Hollaback Grrrl

Stop! by Sina Becker

I was so excited to hear that the UK now has its own Hollaback blog. For people who haven’t come across one of these blogs before, they’re essentially accounts of street harassment from women in various US cities. It’s a great way for women to vent their experiences, rather than just bottling up that impotent rage that many of us feel after dealing with sexual comments from strangers.

After all, how many of us feel up to confronting these swines after we’ve been humiliated and degraded? We often just slope off red-faced with our skin crawling, angry at them for daring to speak to us like that and angry at ourselves for saying nothing in return. And this is exactly the reaction they want. If you turned around and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll fuck you. Let’s go back to your place’, they simply wouldn’t know what to do. A street harasser’s aim is to make women feel powerless, not to compliment us or make us feel ’special’. I often feel that it’s a way to keep us ‘in our place’. Like we’ve got a bit above ourselves walking about in the world, living independent lives. We need reminding that we’re are objects, only useful in the home and particularly in the bedroom. One of the most frustrating things about this is the fact that if you ignore them or tell them to fuck off, they shout that you’re stuck up or you’re a bitch.

I’m aware that none of this is particularly new or interesting so here are are a couple of my own memorable experiences with street harassment.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at uni to meet a friend and I was locking up by bike with a combination lock. I looked up and saw the postman heading in my direction. I smiled and prepared to say a cheery ‘good morning’. Except that I didn’t get a chance to say anything before he said, ‘If I come back to yours, will you tie me up like that?’ It took a second to register that that was what he said and I was still wearing my fixed grin. I was so angry that I hadn’t managed a retort. I hated that he might have thought I was OK with his disgusting behaviour.

But whenever I feel like that, I remember the time that I did manage (just a little bit) to get my own back. I was walking past a tiling shop with my friend on my way home. We heard somebody behind us saying things as we walked away and turned around in time to hear, ‘I love the way your ass looks in those jeans’. This schmuck was sitting outside the shop in his uniform, he clearly worked there!! We went in and spoke to his manager who assured us that he would be disciplined. As we were leaving he started saying, ‘Oh I get it, you’re shy. Can I get your number?’ What did he think we’d done? Asked his manager for this guy’s number so we could get a date with him?!

It was small but it made us feel a bit more powerful.

Anyway, you can find Hollaback UK here and you can tweet them at @hollabackuk. Congratulations to all involved, it’s a brilliant idea.

(This article originally appeared on Lydia Harris’ personal blog Swimsuit Issue on Friday, 23 October 2009)

By: Lydia Harris, 06.12.2009 | Comments (12)
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Comments
  • Lady
    December 7th, 2009
    2:57 pm

    Grow up.. you are making men hate women by retorting in such ways.. do as most women do and realise there is more important things in the world than worrying over a small comment from some hot headed male and blowing it up into a stereotypical feminist response of ‘oh he called me sexy, it must mean that he thinks i’m an object and belong in the kitchen.’ have you never ever thought anyone attractive? as surely by ‘fancying’ your boyfriend (assuming you have one) does that not mean you wear makeup and buy new clothes for him or for what reason? I assume you wash to make yourself smell nice? You may assume I’m over reacting, but I am merely deliberately blowing things out of proportion so you can see how much of a petty whinger you sound. a response would be thrilling to see from you.

  • M
    December 8th, 2009
    12:38 pm

    So you think it is okay for women to be made to feel afraid?

    I don’t think that is okay. And it is by ignoring these things that they can grow without us even realising. The fact is that these comments can often be followed by violence and (sexual) assault.

    You don’t think that is a concern? That women are walking the streets and are scared, MADE to feel scared by some comment by a *stranger*. Stranger being a key word – the similar comments from your partner are not going to feel you with fear and dread…

  • Ms.Kitton
    December 8th, 2009
    12:48 pm

    To Lady, if that i in fact your real name, which I very much doubt,

    “Grow Up” – Way to patronise Lydia, just like a sexist would.

    “you are making men hate women by retorting in such ways.. ” Way to blame women for misogyny, just like a misogynist would.

    “do as most women do” Way to make a mass sweeping generalisation. Most women I know (including myself) are perfectly well able to decide for ourselves what is important without being told by someone who calls themselves “Lady”

    “a small comment from some hot headed male” Problem is, such comments are not from sterotypical neanderthals. They’re from randoms on the street, all kinds of men. Who think its acceptable to comment on our appearance as if we are public property.

    “have you never ever thought anyone attractive?” I can’t speak for Lydia, but personally, I can find strangers attractive without feeling the need to make leering, disgusting comments.

    “as surely by ‘fancying’ your boyfriend (assuming you have one) does that not mean you wear makeup and buy new clothes for him or for what reason? I assume you wash to make yourself smell nice?” I’m not sure how to deconstruct this as the grammar and syntax is appalling, but shouldn’t women dress and make up and smell a way that makes *them* happy? Surely if one is happy and comfortable in one’s own appearance, one will be doubly attractive to others. That’s just the way my boyfriend and I roll, but it works for us. But also, looks are secondary to character and intellect for us. I feel pity for people who spend their lives trying to look attractive for everyone in the world but themselves. How dreadful – one nasty comment and you are broken! But that’s the way misogynists like it, isn’t it?

    “You may assume I’m over reacting, but I am merely deliberately blowing things out of proportion so you can see how much of a petty whinger you sound”

    A petty whinger eh? Lydia’s post isn’t whinging at all, IMO. Yours, on the other hand……

    “a response would be thrilling to see from you.” I’d also like to see Lydia tear apart your pathetic moanings.

    Oh, and by the way – buy yourself a book on the rudiments of the English language?

    Ta!!

  • Sarah Barnes
    December 8th, 2009
    12:53 pm

    Lady, your comment reads as an out-right attempt at silencing the writer. Telling her to “grow up” and calling her a “petty whinger” makes me unsure that you are genuine when you say you would be thrilled by a response from her. It seems you’d be happier with no response at all.

    When you call for women to “realise there is more important things in the world”, you are acting as yet another voice that attempts to stifle dialogue around an element of daily life that many women find, at best, depressingly boring and, at worst, frightening, humiliating and physically uncomfortable. I personally don’t think that a ‘put up or shut up’ technique is the best method to counter street harassment and the sexual assault that can come with it.

  • Claire
    December 8th, 2009
    12:54 pm

    Lydia, I fully agree with you. For me, it’s just the downright creepiness of such comments, especially if, as a women, you have been on the receiving end of nastier stuff in the past. Having been at Reclaim The Night London, and been utterly appalled by the sexual assault that happened on the march (as well as having my own deeply creepy experiences like the ones you cite), it is obvious to me that this sort of unpleasantness is happening everywhere.

    The Hollaback approach has nothing to do with hating men, or making men hate women – it’s to do with rightly responding to being approached in the streets by SOMEONE YOU DON’T KNOW, who then makes very personal and intimate comments about you in public, and then makes judgements about you as a person as a result. No-one likes that, and no-one should have to accept what is basically sexual harassment.

    I, for one, am glad to see Hollaback UK is up and running, thanks for letting me know about it!

  • Amanda F
    December 8th, 2009
    1:03 pm

    Lady, I think perhaps you’re the one who needs to grow up. You’re reply is needlessly aggressive and doesn’t seem to make much sense. What does wearing make up and showering have to do with being harassed in the street? I think the article makes it clear that finding someone attractive and leering at them are two very different things. I really identify with the shock and even embarrassment described in the article and don’t understand why you’d someone expressing concern about the situation would make you angry. Also, you may see the argument as cliche but sometimes cliches are so often used because they’re true. If it does sound stereotypically feminist maybe that’s because only feminists feel confident enough to make a stand?

  • Fran
    December 8th, 2009
    1:28 pm

    There are all kinds of street harrassment. I’ve seen people shouting racist abuse at passers by, I’ve experienced a lot of sexist harrassment since I’m a girl, and my brothers’ have also experienced street harrassment, one of them received a punch to the face in a completely unprovoked incident.

    I feel the variety in harrassment proves that it is not about finding women attractive and it is not women’s fault. People who exhibit this kind of behaviour will merely focus on what they see as weak spots. The best way to upset a woman? Say something sexual. Best way to upset a man? Violence. Best way to upset a black person? Racism.

    Street harrassment is about power. It is a serious issue and shouldn’t happen to anyone, man or woman. And more importantly no one who has experienced street harrasment whether it be gender based, race based or anything else, should be made to feel bad for voicing that they don’t like it! The more people voice and share their discontent the more likely it is that a solution can be found.

  • Stephanie Phillips
    December 8th, 2009
    1:35 pm

    Let’s do a bit of character assasination on said lady shall we. First of all ‘Lady’ is more than likely a Man, not a gentleman. A man that doesn’t work, has no life and spends all day and night trawling the feminist sites looking to provoke and anger. Is that about right ‘Lady’.

    Feminist back up always comes quickly x.x.x.

  • Sarah Barnes
    December 8th, 2009
    1:40 pm

    Following on from Lydia’s article, I just have to point to Laura Woodhouse’s blog post ‘Hands Up If You’ve Experienced Street Harassment’ (and the comments section particularly) over on the F-Word;

    http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2008/05/hands_up_if_you

    Written well before the UK branch of Hollaback was set up, the overwhelming response from women ‘putting their hands up’ shows just how real and widespread street harassment is. These are not women who, as Lady said, “do as most women do” and keep quiet about their experiences. On the contrary, this comments thread illustrates just how many women want, and need, to talk about what has happened to them.

    It can be healing and empowering to share such stories, which is why I think it’s a great thing that Hollaback UK has been set up to allow women a space in which to do this (that comment thread was getting pretty long, after all!) Silence stunts us, which is why I’m especially thankful to Lydia for speaking up and so perfectly summing up why Hollaback UK is needed right now.

  • A bloke
    December 8th, 2009
    2:22 pm

    You ladies wouldn’t have to worry about all this sexual harassment on the street if you’d stayed in the damn kitchen!

  • Suraya
    December 8th, 2009
    2:24 pm

    Forget whether ones agrees with feminism or not, Lady’s belief that the way we dress and keep ourselves gives others the right to make degrading comments is a very bizarre view of what makes good manners and acceptable social behaviour.

  • Sarah Barnes
    December 8th, 2009
    4:25 pm

    Brilliant feminist satire there from ‘A bloke’… Who says we don’t have a sense of humour? ;)

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