Hollaback! Wants to Help You Help Everyone

Carmen’s Team Pick:

Remember that time you were walking down the street in your high-waisted blue shorts and some dude just started yelling advances at you? Or that time you were with your friends and a grown man put his hands on you and pulled you toward him? Or maybe the time you were alone on the metro going to your internship and a 30-something asked you to be his wife and where you were going and could he come?

Did anyone say anything?

Street harassment is an epidemic that I am confident you’re familiar with, even if you don’t call it by that name. It’s men calling you “shorty” when you walk by and whistling at you when you’re just trying to get Starbucks. Or being groped, touched, or otherwise harassed on the red line when you’re only two stops from home and you just don’t get why being a chick sometimes means dealing with these assholes.

Hollaback! encourages anyone facing street harassment to report it and map it via a mobile device.

Hollaback! has been expanding the movement to end street harassment since last summer, when I hopped on board for their national launch and helped them to reach the social media universe. I wanted to be a part of something that would end one of the shittiest experiences I have as a woman in an urban environment. Being a woman shouldn’t have consequences. And no matter how you’re dressed, or where you are, you should feel safe there.

Originally, Hollaback! started by mapping street harassment on digital maps that updated in real time. They collected stories and published them. They proved that street harassment was a real problem. But after reading through the stories, Emily May, founder of Hollaback!, realized that over 15% of them talked about the “bystander effect.” People don’t intervene. Sometimes, people actually leave when they witness street harassment. They are launching the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign in reaction, to show bystanders how to intervene and to celebrate when they do. Hollaback! wants to build a world where we all have each other’s backs.

The Green Dot program, which is partnering with Hollaback! for this particular campaign, is an excellent bystander intervention training program that delineates and breaks down the steps to successful bystander intervention and empowers attendees to become more active bystanders. Because change doesn’t come from one person doing everything, it comes from all of us doing something. And if we all spoke up — and if we all had each other’s backs — we might find ourselves participating in a culture where street harassment doesn’t exist, because we don’t allow it to. We have that power, but only if we work together.

You can get involved by donating to their Indie GoGo campaign.


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Carmen

Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 1 article for us.

68 Comments

  1. Three or so weeks ago, I made the undoubtedly STUPID mistake of answering with the truth when one of the boys in my building asked me about my girlfriend.

    Dude: “Who’s the lady? Is she the police?
    Me: (Getting the mail, while my gf walks up the stairs with the puppy)The Police? What? No?! That’s my girlfriend.

    Let’s pause for a minute. As SOON as I said those words my heart dropped. You have to understand that I am the kind of queer girl who announces it to the world. It’s not very obvious that I’m queer, unless I’m with POC queer communities, where my external signals are easily read. And given that I came out white (predominantly white upper middle class private liberal art school) I’m use to just telling people. This time, I fucked up big time. And I realized my mistake as soon as I made it.

    Dude: Your girlfriend, what you a dyke or somethin’?
    Me: Maybe you could tone down the homophobia?
    Dude: How you expec’ to have kids without a Dick?

    I also should mention that once riled, I don’t know how to shut up. We engage in this lovely repartee for a bit and then, I finally give up and head to the elevator–because let’s be honest, there was no way that I was gonna turned that into a teaching moment.

    I was shaken, I walked upstairs to my gf who’d missed the whole thing. I proceed to freak her out by telling her about the previous ten minutes.

    Fast forward to the next few days–I become a TARGET of homophobia. You have to understand that I was already a target in this neighborhood. Any dude with eyes, and limbs think that they can touch me, call out to me, be innapropriate in ways that I don’t even need to enumerate–I’m sure you know. But now, on top of that harrassment it’s also: ” Dyke!, you like girls yeah?, fucking dyke! I am also rapped to/sung to about what’s gonna happen to dykes, everything that you can think of, I’ve heard it.

    The other day, I am waiting for the elevator with several grocery bags in hand when a dude decides that he’s going to walk by me a total of 12 times. TWELVE TIMES you guys. I immediately start to think: SHIT, this is the day where I’m gonna be raped in the elevator, isn’t it. I take the stairs with all of my groceries. In fact, if anyone is in the elevator, I do not get it.

    Everyone sees this–no one says a thing. Until finally i approach a few key people in my neighborhood that I trust and they approach the group of boys and asked them/scare them into stopping. It slows their venom down, but it doesn’t stop. Now, I don’t go anywhere without my puppy because thank god, everyone in crown heights, Brooklyn is afraid of dogs (and they should be, because though my puppy is meek, he would eat wholly, any human being attempting to do me harm.)

    It’s time for me to move. I am not fighting this any longer. And this is a great lesson is why it is necessary to stay in the closet some times.

  2. I actually take no issue with guys hollering at me. I’m blonde/used to it. SOmetimes I thnk that you could have a face like Voldemort and as long as you are blonde, will still get hassled. But, as long guys they keep a distance and don’t approach me I find it flattering, as long as it’s in decent taste and non threatening. I can’t deny that I smiled when someone walks by me and a few seconds later I hear “daymmmm”

    BUT! Groping, any kind on contact, hate filled stuff, homophobic like in Chrissye’s case, etc I can not stand. And guys that just don’t listen to “No thanks, please go away.” I don’t know how many of you have been to NYC but if you are female — regardless of your clothing/looks, some guys will just hassle the HELL out of you and a (luckily small number) will follow you until you can escape. If they happen to walk into the same subway car as you, prepare for an annoying trip, unless you can distance yourself in the mob or you walk between cars.

    SOB STORY:

    I was on a bus early early AM once in a decent sized college town. A quiet man maybe in his 30’s got on the bus which was semi crowded and sat next to me. It was the last seat, though there was plenty of standing room, whatever, didn’t think a thing about it. Smiled as my usual happy self etc, continued staring out the window dreading my work day. Suddenly dude shifts in his seat, hand grazes my thigh (wearing thin cahki pants). Anyway, didn’t think a thing of it. It’s the bus, this stuff is the norm. But then it happens again without him shifting, just a light graze. He doesn’t even look over. With my bleeding nice heart I think “Oh well maybe he has a disability or something, it’s okay no worries”. Fast forward about 60 seconds and it happens again. This time I’m pissed, dude is clearly of sound [well, non handicapped] mind and knows what he’s doing.

    “Stop” I say as I push his still lingering hand. No smile or any emotion in his face, he’s just staring forward, the way you pass a note in class. He scoots over even closer now and I push him away. People have gotten off the bus by now and there’s very few on there (my stop was a few after the major college campus stops which usually almost cleared it out). No one is nearby, one guy with headphones on in the back and a few far up front.

    So I move to stand up and he fucking pushes me back down. Now, I’m not a big tough girl at all (I do not approve of violence), but was a gymnast for a decent while and I’ve got some power in my arms. I had never wanted to violently hurt someone in my life so much as I did in that moment, but I just panicked and didn’t know what to do.

    I thought if I said something people on the bus would think I was crazy OR he’d pull out a knife or something since I had created a situation. So I just remained in my seat as he kept rubbing on my thigh, harder and closer to my nether region. I wanted to kill him and myself at the same time and felt so powerless. Why couldn’t I scream? Why couldn’t I punch him in the face/bite him/claw him (was going through a self induced single period, indulged in having long nails). ANYWAY — finally my stop comes and I stand up, he tries to push me back down AGAIN but this time i overpower him and push by and he grabs my ass as I walk off.

    I just wanted to get to work and forget about it and I knew the driver from many morning commutes and he didn’t speak very good English so communicating what had happened in a non obvious way seemed impossible.

    So I’m like “screw this” and start to get off and I see the guy out of the corner of my eye get up and sit next to an older woman closer to the front and I think “AW HELLS NO” so I turn around and tell the driver loudly what happened. He says “YOU OFF NOW OR I CALL POLICE” while pointing at the guy.

    THE FUCKING DRIVER KICKED HIM OFF THE BUS AT THE STOP THAT I HAD GOTTEN OFF AT ALONE 6 BLOCKS WALKING DISTANCE FROM MY WORK.

    I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast in my life.

    I called the police when I got to work and gave the best description I could and said what stop and line I was on, so hopefully maybe he got caught one day but I doubt it.

    I still have no idea why I didn’t do anything when it was happening. I’ve never felt so violated except for one time where a girl I was not interested in and said “No” to tried to get busy with me in a very threatening way.

    *sigh*

    Also I wonder if this program will cover subways. That seems impossible since they move so fast and are obvs mostly underground but a lot goes on down there. I’d love to say safety in numbers but that just seems to rarely be the case once you’re an “adult”.

      • this program will be ALL ABOUT subways. it’s about the driver knowing to intervene without putting you in more danger, and making sure people actually speak up when they witness fucked up shit. a culture of harassment policing. a culture where everyone agrees harassment like that is wrong.

        • Good on you for saying something, even at the last minute. One of my mates got groped randomly on a footpath, people convinced her to report it and turns out a bunch of other women had been molested by a guy fitting the same description at around the same time.

  3. Hollaback! is a wonderful project but whenever I mention how much it sucks to have to deal with street harassment to my male friends they say “Why are you complaining? I would love to get catcalls when I walk by, it’s a compliment”
    It makes me want to punch my friends for being assholes.

    • fuck i hate that argument. like yeah, it’s so flattering to walk down the street and feel watched and leered at and never know if the person yelling after you is just being a “harmless” douchebag or if they’re actually going to get physical.

      • I know, right? they want me to be all “oh, I’m so grateful to know that strangers on the street approve of my physical appearance” yeah, it doesn’t make me feel like a piece of meat at all. Sometimes I even cross the street to avoid walking past a construction site… But nooo, it’s a compliment and I am in the wrong. I need to lighten up and stop being a bitch.
        Sure

    • Guh. Especially since I think it’s very rarely actually intended to be complimentary; I believe in my bones it’s generally intended as a means of control. It’s about some dude trying to exert some power over a random woman and force her to pay attention to him — to co-opt her appearance and her very presence on the street so that it’s all about himself.

      Which is not to say I think it’s impossible for anyone to ever genuinely say that they find a stranger attractive! But you have to realize it’s kind of a weird thing to do. And I think you can tell, when there’s some genuine intent other than the self-aggrandizement of most street harassment.

      • Totally agree. I’m lucky enough to only have been cat-called twice that I remember but neither were friendly or flattering despite what the words might actually have been – at night in Manhattan alone, was lucky I was only a block from the hotel cuz the guy did not appreciate getting the finger 50 metres out.

    • Totally. It’s impossible to fight it as one person; you never know who’s going to come after you [or, you know, try to light you on fire on a bus full of people]. I’m so glad this [Hollaback, not harassment] exists.

  4. Pingback: Lesmo Says: Hollaback! : LESGO NYC

  5. On bar nights, I often help my friend out at his street meat cart downtown. I’m harrassed way too often, and though I can handle myself I admit that I often feel unsafe, even with the area crawling with police.

    I’ve had men tell me that they were planning to fuck me in an alley (and that because it was raining, I was already wet, and foreplay wouldn’t be necessary), I’ve had men tell me that I’m only a lesbian because I haven’t had a black cock, and I’ve had men tell me that I was totally hot enough to marry, and that I could find a husband if I wanted.

    None of those things were flattering, and I have never been flattered to be grabbed or have things shouted at me on the street. Ever.

  6. I am someone that could be described as having “chronic bitchface.” I got complaints when I was a receptionist about my lack of smiling and it was super frustrating because you wanna know why I have a stony expression? Because I used to walk 2 miles everyday to and from school alone in a rough part of the city where I lived and if you don’t wear that expression you WILL get fucked with. Hell, even with that face you did, but it was the best I could do to avoid the frequent cat calling. It happened even when I was as young as 13. I wish I could wear a sign that says “Lay off. The patriarchy gave me this bitchface.”

    • I love Kris Atomic’s Chronic Bithface drawing (if that’s actually what you’re referring to). After years of taking public transportation and being made to feel uncomfortable by men on various occasions I always have my bitchface on too. I am totally going to say, “Lay off. The patriarchy gave me this bitchface.”, next time someone tells me to smile or look happy.

    • YES.

      People on the street and bouncers tell me to smile, which usually just pisses me off. It depends on my mood, but I’m known for getting all super-bitch on smile commentary and catcalls. I’m just like “What the fuck makes you think I need to smile?”

      I basically carry mace because I expect a confrontation to break out over it.

      • Oh my god, random men telling (not asking, though asking wouldn’t make it much better) you/me/any ladyperson to smile is so annoying it makes me want to explode. I tend to think that if I were a man no one would expect me to smile at them during every social interaction.

  7. Im so tired of generalisations like this. why do you make it sound as if only women are victims and only men are the ones harassing? these kinds of things can happen to anyone, believe it or not.

    • When presenting as male, I was approached by a hooker who came on very insistent (I assume out of desperation, given the crazy late/early hour). I was making an emergency 4am convenience store run, walking with my hoodie pulled up and considerable lean, so as not to get fucked with. When I tried to shove past, she stopped grabbing at me and looked at my face… I pass pretty well, but at 18, presented more like a 13 year old boy. That usually makes me feel LESS safe, but she mumbled “Christ, you’re just a child” and completely backed off. In my head, that is just about the least harmful potential interaction I could have encountered that night, considering all gender variables. That’s the only time (as male or female) I’ve dealt with unwanted sexual advances from a woman who was a total stranger (and like I said, most likely desperately motivated by money, rather than some physical urge…)

      I agree with the comment that said street harassers are making a play for power, not sex. And in my experiences, women rarely seem to seek out power this way. Most men don’t either, but it’s far more widespread. Obviously, women perpetrate terrible things way outside of my own experiences, but I think to address this threat gender-blindly would be false and misleading. (Also, the average physical threat is inherently disproportionate.)

      • Totally agree with your last sentence! At 5’3″ I don’t really feel like I could hold my own, and I also don’t think I am in any way viewed as physically threatening to 99% of guys.

      • how can it be false when it obviously happens? even if it was statistically less dangerous, its no reason to ignore it. by only focusing on certain kind of situations you’re saying that others doesn’t exist, intentionally or not. and THAT is misleading.

        • C’mon now. I’m not sure what your motivations are here, but I think you have to know that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Like, if I write a blog post about how, I dunno, I saw a bunch of bluebirds outside today, it doesn’t mean that sparrows don’t exist, y’know? People writing about THEIR EXPERIENCES are not compelled to also mention ALL OF THE EXPERIENCES that anyone ever may or may not have had, right?

    • We(and this article, and Hollaback) are talking about a specific kind of harassment that has to do with people making commentary based on expectations/attitudes they have towards people of perceived female gender.

      While folks read as men in public are harassed, and I’m sure that non-male humans do contribute to all kinds of harassment, the issue being addressed is prevailing attitude in society that it’s okay to assess how a female looks or behaves based on dominant values and make commentary to effectively police her into complying with those values.

      It’s about public ownership of female bodies, and how it makes us wonder, walking into public, if anyone is going to assault or rape us. And that needs to be talked about.

  8. I have to admit, when people yell at me or catcall me it doesn’t sound “flattering.” It often sounds angry and mocking. Like by saying “OH YEAAAH HONEY” in that exaggerated, loud voice, they are actually saying I am an ugly piece of shit.

    I get really flustered and upset for hours afterward usually. I think this is a great project; I’ll be reading more about it, thanx.

      • They are more often physically touched/assaulted. I imagine women are sexually harassed by strangers more often, but men are still the target of more physical street harassment (randomly being shoulder checked, shoved, spat at, etc.).

        It’s an interesting thing to look at for me because people often claim women are less safe on the streets than guys – when it is men that are hurt or robbed more often (even when controlled for the fact that guys generally take more risks). And I hate when people say that is because men are more aggressive and “get” in more fights – this statistic is independent of that type of “mutual” harassment.

        It’s clearly a turf battle/I’m bigger/more in control/etc. than you kinda thing. Very similar to a woman getting jeered or leered at, in my opinion, though different in its effect because while jeering makes me feel like there is something wrong with /me/, I usually interpret people shoving me as /them/ being assholes…

    • This happened to me pretty recently (twice in the span of about 5 minutes) and I gave them the finger too. I told my mom about it and she said although she understood my motivation, that I was just stooping to their level. Which made me think about how angry it makes me when it’s happening from a passing car. It’s just so cowardly, yelling some asshole comment while in the process of running (driving) away. Giving the finger is literally the only means I have to let them know I don’t appreciate it.

  9. For context: I’m sixteen, bisexual, have a boyfriend, relatively attractive, I suppose, but not jaw-dropping or anything.

    Two stories:

    At about ten at night, my boyfriend, a female friend (sixteen, Indian, tiny little slip of a thing), and I sneaked out of the hotel we were staying in for a school trip to go to a candy store across the street. Drunk man walks in, starts harassing my friend, my boyfriend stands there paralyzed in fear. Eventually one of the guys behind the counter yells at the guy to leave and he does. Apparently this guy comes in drunk and acts like that all the time. Afterward my friend was shaking and crying and absolutely terrified. My boyfriend was guilty for weeks about not stepping in, but at the time he was scared that if he stepped in, the guy would pull a knife.

    And then a few weeks ago, I was walking down a street in Boston when a man who looked to be about 50, big, unshaven, with a few friends, yells, “Hey, cutie, you with the Batman shirt, how’re you?” Luckily, I was with my boyfriend and his mother, and they pulled me away before he could come closer.

    Hollaback is magic, like unicorns.

  10. i would like to point out that this isnt just an urban thing. It would be great if stuff like this expanded to reach all corners of the world.

    I live in a rural town. I’ve been grabbed, pushed, talked dirty to, you name it, it’s been done. And it’s scary, because when it’s someone with a “big name” in your town, no one will believe you. And people just laugh it off as “boys will be boys”

    One man has told me (since i was 12!) that he was waiting for me to turn 18. I was in basic training when that happened, but you can bet that everytime i was on leave he showed up at any VFW event I volunteered at. No one understood why it made me so mad when he touched me, they laughed it off. I’m not out to anyone at the VFW because my mom “doesn’t want our name tarnished” so that just makes it even worse. And this man isn’t the only one to do it. Because I’m a volunteer, they expect me to grin and bear it. Once it was the freaking mayor, who pulled me into a room and told me that when I get lonely, I should look him up. And then told me to get the fuck out of there before anyone thought anything bad. And then proceeded to hit on my mom in front of my dad. And she thought it was funny.

    The point is, as bad as it is in cities (I hate walking anywhere alone when I’m projecting as female, I can’t stand the way people talk to me) it can be just as bad in rural areas. So I fully support this in hopes that one day it can spread.

  11. This sounds like a great program, I can’t even go to my sister’s house without her old gross neighbor (who is always on the porch) leering and saying things like “hey sexy”. Why do men think this is okay?

  12. This. So much this. So many times this. As verbose as I often am I can’t describe how much this is this.

    I live in a metropolitan area and have walked to work a grand total of 3 times during the two summers I have lived here without being harassed. It has gotten to the point where I get excited about the season changing because I know that the catcalls/comments/honking/whistles/hell will abate somewhat. You would think it is something I can get used to, but every time I hear or see a man react to me my stomach clenches into a knot. I am probably overreacting, but it happens so much that I feel like it is only a matter of time before the reactions go beyond just verbal. (This thought is due, in part, to the groups of drunken men that see me, catcall, then laugh saying that I need a body guard to walk around at night. And then offer to be it. Kind of gives me the shivers). The fact that they acknowledge that I shouldn’t be walking 1.5 blocks by myself, to me, says that I probably have reason to be concerned.

    Ugh. Sorry for the tirade, but this has really been getting to me lately. They are even corrupting Disney princesses! A drunken man outside a bar by my place called me Cinderella the other day, and he managed to make it very, very creepy.

  13. I’m not going to dwell on the amount of times I’ve been in these shit-house situations (too many), but instead, on the amount of times I’ve witnessed someone else in these situations and have done nothing.

    It happened as recently as last week, a young woman getting the catcalling and harassment on the train, and I saw it and did nothing. Just turned the volume up on my headphones and stared out the window like I hadn’t noticed.

    So maybe I’m part of the problem, that ignorant bystander who refuses to intervene. However, I am DEFINITELY going to read through these links, and hopefully next time, I’ll have the guts to say or do something.

  14. When I was 20 and studying abroad in Barcelona, I was taking the subway home late one night and these two drunk teenage boys approached me and started getting in my face and trying to grab at me. I was completely alone (bad idea, I never did that again) and there were no strangers in my car to help. I started trying to tell them in Spanish to back off, but I was so scared that I couldn’t find the words. Then I remembered what my mom had told me: if you’re in a foreign country and getting harassed, yell as loudly and forcefully as you can IN ENGLISH and your body language and tone will say it all. I stood up, screamed GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME, GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF OF ME! slapped them BOTH in the face…HARD. They got off at the next stop. thank god

  15. I live in a predominantly latin neighborhood. Prior to that, I lived on campus, closer to downtown. I had been trained pretty well to steer clear of the weirdos, and found the best way to avoid conflict was to keep my head down, walk a little tougher, don’t answer questions, and don’t make eye contact. That was until I moved here.

    At first, my female roommates and I were very taken aback by all the catcalls – including this little clicking noise all the men make (age ranging from preteen to early 80s) to get you to turn around and look at them as you pass. A lot of men will say, ‘hello beautiful’ as you walk down the street. I hadn’t encountered anything like this type of attention from men before outside of working with the public (where I knew I was safe). It was scary at first, I mean, this is what I had trained myself to avoid. Keep my eyes down. Look tough.

    It wasn’t until a year later that I realized the majority men weren’t hitting on me (some of them were), but they were being friendly. I noticed that their culture is much more open, public, and forward than the one I grew up in. I mistook friendliness, such as a “How are you?” from my male neighbor, for an advance. I felt like such a jerk a few times because I walked on by, like I always did when an older, stranger guy spoke to me.

    This site is a great idea. There are a lot of situations that need to be reported (I’ve been proposed to in an elevator by a homeless man saying he’s been ‘looking for someone like me’ after giving me the up and the down), but if I were to have reported every interaction I had when I first moved here, my whole neighborhood would be one big red dot.

    • See, this kind of thing is so hard for me. I’ve also frequently lived/worked/moved within co-cultures that had a similar attitude about what’s appropriate for guys to do when women pass them on the street. And yes, I know that in some sense it’s totally true, in many cases, that the kind of casual catcalling and comment-making you mention is ia kind of “friendliness,” in that it’s intended as part of a normal social discourse. But. It’s also founded on so many unpleasant or just problematic assumptions about the role of women in relation to men — assumptions that are probably not even being explicitly formulated in the mind of the guys participating — that, it seems to me, it’s impossible to entirely comply with that kind of attention. I dunno. I certainly don’t have it figured out, and it doesn’t even make me mad, exactly, not viscerally, at least. So I don’t get self-righteous, but I do stay poker-faced, and walk on by.

    • Love this. I once was walking down an alleyway in heels in Venice beach (don’t ask) and i was in a really bad mood and this car cruised by full of dudes and started being like hey baby etc etc. I screamed back I’M A FUCKING LESBIAN, FUCK OFF!!! and they were like awww cmon no youre notttt. and I spun around walked up to the car and was like REALLY YOU CARE TO RUN THAT BY ME AGAIN? HAVE I TOLD YOU WHO YOU ARE TONIGHT?! I think they were so taken aback by my sudden aggression and willingness to fight back that they just drove off and didnt say another word

  16. Starting in January, my partner & I set out to bike from San Diego to the bottom of South America. This was a goal of mine for about three years, and my partner & I had been working to save up for the trip for a year & some months. Read: this was supposed to be fulfilling the wildest, most exciting goals of my life.

    The minute we crossed to border into Mexico, the harassment started, and it never ended until I left Central America. I would get hundreds of catcalls per day, every minute I was biking, every kilometer I pedaled. There was no way to protect against it–no matter how I dressed, how I presented myself, it was impossible for me to conceal my gender. People would either see through it, or simply not care, & start yelling & whistling from blocks away. This was completely devastating to my partner & I–it got to the point where every day, we were absolutely furious the whole time we were biking. I had a handful of sobbing breakdowns; I had a few times where I’d screech to a stop while biking and scream for minutes in someone’s face; my partner once threw down his bike, chased after a teenager, and dragged him by the scruff of his neck back to me to apologize. What the hell were we becoming?

    After six months & seven countries, we realized it wasn’t worth it. We never even made it to South America. Such snarling, vehement misogyny spoiled it for both of us; we flew home.

    Here’s some questions, because I am really struggling:

    -How can cyclists protect themselves from street harassment? It’s not as easy to stop & confront someone when you’re booking it down the street.

    -How can we confront harassment from men in cars? I’m rarely, if ever, in a position to catch up to them.

    -How can someone–such as myself, such as you–prepare for &/or deal with international/cross-cultural [though I’d hate to say that violence is cultural] experiences like this? Any travelers out there with advice?

    Frankie Louise

    • Hey there. Not sure I have a lot of help to offer, just an expression of solidarity. I haven’t biked anywhere but in various parts of the U.S., but I’m on my bike for 100 miles a week, and absolutely feel your frustrations. (Especially since, as cyclists, we’re already so vulnerable in so many other ways; I’ve been hit accidentally and endangered purposely by cars, had eggs thrown at me, and on and on, ad nauseam, in addition to plenty of gender-specific harassment.)

      For my own sanity, I frequently find it necessary to just let it roll off me, and remind myself that in no way are their ugly words even *about* me. I mean, how could they be, really. They don’t know me. They’ve barely even seen me. And I don’t know how cathartic it really ends up being for me, anyway. No one’s going to respond with an apology if confronted. They just aren’t. There’s already so much defensiveness and machismo going into the original act of harassment that it’s nearly impossible that they’ll publicly backtrack and give you the satisfaction you want. And as you say, the anger can be totally corrupting.

      I bike mainly in a big city, so this might not work elsewhere, but one of the only things I’ve found that seems to do anything is my patented Death Glare (TM). You catch up to the offending vehicle at a traffic light or wherever and look them dead in the eye through the window, a look of stony disapproval on your face, and just shake your head slowly. Don’t look away. It’s a little fun to see the embarrassment on their faces — the faces that only said what they did because they thought they could be anonymous from the safety of their car.

      Anyway, good luck out there, and remember that their miserable and tiny lives are their own punishment.

  17. ^Very good questions, esp. re: bikes & cars. When it comes to Latin America, I’ve kinda just accepted it as a given and feel like the best thing to do is ignore it. Maybe that’s the wrong thing to do, but eh…

  18. Y’all something happened today and I’m still angry about it. There were two drunk guys on the streetcar after the baseball game today, talking to a bunch of college-age girls and harassing them. The women weren’t having any of it, ignored the dudes and pointed out that they were being idiots.

    Looking for another source of entertainment I guess, the two guys start glancing over towards me and I hear one mention my haircut and mutter something about “lesbian”…you know, that game they do where they say something louder and louder to see if you’ll respond.

    And I had had enough. I was about to just go apeshit on them. I was tensing my body and preparing to shove them down the steps when I thought, you know what? No. I’m not going to let them “win”. I’m going to go on Hollaback and do something more constructive and less likely to result in my arrest.

  19. ugh this sort of thing pisses me off so much. I remember Jezebel had an article on Street Harassment a few months ago and I was so angry/sad reading the comments in the article.

    This one time I was at the store with my sister after we got off of work and this dude comes in sees my sister and continues to leer at her as he walks by. Now my sister was 19 at the time, but I was so pissed off with the way he looking at her the way he was. And then, every time he happened to come out of an aisle and spotted my sister he would turn around and FOLLOW her until we lost him and then he’d see her and start doing it again. I was so pissed off that I didn’t even know what to say first I had so many different things running through my head. And so, I just gave him the death stare (and said fucking asshole once) when he came near—he looked away real quick and continued to stare at her as he walked by. And on top of it all the wanker came into the same store again a few months later while I was with my sister and started to do the same thing again. Luckily (?) I guess he ran into someone he knew and got caught up in conversation with them.

    Getting catcalled by dudes in passing cars happens way too often in my little town. It’s ridiculous that I sincerely wish I knew what to say right when it happens but I just ignore the guys every time. It’s even more ridiculous that I’ve fought with my parents on what to wear bc of what guys might do/say (they know I’m gay). Like honestly I don’t not want to do things or go places just bc some guy thinks I’m going to magically want to do him by yelling “damn! hey sexy”. I also hate that sometimes (even though this is a small-town area) I walk with a key sticking between my fingers just in case.

    This is why I walk around with a bitch face most of the time. Like someone else already said it doesn’t work all the time but most guys never say anything to my face; as soon as my back is turned, however, is a different story.

  20. When I lived in East Harlem I stopped wearing skirts, then I stopped wearing tight pants or shorts or tank tops. I’m tall, so for me wearing shorts or a skirt is like a busty girl wearing a low-cut shirt. I started dressing differently hoping to pass for male and eventually I did. When I lived in Central Harlem that was worse than I could’ve ever imagined — probably just because in general there are more people outside on the streets socializing than in other neighborhoods. One time I was walking with Carly and someone laid his hand on my stomach as we walked by and I was like, ugh, I hate that shit! And she was like, ‘that has never happened to me’ and then I thought A-HA! And I cut off all my hair! And passed usually. The level at which I was harassed in Central Harlem was always an issue and I started spending all of my time inside my apartment. Did I want a coffee bad enough to put up with that? Usually not.

    It actually made me eventually kinda crazy, like now I just don’t ever want people to look at me, ever.

    That’s just where I lived though. There was harassment in every neighborhood, I was just in my own the most often. It’s not like that where I live now in California. It feels good.

    • Yeah, it’s interesting, that — I’ve also noticed that since I cut my hair short the number of catcalls I get has really substantially declined. And for me it’s definitely not a matter of passing for male (somehow when I’m biking assholes in cars can discern, no matter how dark it is, how androgynously I’m dressed, or how fast I’m going, that I’m female). Even when I’m not dressed femininely at all, I’m pretty small, and have pretty obvious girl-style hips and really feminine facial features — but somehow just having a short haircut is itself an extra layer of protection.

    • “like now I just don’t ever want people to look at me, ever”

      As a short-hair convert motivated for the most part by aggressive street harassment, this has always been a thought that I struggled with. I passed my childhood playing on the streets of a small rural community and then my teen years dodging about the alleyways of urban life, and now adulthood has taken me to walking briskly through the streets of the big city after my late night shifts as a waitress… unfortunately, my over-exposure to the bile-raising, heart-wrenching antics of crude douchebags who get a thrill out of sexually taunting women in order to compensate for an otherwise non-existent sex life FREAKED me out. And way too many times, the people who could have helped by stepping in, speaking up, or even calling the police from a distance, would avert their eyes and quicken their pace down the street with a, “if I get out of here fast enough, they’ll keep harassing her, not me. Thank god it’s not me.” Even now, I take genuine compliment from strangers and recent acquaintances with dark suspicion and a darker glare… well cuz, 1)sorry toots, I’m a total lesbo, so get your male-eyeballs off of me and 2) I’ve ran into too many you-seemed-so-nice-at-first-you-slimy-dick-headed-creeps to let my guard down. Any questions of, “How’re you getting home? Aren’t you scared of walking alone?” are always turned aside with my well-practiced ‘brave’ laugh, a cold smirk and a confident- “No, because nobody fucks with me.” Apparently, at that moment my voice gets deeper and a look on my face that projects, I could kick your ass with a blink of my eyelid but you’re not worth my time. I’ve got a box of double-stuf oreos that I’d prefer to crunch on.

      I admit, most of the time I love the freedom a bitchy attitude and my new ‘doo has given me, but there are still moments when I sigh and rub the back of my head, wishing I could walk down the street with a sweet smile and my long lost locks and nobody attempting to use looks, gender, or orientation as a means to disempower myself or women anywhere. Standing up for ourselves, for each other… standing together in female pride and yelling at the tops of our lungs- and into our phones- kicking ass and looking gorgeous? hell ya! Oh, I mean Holla!!!

  21. I can’t seem to reply so lets see if this works.

    @Katie — great idea. My mild mannered Mum has a great story of letting sling at a French pickpocket with such a barrage of Aussie slang and swearing that he dropped her bag and ran away. Also, the first thing most people learn in a foreign language is the swear words, so I bet they understood you just fine.

    @Frankie Louise (I’m sorry you had to cut your holiday short, hopefully you’ll have the courage to try it again) @Owls; Harassment of bike riders is horrible. In addition to people passing close enough that I honestly felt like they were going to hit me, and verbal harassment (especially bitch, c**t) which was gender specific but motivated by general driver/rider angst, I’ve had my a car full of boys cheer as they passed my waggling backside as I accelerated from the lights and one car pulled over next to me on a deserted road in such a threatening way that I did not even stop to check whether they were just asking for directions but bolted.

    The major incident which I’ve had didn’t happen on a bike however. I was travelling alone in Paris, going out on a day trip to Versailles. I asked for directions at the station, and the man who answered me got on to the train with me and sat next to me. After some general questions, he popped the big one “do you have a boyfriend?” to which I responded that I was single and gay. He followed me all the way to Versailles, a trip of over an hour, missing his stop, and then, despite my efforts to get away, continued to follow me to the palace, brought a ticket to enter and continued to follow and hassle me until I lost him by clever manoeuvring at the toilets.

    In retrospect, I should have been firmer from the beginning. At first I could not really believe that he was flirting with me because boys seemed to know I was gay before I did, and then I tried to let him down gently. I saw the beginnings of this situation twice more on my trip, but shut them down faster with a fake phone number and a promise of later.

  22. I’m not sure when it was filmed, but there was a doco made a ahile back, and I think it was called War-Zone. It’s about a woman who, when whistled at or cat called etc turns confronts the perpetrators on the street. I never saw all of it, but the responses were fascinating.

    As for me, I live in Australia, in Adelaide, a pretty small city. I find that I hardly ever get any form of street abuse directed at me. I usually dress in a pretty non-gender specific way but even when I’m out in a dress and heels, it’s the same.

    Maybe you should all just come move to Adelaide? (;

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