Community Engagement: Ending Street Harassment and Gender-based Violence

Last night I participated in a panel and screening with three other activists for a discussion about street harassment and gender based violence.

Despite the fact that it felt like 150 degrees outside (for real), 40 people came to the event to engage in constructive, candid and thoughtful dialogue about street harassment, self-esteem, inter-sectionality and action.

Not long ago I plugged into this movement via social media, after making the short film Walking Home. Last night this movement became even more real to me.

The event reminded me of the value in face to face interaction, collaboration, diversity and solidarity, when working towards social change.

The panel event was part of author Van Deven’s “Hey Shorty” book tour  and took place at the Wooden Shoe Bookstore in South Philadelphia. Here are links for background information about the co-presenters:

A special thanks to Hollaback! Philly research assistant Elizabeth Welsh, who live tweeted the entire event.  I’m pasting everything she tweeted below.

** Welcome to the live-tweet of our anti street harassment panel! We’ll be getting started in just a minute.

Introductions! @mandyvandeven @nualacabral @hollabackphilly and @hkearl are all here with us.

@mandyvandeven is telling us about getting involved with Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn:

It quickly became clear to Mandy and to that sexual harassment is rampant in kids’ lives – and seldom gets talked about.

Moving on to @hkearl talking about her street harassment experiences, starting as a 14-year-old runner

Many women end up altering the activities they choose to participate in in an effort to avoid street harassment

This is why Holly frames it as a quality of life issue. Discovering the term “street harassment” led her to begin speaking out.

32% of women choose outfits that will attract less attention on a monthly basis – planning for street harassment before leaving the house!

45% of women avoid being out after dark on a monthly basis – what does this mean we’re missing out on? Classes, socializing, campaigning…

1 in 5 women have moved to a different neighborhood; 1 in 10 have changed jobs/commute in an effort to avoid street harassment.

Street harassment negatively affects men who are not harassers – women are often wary of interacting with them.

Holly’s tips for helping to stop street harassment: Share your story, end the silence!

Sharing our stories breaks down stereotypes about who gets harassed and helps increase solidarity with other women (and men!).

Some women have had success asking harassers to repeat themselves, or repeating harassers’ words back to them, loudly, if in a crowded place

Turning it around like this often embarrasses harassers by emphasizing how stupid they sound.

If someone is harassing on the job, complaining to the parent company can lead to great results!

Bystanders can also reach out to victims, asking “Are you okay?”

The Young Women’s Action Team fought neighborhood street harassment by alerting business owners where groups of men were loitering outside.

Neighborhood business owners banded together to create respect zones and not tolerate loiterers (who were also bad for business!)

More on the Young Women’s Action Network in Chicago: They harnessed the power of data, no matter how informal.

You can see more from Holly at her website:

We’re up now! Hollaback! is everywhere! Because, unfortunately, street harassment is everywhere.

We encourage you to report street harassment: Young Women’s Action Network showed what a difference data can make.

Don’t forget, all reports submitted to our website are anonymous. Build solidarity between people who want to walk the street unharassed.

We’re also working for LGBTQ people, who also unfortunately get harassed.

Next up: Local filmmaker and activist @nualacabral. While living in Brooklyn she bumped up against street harassment on a daily basis.

Check out Nuala’s Walking Home: 

When Nuala put her film on YouTube, it connected her with a movement that was even more empowering than creating the film.

Nuala: “Those moments of being street harassed feel really lonely and disempowering.”

Now we are opening up for questions. Please @ us with any questions you’d like to ask!

Question about addressing street harassment with school kids. Nuala: Too much victim-blaming from both boys and girls. Also: Responsibility.

Nuala: “If we care enough to want change, we need to think about responsibility and what we’re going to do to make change.”

International Stop Street Harassment day is the first day of spring – March 20th.

This year it will be Anti-Street Harassment Week, by popular demand!

Mandy: “Girls for Gender Equity wrote Hey Shorty! as a way for other organizations to see our growth thru failures as well as successes!”

GGE grew over 9 years. This is NOT a rule-book, but suggestions for other organizations.

A question now from the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia

We’re saying: Queer and trans folks tend to get harassed not only sexually, but also with words involving more violence.

Holly: Street harassment of trans women tends to often be about gender policing, and is threatening to men who think they’re very masculine.

Us: Our official stance is not to differentiate between race or class – everyone harasses.

Holly: Most harassment is same-race, especially the more severe forms. There needs to be education around what constitutes harassment.

Mandy: The emphasis has been put on perception and not intent, and that’s wrong. Intent does matter – it’s racist/classist to say otherwise

Mandy has written extensively on street harassment for Bitch Magazine:

Mandy advocates for street harassment to be addressed on a community level rather than by criminalizing it.

Question: A favorite activity of K-2nd graders at the recess program I ran was standing by the fence and yelling at women on the street.

Us: A lot of the time it’s about impressing other dudes more than interacting with women.

Questioner: It started with the 2nd graders, and after a couple of weeks trickled down to the kindergartners.

Mandy: In schools, a big problem is institutional support for addressing these things – Figuring out what the policies are, if they exist.

Mandy: We talk about socialization as adults, but it’s process that starts as young people. An 8-year-old boy hollering at women on the street doesn’t even know what he’s looking at.

@hkearl: I’ve actually started getting more questions from parents’ of 9- 10-year-olds. Anyone know any good resources?

Questioner: This is a cultural problem, and people should be boycotting sexist/misogynist music I’d classify as hate speech.

Questioner: I can’t understand how other males aren’t seeing this and don’t have empathy for this situation.

Questioner: We need to teach men how to talk to women. I don’t want to hear about how my outfit makes me look sexy.

Questioner 2: I think there are a lot of men out there who think that’s the way you talk to a women.

Holly: Sexualization from a young age makes this seem normal.

There’s a whole section on Holly’s website for and by men:

Nuala: Guys say things like, 2 out of 25 women will respond, so I’ll still yell at the other 23.

Nuala: In order to reach men, I’ll also talk to women. We need to be clear about the distinction between a complement and harassment.

Nuala: No women wants to get harassed, but some women and girls like getting attention. Those are the girls these guys are trying to reach.

A lot of @nualacabral’s work with young girls involves building self-esteem when talking about street harassment.

Nuala: For some girls, their body is the only thing they get complemented on. We need to address that.

Nuala has gotten a lot of pushback from her video because it shows men of color. As a woman of color, she wanted to break the silence.

Nuala: We have to acknowledge that there are some complexities there. You have to be sensitive, but it’s a fine line to be neutral.

Nuala: If you look at the media, the bodies of women of color are more consistently exploited.

Nuala’s recent blog post about a NYC newsstand that illustrates the problem “All black booties, all white faces.”

Nuala: “It’s just more acceptable for certain women to be degraded.” Questioner: “It’s not acceptable, it’s normal.” Nuala: “Normalized.”

Nuala: “I like that you also brought up the self-esteem of a man, especially for men of color. We know that oppression breeds oppression.”

Holly: “For some men it’s about oppression, for others it’s because some men feel so entitled.”

Holly: “My research has shown that black women are more likely to be approached as prostitutes. It’s this history of exploitation.”

Questioner: Men and women are taught that the only relationships we can have are sexual or more, that we can’t have friendships.

Questioner: A lot of men can’t relate to women as another human being, a person with morals and goals and a future.

Mandy: For any kind of change to happen, there has to be an education piece on the larger framework of sexual violence in our culture.

Mandy: We have this impression in our minds of how violence happens and who the victims are, but it’s completely separate from reality.

Us: If you don’t have a smartphone, you can submit via email, or by texting to our email address, or manually uploading on the website.

Questioner: Why are women okay on the streets of certain international large cities, but not here?

Holly: My theory is that street harassment is less likely in countries with more gender equality.

Questioner: I thought in those other countries women are treated with more respect. Us: More, but it’s not perfect.

Questioner: There were a number of women in the black revolution movement who acted out strongly against sexual harassers.

Questioner: Women are getting hurt because of harassment. Are you aware of any men who have been hurt as a result of being harassers?

Mandy: I know there are a lot of women who are in prison for killing domestic abusers and rapists…

Mandy: There’s very little documentation of violence in response to street harassment, but that would be interesting.

Questioner: I struggle with the polarity between public accountability and shaming. I dreamed of putting up flyers about the same man who was harassing me all the time, but could never go through with it.

Questioner: Do you think public shaming has a place in this movement, or is that counterproductive?

Us: Even imagining what you would have said and done can be theraputic, even knowing that you never would have done it.

Us: Psychologically, it’s really helpful for women to know there are other people thinking about and struggling with the same thing.

Holly: People in DC banded together to say “Stop harassing women” to one man who was always in the same place. A lot of these harassers are repeat harassers who always stand in the same place. It’s not very many men.

Mandy: The anthology “The Revolution Starts at Home” has a lot of suggestions for community-based steps to take toward accountability without shame

Questioner : How does sexual harassment compare with harassment of other groups, like Muslims, especially right now.

Mandy: The way all groups are affected creates potential to reach across boundaries, but I don’t think they’re all the same.

Mandy: The manifestation, function, and social acceptability greatly vary. It’s dangerous to say that they’re the same.

Holly: Women of all backgrounds who took my survey felt harassed because they were female; men mentioned all the other factors first.

Questioner: The economic impact on women’s lives is amazing! Imagine if it were something men had to deal with. What areas are under-researched?

Holly: That’s why we need to capture that data, because then we have some idea of what we can do.

And it’s a wrap! Many thanks to @mandyvandeven @nualacabral @hkearl @hollabackphilly and of course to YOU for coming along with us!


About Nuala Cabral

Nuala Cabral is an educator, activist, filmmaker and co-founder of FAAN Mail, a media literacy and activist project based in Philadelphia.
This entry was posted in Street Harassment Activism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Community Engagement: Ending Street Harassment and Gender-based Violence

  1. So happy to finally meet you in person, Nuala! And excited to continue to build with you.

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