloading a guided meditation from YouTube or on your phone and listen to it when you get home, or maybe on your train ride. Drink some water.
Use grounding techniques. If you felt particularly shaken up by an incident, grounding techniques can help you feel safer. Carry something with you that makes you feel emotionally safe and hold it in your hand following an incident of harassment. Or recite a mantra to yourself, like, “My name is [NAME]. I am in my house/with my friend/in [a business] and I am safe.” Pay attention to your surroundings by naming one thing you can feel, one thing you can taste, one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, and one thing you can smell at a given moment. Focus on your heartbeat.
Seek support. Call a friend or loved one to vent about the incident. Talk to your roommate or partner about how you feel. Submit your story to Hollaback! Boston’s site. If it feels safe and supportive, use your social media networks to share your story and get assurance that you are not alone. Hang out with people you feel safe around and/or who make you laugh.
Connect with your body. Attend a yoga class. Give yourself an orgasm, either alone or with a partner. Go to the gym or for a run. Wear a fancy outfit that makes you feel good, whatever that may look like. Maybe it’s a tutu or a bow tie or a cool hat, or even just jeans and a tee! Get dressed up and do it for YOU.
Give yourself space. Take a bath, maybe with bubbles or a bath bomb or candles. Take a nap. Put on relaxing or invigorating music. Read a book that you can get lost in. Write yourself a love letter. Wear undergarments or PJs that make you feel good, whether that’s sexy or comfy. Write in a journal. Veg out with reality TV, Netflix, or a much-loved movie. Eat your favorite food.
What have we missed? What techniques and activities do you find most empowering and helpful to deal with the stress of harassment in the moment or after the fact? Let us know in the comments!
To download this post as a handout or resource, click here!no comments
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!
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,
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org”
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.
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.
HOLLA friends, we are so excited that our transit ads are finally a reality. It has been a two-year labor of love and frustration to bring these ads to the MBTA, but it’s all paid off. These ads are the result of grant money from both Mass NOW and the Pollination Project, and would not have been possible without the hard work of former intern Kayla Hogan. Also, a huge shoutout to HollabackPHILLY, who paved the way for us with their own ads and shared their designs with us.
Our press release from last week is below, followed by images of the three different ads that are currently on buses and Red Line trains. If you see an ad on your commute, snap a photo and send it our way! You can tweet it at @HollabackBoston and @MassNOW and tag it with #endSH and #MBTA. Let’s show the city and the MBTA how crucial these ads are and how much we’d love to have even more of them!
Hollaback! Boston and Mass. NOW ads featured in MBTA Red Line Trains (September 8, 2014)
Boston– Appearing in MBTA buses and Red Line trains today, a series of ads is highlighting the issue of street harassment in Boston. The ads are the work of Hollaback! Boston and Mass. NOW, funded through a Mass. NOW Feminism in Action Grant awarded to former Hollaback! Boston intern Kayla Hogan, and a Pollination Project Seed The Change grant.
“This anti-street harassment ad campaign is a collective labor of love between Mass. NOW, Hollaback! Boston and myself. We chose to display the ads on MBTA busses and trains because we believe that public transportation, and all public space, should be safe for everyone. Busses and trains are often sites of harassment, but we can change that,” said Kayla Hogan. “My hope is that these ads instill a sense of community and support in Bostonians, dismantling the mindsets of harassers and transforming passengers into active bystanders. The messages in the ads are both informational and motivational, hopefully helping to shift our culture from one that asks, “Can we stop street harassment?” to one that asks, “How can we stop street harassment?” It’s certainly something worth thinking about during our daily commutes.”
“We’re excited to bring Hollaback! Philly’s transit ad model to the Boston area through this partnership with Mass. NOW, and are so grateful for Kayla’s hard work over the past year to make the ads a reality,” said Kate Ziegler, Co-Director of Hollaback! Boston.
Hollaback! Boston works to combat street harassment in Boston through workshops, support groups, advocacy and education, as well as collecting and mapping individual stories of street harassment on their site.
“One in five stories submitted through Hollaback! Boston’s site or mobile app are experiences of harassment on the T, or while waiting for the T; we look to our story submissions to identify hot spots of harassment and focus our work, and it has been very clear that transit harassment, and an ad campaign highlighting the behavior, were priorities for us. When we conducted our State of the Streets report last fall, we found that 63% of respondents that had been harassed had experienced harassment on the MBTA,” Ziegler said. “Many people still don’t know that there is a term for this behavior, or that it makes people feel vulnerable and unsafe and is a problem. We hope that the transit ads will help change that.”
Ads will run on MBTA buses and on Red Line trains, and highlight common harassment faced by both women and LGBTQ riders. They are also a call to action for potential bystanders; many victims of street harassment on transit express embarrassment and frustration when witnesses say nothing during or after the incident, despite their proximity.
“Even simply asking a victim if they’re okay can be a huge relief, an acknowledgment that the harassment wasn’t imagined and that the community has their back,” Ziegler said, but notes that safety should be the top priority when facing harassers.
“Mass. NOW is so proud of Kayla’s vision and hard work that made this project a reality. The purpose of the Feminism in Action Grant is to empower young feminists to educate the public on one of our six issue areas. We believe this project will be immensely powerful in bringing awareness to the violence and harassment women face every day in public spaces,” said Katie Hayden, Policy and Operations Manager of Mass. NOW. “We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Hollaback Boston to bring awareness to the issue of Street Harassment and are eager to continue the legacy of young activism by awarding this year’s grant on September 20.”
Supporters, we are so grateful to you for rallying to support safe public space for survivors of sexual violence, and for everyone in Boston!
Before going public with our Change.org petition this week, we reached out to American Apparel on Newbury Street several times by phone and email for confirmation and clarification, but received no response; since we published the petition, we have been able to confirm with the store that the portait in question is, despite the resemblance, actually Dov Charney’s grandfather.
We want to apologize for jumping the gun in this particular case, but we appreciate the outpouring of support for our work to create safe public spaces in Boston and throughout New England. Some campaigns, like our current MBTA ads, are years in the making; others come up in a flash, and we respond as best we can, as quickly as possible, in support of those who share their stories with us. In this case, we got it wrong.
Thank you for understanding, and for all that you do!
-The Hollaback! Boston Team
Director note 8/28/14: We are happy to report that after this post was published, Uber got in touch with us immediately. Going forward, we are excited to be working with them to develop appropriate anti-harassment training for their drivers. Thank you, Uber Boston, for taking our concerns seriously and for being committed to providing safe transit for all of our residents! -Britni
I want to say this upfront: here at Hollaback! Boston, we love Uber. Many of us are Uber users ourselves, and the reason that we reached out to them with the following correspondence in the first place was because we’re hoping to make them even better and we wanted to address what we saw as a possible blind spot in their policies and procedures.
The entire thing started when I read this piece from Collective Action for Safe Spaces about Uber’s recent “Safe Rides Fee.” CASS said the following:
Ultimately, our call this week with Uber revealed that — despite its new safety fee — not much has changed about how the company trains its staff or deals with sexual harassment complaints.In our work on transit issues, CASS has emphasized that culture change is the key to ensuring safe transportation for women and LGBTQ individuals. When it comes to Uber, firing individual drivers may cure the symptoms, but not the cause: the unmet need for preventive training regarding sexual harassment and assault. The Uber rep that CASS spoke with said that the company hardly ever receives reports of sexual harassment or assault by drivers. When you’re dealing with the most underreported crime in the country, a low number of reports is not the best indicator of progress. Often, it’s a sign that victims don’t feel empowered to speak up. Rather than offering a misleading “safety” surcharge, what about actually increasing passenger safety in the present? We think Uber should do more.
Knowing that Uber branches are run locally, we decided to reach out to Uber Boston about the same issue. On May 3, I sent the following email to the press email address at Uber:
If this is not the right email address to contact with this sort of question, could you please forward it on to the right person? It’s the only one I could find on the site!
I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about the Safe Rides Fee on uberX. What does that fee pay for, exactly? How does it contribute to safety of riders? I’m asking because, here at Hollaback! Boston, we’re working towards safe public space in our city, and that includes transit and transportation options. We’re huge advocates for a variety of options for people to get around, and would love to know more about how Uber is contributing to that and how the Safe Rides Fee ties in.
Looking forward to hearing from you and thank you so much!
Co-director, Hollaback! Boston
Ten days later, on May 13, we received a reply from Meghan.
Thank you so much for reaching out! We are also huge advocates for a variety of options for people to get around – and also safe public space in our city – so it’s great to connect.
Uber’s #1 mission is and always has been connecting riders with the safest rides on the road. The Safe Rides Fee is simply a transparent way for us to support the increased costs associated with our continued safety efforts – including enhanced background checks (at county, state, and federal levels), regular motor vehicle checks on Uber’s constantly growing list of partner drivers around the world, driver safety education, current and future development of additional safety features in the app, and insurance. By adding $1 to each uberX trip, we can maintain a sustainable business while continuing to provide affordable, reliable, convenient rides to as many people as possible around the city – and around the world.
Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any further questions, and please let us know if you’d ever like to partner together on any of your events… We’d love to help provide free rides for people who have yet to try Uber, or provide whatever information we can to get the word out about safe transportation options.
And feel free to reach me at this email from now on! As you can see, it can sometimes take a while for emails sent to email@example.com to find the right owner.
While I appreciated the response, it did not contain any information about the Safe Rides Fee that was not already listed on the Uber website. Looking at the site now, it appears that the Safe Rides Fee information has been removed, and in its place is a tab on safety. It discusses “rider safety,” and mentions background checks for drivers, not having to hail a car, anonymous feedback, and driver profiles. What it does not mention is sexual assault or harassment training for drivers, which the Safe Rides Fee before it did not mention either. I followed up with Meghan the next day and received no reply. This continued as I sent three emails over the course of two months. In these emails, I wanted to know the answers to three specific questions:
After getting no response from my third followup email with Meghan at Uber, I was preparing to contact them one more time to let them know that we would be writing this post, and we’d really appreciate if they would comment further on their sexual assault and harassment policies. We love their company and wanted to give them the chance to speak for themselves, and I wondered if maybe we weren’t getting a response because Meghan was no longer with the company. While preparing that email, CASS ran another piece, this time about a sexual assault by a Uber DC driver that had allegedly occurred. I tweeted the link from my personal Twitter account and had the following exchange:
True to my word, I sent another email, this time attaching the link to the most recent CASS piece about a sexual assault by an Uber driver and the screenshot of their tweet directing me to email the Support Boston address. I also included all previous attempts at correspondence to show that I had been trying to contact them about this issue for going on three months.
It took a pretty ridiculous full week for them to reply to my email, but Meghan, who is still with the company, got back to me. And in the email, she did not address a single one of my specific questions.
This response is unacceptable. For the past three months, Uber has dodged our emails, responding only after being publicly called out on Twitter. That response is inadequate, as it fails to actually answer any of the specific questions that we asked them about their driver training. Uber’s lack of transparency and reluctance to address the possibility of sexual assault and harassment by their drivers is concerning, and sends the message that they don’t take these matters seriously. Especially in light of the recent assault by an Uber driver in DC, we think it’s incredibly important that Uber be willing to address these matters and offer training for their drivers in a concrete manner. We’d even be happy to work with them to develop the training!
So we want to know: why won’t Uber talk to us about sexual assault and harassment policies? If Uber takes safety as seriously as they indicate on their website, they should consider it.one comment
Here at Hollaback! Boston (and the entire Hollaback! organization), we’re huge fans of using mobile technology to make the streets safer. In fact, we have our very own iPhone and Android apps that allow you to report incidents of street harassment when you’re on the go. A core tenet of the Hollaback! movement is that we can leverage the technology that now exists at our fingertips to give a voice and bring awareness to an issue that is often ignored and that affects populations of people that are often silenced. So when we see other people using apps to make their communities safer, we’re totally on board. What we’re not on board with, however, are apps that claim to be for “community safety” but can actually perpetuate harmful stereotypes that contribute to street violence and unsafe communities in the first place.
I present to you the SketchFactor app. An app created by two white people, SketchFactor is “a Manhattan-based navigation app that crowdsources user experiences along with publicly available data to rate the relative ‘sketchiness’ of certain areas in major cities.” This app allows users to rate an area on a scale of 1-5 in terms of “sketchiness” and then leave a comment or tip that says why that area is sketchy. This app, whose concept is super upsetting, is already a finalist in a contest to win $20,000. Hooray, racism!
The Hollaback! app also maps incidents based on user submissions. The difference, however, is that SketchFactor seeks to document which areas or neighborhoods are dangerous and should be avoided. The Hollaback! app was never meant to do that; what our map actually shows is that street harassment is not limited to certain neighborhoods. Our map shows that street harassment happens everywhere, even in neighborhoods that are known for being “safe.”
The SketchFactor app, which is being promoted under the guise of “public safety,” actually has the potential to perpetuate racist and classist stereotypes. These stereotypes, combined with the realities of living in a white supremacist society, are factors that reinforce poverty-stricken neighborhoods occupied predominantly by people of color, who are more likely to be poor than white people. It’s these neighborhoods that people are more likely to deem “unsafe” or “bad.” As Renee Davidson from Collective Action for Safe Spaces says, “Perceptions of what makes an area ‘sketchy’ or unsafe can be largely unfounded and largely based on assumptions or stereotypes around factors like race, economic privilege or immigration status.”
In browsing the submissions received thus far in Boston, you can see that starting to happen already. There is one submission that simply rates an area as sketchy because of the “projects.” Another cites that her boyfriend was “flashed a gang sign [in a convenience store].” A corner next to a methadone clinic and homeless shelter is pinged for its drug activity. It’s no coincidence that these things that are being deemed “sketchy” are associated with low-income people of color or with marginalized groups, like the submission that cites “angry lesbians” or “too many Asian[s].”
A look at the SketchFactor website shows the following answer to a frequently asked question:
What about the racial and class implications? Doesn’t this harm communities?
SketchFactor is a tool that can be used anywhere at any time by anyone. The app is not exclusive to privileged communities or tourists. Many of our users experience racial profiling, police misconduct, and harassment. We encourage all users to report this information. In addition, we partner with community organizations to ensure all members of the community have access to this app.
They also want you to know that “Any racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise discriminatory posts will be deleted.” The problem is, there’s no way to report that. You can “upvote” or “downvote” a tip, but you can’t report it directly to the app. And sure, the app is available to everyone. But you’re counting on the majority of people in an inherently racist society to “downvote” racist tips. Unfortunately, if you’re at all familiar with how the internet works, people do not always do the right thing and many people have very problematic and damaging views.
Here’s the thing: you can talk to all the community organizations you want and your intentions may be good, but the reality is that won’t stop other people from being racist. And regardless of what you want the app to be used for, other people are going to use it as they see fit, to perpetuate and promote the views that they have of the world. An app that allows users to rate neighborhoods as “sketchy” has the potential to do more harm than good, no matter what you hope it will do. It’s white privilege that allows someone to put this app into the world and assume that something good and non-discriminatory will come out of it.
Luckily, though, many people are awesome and are already challenging the app, like the tip on Newbury Street that cites “white people looking at and touching things,” or the Charlestown tip that says people are “robbing banks to get money for drugs,” which I’m pretty sure was the plot of the movie The Town.
Director’s Note: This post was originally published on Britni’s personal blog, but it’s a perspective we want to include here as well. The conversation about our individual blind spots as we work to make public space safer for everyone is an important one, and the response – including that of the Cards Against Harassment creator – has been open-minded, constructive and positive. Share your thoughts in the comments! And, see Lindsay’s response to Britni’s original piece at the end of this cross-post – we want to recognize her for being open to learning and criticisms, and for her thoughtful response. –Kate
Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you’ve probably seen something about Cards Against Harassment. The cards, and their creator, Lindsay, have gone viral on the internet in the last few weeks. The premise behind them is a simple one– when a man harasses you on the street, you hand them one of the downloadable cards with snappy comebacks on them. In general, I’m not against this kind of response to street harassment. In fact, Hollaback! Boston makes our own creeper cards that can be handed out to people should the victim of harassment feel safe enough to do so.
This last point is an important one. Responding to street harassment is a tricky thing and it is different for every person. We all carry different identities with us, and some of those identities make speaking up more difficult. Which is why I was horrified when @feministajones tweeted about the drop page last night, pointing out that this is what you see when you visit the homepage of Cards Against Harassment:
*deep breath*, you guys. Because WHOA, do I have a lot to say about why this is incredibly misguided. I think that it is ignorant and dangerous to paint responding to street harassment as something “fun.” Even if you feel safe enough to respond in some way, this isn’t something fun. Responding to street harassment always carries a risk of escalation. It can be a very dangerous thing to do, and it is not for everyone. You never know how the harasser is going to respond and if they are going to get angry and lash out. Don’t believe me? I can cite example after example of women who were attacked or killed for standing up to harassers. Do you think responding to street harassment was “fun” for CeCe McDonald? Was it “fun” for Islan Nettles? What about for the 14-year-old girl who was run over by a car for refusing her harasser? I’m willing to bet that none of those women would tell you that responding to street harassment is fun.
Feeling safe enough to respond to street harassment requires some kind of privilege. The more marginalized identities you carry with you, the less safe you are to speak up when someone harasses you because the harassers know that people are less likely to care about you if something happens. All women are not created equal in the eyes of society. It’s important to acknowledge that a white woman carries more privilege with her than a woman of color. Cisgender women carry more privilege than transwomen. Women of color and transwomen run higher risk of their confrontations escalating than white cisgender women do. This is not to say that white cisgender women will never face escalation, because we all know that is untrue. I’ve experienced it myself. But what I am saying is that statistics show that women of color and transwomen experience violence at disproportionately higher rates.
My problem is not with the cards themselves. It’s with the fact that there is no disclaimer or seeming recognition that they may not be a safe solution for everyone to use. There seems to be no recognition of Lindsay’s own privilege or understanding that others may lack it. Yes, she links to Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback! as resources, but not everyone is going to click through to them. And this is not the first time that a woman of color has found issue with Cards Against Harassment’s intersectionality. Over at Autostraddle, Hannah Hodson writes:
…it is hard to ignore the plainly evident: the majority of the people Lindsey embarrasses are men of color. Despite protestations that she has approached both white men and women about street harassment, Lindsey’s videos clearly illustrate the disproportionate prevalence of street harassment in communities of color (read: poor and working class urban communities).
You can call it “pulling the race card.” You can call it “white-splaining.” However, it is clear there is a racial and cultural element that Lindsey is anxious to avoid by literally cutting Jared off. When a Black person says to a white person, something racist is happening, it is said white person’s responsibility to respond by saying, you might be right, please explain. Lindsey has been quoted saying, “Though I’m filming as I’m encountering experiences, I’m in no way attempting to target a specific demographic…Sexism is sexism.” Sure, Lindsey isn’t seeking to approach men of color (though, her daily commute involves public transportation, mostly used by people of color), but in the end these are the men who end up lambasted on her website. “Sexism is sexism” is exactly the kind of language used to deny any kind of intersectionality within the feminist movement. It is the kind of language that sparked #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. It is the kind of language that denies Black women the agency to approach problems that are prevalent in their own communities.
It’s important to understand that my experience of sexism does not erase a man of color’s experience of racism. These are both completely valid understandings of our own lived experiences. Does a black man’s experience of racism excuse his harassing behavior? Of course not. But to ignore the reality of his lived experience is racist. Oppressions overlap. Shit gets complicated. But it’s not okay for me to tell a man of color that he’s not experiencing racism because of course he is. Society is racist. He experiences racism every day, in the same way that I experience sexism every day.
And this language of erasure that is used in the videos and website of Cards Against Harassment, this language that “denies black women the agency to approach problems that are prevalent in their own communities” is why Feminista Jones started #YouOKSis. She says:
…the movement still continues to be focused on white women, often opposite men of color or black men. Sometimes it gets into, These savage black men are preying on precious white women. That narrative in the United States has gotten many black men jailed and killed. I wanted to focus on black women’s experiences with [harassment] from anyone. It could be white men, Asian men, women—I’ve talked about being harassed by two lesbian women. But I wanted to center our voices, because I feel like black women’s voices are not always amplified.
As a white, cisgender woman, here’s what I want to say: we deserve to have a voice and we get to own our own experiences of street harassment. But we do not get to own a universal experience of street harassment. Because even though I experience harassment on a near-daily basis and even though I fear for my safety when that happens, I also have to recognize that my lived experience is not the same as a woman of color’s experience or a transwoman’s experience of a TWoC’s experience or a visibly queer person’s experience. And it is therefore not on me to pretend to know what that’s like. And when I create a movement that ignores the differences that we all have, one that does not acknowledge that those differences exist, I’m pretending to speak for everyone by omitting the fact that I don’t.
When I make cards that look like this, I’m missing an intersectional lens on my work:
It’s not just “poorly behaved children” who blurt out everything that pops into their head. That’s an ableist assumption. People with Tourette’s, dementia, or autism may behave this way. And children that *do* blurt out everything that pops into their head are not necessarily “poorly behaved.” They’re children. They’re learning. They’re using their voice. And that’s perfectly okay.
When I make cards that look like this, I’m missing an intersectional lens on my work:
Because as Feminista Jones points out:
I seriously hope that Lindsday has never handed that card about how someone’s mother failed to raise him properly to a man of color, when we know that black women have the highest rates of single motherhood. Not only that, not everyone has a mother and even if they do, I don’t like the idea of somehow blaming another woman for her son’s misogynist behavior.
So yes, maybe Cards Against Harassment are empowering to some people. And that’s AWESOME. But they are not empowering to all people, and they may not even be an option for some people. And that’s okay, but we need to acknowledge that. Responding to street harassment gets people killed. That is a very real reality for some people. They live with that fear every day. And making this sound like a game, one where you get to hand out cheeky cards to harassers to see how they respond, is dangerous. Because street harassment is not a game. It’s very much a matter of life and death for some people.
Thank you for the valuable feedback. Although there were in fact already several disclaimers on the site (see, e.g., the About page, which has not been edited) the unanticipated viral sharing of the project absolutely carries with it a heightened responsibility for more appropriate messaging than what I initially designed for myself. The originally playful tone of the site was adopted because my male colleagues, relatives, and friends have been very quick to label objections to street harassment as “humorless angry feminist” rantings; my hope was that by maintaining a playful tone in my site (which was designed for myself, the men I handed cards to, and my immediate peer group who didn’t quite get why this was an issue), men visiting the site would be able to focus on the underlying messaging rather than immediately write it off as unpalatable feminist ire. However, I too share a great deal of concern that this personal project has gotten the attention that it has when other established campaigns which are healthier and more universally appropriate have not gone as viral, transforming the original message (here’s something I did when I had had enough) into a more dangerous message (i.e. here is something other women should do.) (You may ask, why not pull the site altogether if I share that concern, and the answer is I’ve received thousands of emails from other women who do think the cards might be right for them, so I am trying to strike a balance.) I have updated the site with several more prominent disclaimers and to remove some of the language you noted as more problematic when viewed in a larger context. I am also going to be pulling the ableist card.
I certainly don’t expect you to update your post because all of the criticism you note remains valid and an appropriate part of the conversation, but wanted to reach out and thank you for the feedback.
Last week, I was asked to share my story at a hearing on the recently filed bill to provide narrow protections of (and repercussions for impeding access to) reproductive healthcare clinics in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling striking down Massachusetts’ former buffer zone law.
As I sat waiting to give testimony, I noticed that the audience members sitting behind me were whispering furiously, and not terribly discretely, through any pro-choice testimony. As Megan Amundson of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts explained to the committee that her written testimony also included the stories of several victims of harassment who wished to remain anonymous, I heard a clear snort of derision. “How convenient!” my neighbors sneered. “Anonymous testimony.”
In that moment, my reasons for testifying, for sharing my story publicly and for the record, were reaffirmed: talking about one’s own most vulnerable moments, those moments which left such a mark on the memory that they cannot be shaken even as we move beyond them, is uncomfortable. It is to reopen that vulnerability, to experience the fear and the fury once more, and it is – frankly – unpleasant. And yet, my clinic harassment tale was not one in which I was physically assaulted, nor which caught me at a particularly trying time in my life; at first, I laughed it off, only shared the odd experience with my partner, and moved on. But sharing our stories, just like the shared stories of street harassment submitted to Hollaback! Boston, begins to change the conversation; shared stories show the breadth and diversity of experience, and shared stories from those who feel safe enough to attach their real name lend a credibility and an individuality that strengthens the testimony.
I am, fortunately, in a position to share. I am thankful to feel safe at home and at work, both physically and emotionally, and to have a strong support system; the repercussions and consequences I fear from speaking out, publicly and loudly, are not unfounded, but the risk is less than others may face. As a site leader for Hollaback! Boston, I regularly encourage victims and bystanders to speak up, to start the conversation, to testify; how could I, in good conscience, remain silent – especially faced with those whispered accusations of falsehood? “How convenient. Anonymous testimony.”
Here is my testimony from the hearing. It is not anonymous. It happened, to me, in 2008, and it was very real and very terrifying and very much NOT counseling, but harassment. Experiences like these are why protestors around clinics are a public safety concern. Experiences like these are why clinic patients and visitors and staff fear for their safety in public space. Experiences like these are why Hollaback! Boston has partnered with coalitions working to pass a replacement to the buffer zone law, and soon – because EVERYONE has a right to feel safe on our streets.
If you, too, would like to share your story of harassment and intimidation, at a reproductive health care clinic or anywhere else, Hollaback! Boston is here as a resource and a platform – and anonymous stories are always welcome! We are honored to publish the experiences that Bostonians have entrusted to us, and we intend to continue offering a space to safely share, to learn, to testify, and to spark conversation and prompt change.
Chairman Brownsberger, Vice Chairman Markey, Members of the Committee – thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
I urge you to support the Safe Access Bill so people can access health care without feeling unsafe. Even when simply accessing birth control, protestors outside clinics are intimidating and threatening, and we need to ensure safe access to health care in the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down the buffer zone law.
I’ve been on hormonal birth control, in various forms, since I was 18. From my first period at 13, my cycles were abnormal, irregular and wholly unpredictable; to regulate them, I was prescribed Yasmin, a dual-hormone daily birth control pill, and it worked wonders.
For a time in 2006 and 2007, my birth control costs, no longer covered by insurance while I was a student in Boston, rose above $70 per month. The increased price was a burden. In late 2007, in an effort to be more responsible with my money, I decided to seek out a less expensive alternative. Without a local OB/GYN, I headed to Planned Parenthood. I was prescribed a different dual-hormone generic at a much more reasonable price point, but I had to go to PPLM every month to pick up my pills.
And so, I did.
One month, on a weekday morning, I arrived at Planned Parenthood in Boston to pick up pills on my way to work as a Northeastern co-op. There were just a handful of protestors outside the clinic, lining the yellow buffer zone painted on the sidewalk, and I locked my bike a bit away from the entrance. As I approached, someone asked why I was there – I assured him it was a private question I didn’t intend to answer, certainly not on the street.
Before I could duck inside the clinic, this counselor escalated his rhetoric: “You nazi bitch, you should be ashamed!”
I turned, shocked, and asked him to repeat himself. He did, and added other vitriol. I asked, from the perceived safety of the doorway far within the yellow line, what he had against a woman seeking medical care, before ducking inside, shaking as I passed through the requisite metal detectors.
That protestor was still there when I left. I was terrified that he would follow me to where I had locked my bike, and furious that I felt ashamed and frightened leaving the clinic with the birth control pills that my doctors prescribed. All of this, on a weekday morning.
Let me reiterate:
I was called a nazi bitch for refusing to tell a stranger on the sidewalk what medical care I sought.
I was told to be ashamed for consulting with doctors about my own health care.
Though it would have been simpler, I never had the courage to stop by the Boston clinic on a Saturday to pick up my pills; the fear of a protestor singling me out, engaging me beyond the clinic vicinity, following me as I left, seemed too great, the possibility of confrontation too real, and I was only seeking medication. I was terrified to face harassment on my way out, or to spend time unlocking my bike or waiting for the T to finish my commute. Ultimately, I was driven to find a different provider to avoid the stress of the clinic; I am fortunate now to afford to make that decision.
What is at stake here is the ability of people, women and trans men and queer folks who might rely on clinic services for any number of reasons, having their options limited because someone else made them feel unsafe in public, and unsafe accessing their doctors. Please lend your support to the Safe Access Bill so that others can feel safer accessing health care than I have.
image credit: NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts