Talking about Street Harassment

Image from HollabackLDN

I was supposed to start writing this blog post hours ago, but predictably I got distracted on the time zapping compendium that is Internet.  However, it wasn’t the latest Internet cat meme that got me distracted, it was what is fast becoming my favourite reading material; descriptions from women of their daily encounters with catcallers.

Hollaback LDN is the latest site to allow women to post these encounters and in the short space it has been up and running, has already amassed quite the collection of perverts who think its their duty to make women feel uncomfortable in public spaces as they go about their daily business. Like the rest of the Hollaback family, Hollaback LDN helps women to share their experiences and stand up to these men who use sexual comments as intimidation. It  decrees “London is not a playground for pervy dudes to call out at us when we’re going about our daily business. So stop walkin’ on and ignoring it and Holla Back: Submit your stories and share your experiences”.

Similar to Hollaback LDN, LASH (London Anti-Street Harassment), previously blogged about here, has, due to the success of its campaign now gone national with the slightly less catchy acronym of UK ASH. Which will act as an umbrella organisation to support local level anti-street harassment initiatives.  Further, London Mayoral candidates Oona King and Ken Livingstone have pledged their support to LASH. King has written street harassment into her policy, promising to commission a police report into the matter, a poster education campaign and training for local councils on the issue.

Thanks to LASH and HollabackLDN street harassment has moved from being talked about in the pub on Friday night to the being talked about in the mainstream media. Both The Independent and The Guardian have published pieces on the issue, with the vast majority of the comments being supportive, helping to raise the profile of the growing anti street harassment movement.

More talking is taking place on Monday the 18th, as  HollabackLDN and LASH team up for a discussion night at WAH nails, which promises to be interesting evening (details above). It definitely seems the long held onto belief that street harassment is just one of those things women have to put up with is on the way out. Whodathunkit; turns out slapping a strangers bum is not appropriate!

By: Dearbhaile Kitt, 10.10.2010 | Comments (3)
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It all adds up…

Funny how you can keep seeing little bits and bobs around one certain subject and then, suddenly, you join the dots and out pops a blog post! Here’s one about all the street-harassment related items that have popped into my field of vision lately…

I came across this Welsh PSA (above) recently that beautifully sums up how street harassment can affect women – Every. Single. Day. Whilst there are those who don’t get why such cat-calls and comments are an annoyance (the very same people who tell harassed women to ‘grow up‘ and ‘it’s a wolf whistle, big wow‘) this advert aims to show them that it’s not just a one off remark that can be upsetting,  it’s the culmination of a constant barrage of ‘compliments’ that can make women feel creeped-out and pissed-off.

And if you’re so pissed-off that the only answer is to vent some rage by playing a First Person Shooter for a couple of hours, well there’s now a game especially for you! Amateurish new video game Hey Baby has been causing controversy due to the fact that the gameplay revolves around brutally murdering the blocky-looking boys who might pass lewd comments on you as you attempt to make your way home;

Whilst many are, obviously, stating that cold-blooded murder is never the best way to deal with a ‘harmless’ wolf whistle, games journalist Kieron Gillen explains that that’s not the point. In a post addressing the flustered male readers of Rock Paper Shotgun, Gillen says;

Okay: the game isn’t about mowing down men. It’s about male privilege and what male privilege feels like.

The game’s rubbish, of course. But the one thing it does well is show how what you may think is an innocuous compliment feels in the context of a woman’s life. You approaching a woman in the street and being what you think is politely flirty is a different thing when, down the street, someone’s suggested that maybe you’d like to suck my dick and you’re a fucking bitch if you don’t.

From her perspective, it’s a culture of harassment she has to either politely deal with or ignore. From your perspective, you’re just showing how you feel. That your passing desire means you get to derail a woman’s life whenever you feel like it is the absolute definition of male privilege. If you’re a man, and you’ve acted like this, the woman you do it to, beneath the polite smile she has to offer, has probably fantasised about you dying.

Laurie Penny has also written a piece on Hey Baby for The New Statesman which has, of course, spawned a flurry of angry comments. Comments which drew another, calmer contributor (by the name of J. Van Meter) to remark;

It must be painful for some guys to imagine that their ‘friendly’ comments, rather than drawing the fond attention of passing woman, just cast them as faceless potential threats.

Which brings me neatly on to my final street-harassment related tit-bit of the day!

I came to Phaedra Starling’s Schrödinger’s Rapist post via a discussion at the Reclaim The Pub blog. Whilst Starling’s post, written as a guide for men on how not to approach women in public spaces, has received a lot of criticism (and is by no means perfect!) – in my opinion it still holds its own as a simple and eye-opening breakdown of male privilege. Basically, the post explains that whilst men may feel their romantic advances towards a stranger in a public place are harmless and good-natured, there’s only a slim chance that their behaviour will be read as such by a woman who has most likely encountered harassment and assault far too often to feel safe.  Have a read here, if you haven’t already.

Each and every one of these examples I have come across lately really underlines how the constant onslaught of street harassment can add up to create a much bigger problem than the one that first appears. That is why retaliations like ‘it’s a wolf whistle, big wow‘ miss the point by a mile…

By: Sarah Barnes, 13.07.2010 | Comments (1)
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Company magazine’s coverage of sex attacks

Company Magazine Get Home Safely

As part of their ‘Get Home Safely’ campaign, Company magazine ran a piece in their December 2009 issue on how women are now using social networking sites to raise awareness of sex attacks in their local areas.

I have to say that I was a bit skeptical from the get-go, thinking that the piece would relay how women were simply using social networking as a new way to distribute those tired old email circulars. You know the ones; they’re chock full of exasperating tips that have no grounding in reality – saying you shouldn’t wear your hair in a ponytail because it’s easier for an attacker to grab, for instance.

Is it any wonder that I expected the worst? After all, one pull quote from the feature read; “It seemed an easy way to warn all my friends to be on their guard” which immediately had my alarm bells ringing. Whilst, of course, it’s a good idea for women to be cautious and keep themselves safe, I can’t help feeling that women constantly and randomly warning each other ‘to be on their guard’ can lead to the growth of fear that results in women installing their own mental curfews.

On the contrary, however, the Company coverage (written by Nada Farhoud) concentrated on specific areas that had seen incidents of an attacker committing sexual assaults. The Facebook responses weren’t just some spreading of a general ‘Careful Now’ message, but an example of how women in those areas raised awareness of attacks within their neighbourhoods. Whilst local newspapers or television programming may not fully inform people of such attacks in their home town, these Facebook groups and messages seem to be an easy and accessible way for women to spread information at grassroots level. The sense of sisterhood makes me feel all warm and fuzzy!

Still, the feature made for dispiriting reading when Farhoud spoke of how herself, and others she had interviewed, modified their behaviour in order to avoid becoming victims of sexual violence. One particular disheartening story told of how warning signs have been installed at Mudchute Park in London (which has seen a recent spate of attacks) advising women not to walk alone through the park. So far, so victim blaming.

Imagine how my heart sang, then, when I read this next couple of paragraphs;

Now, while I feel too scared to go back to the park alone, other young women have been taking a different approach. Emma Felber, 27, a PhD student from east London, refuses to let the sex attackers ruin her daily routine. Instead of avoiding the park, she has been giving out leaflets to local men, saying, ‘Regrettably, due to a number of recent incidents, it’s necessary to remind men walking alone through the park, not to rob, rape, threaten or assault anyone. Thank you, in advance, for behaving like decent human beings. Signed, single women who refuse to live in fear.’

“I walk through Mudchute Park regularly,” explains Emma. “When I got home that night, after seeing signs about the attacks, I ranted at my flatmate about how there were no signs up telling men not to rape anyone, and that it was unfair that it was always up to women to protect themselves. Why should we have to live in fear? The next day, it occurred to me to make some signs of my own…”

I’m so happy that people like Emma Felber exist, and I’m even more happy that her input was included in the Company piece. Whilst some might balk at her forthright feminist approach (I am, obviously, not one of these people!) and worry about insulting men (rather than worrying about women being assaulted, attacked or raped), Felber is making a valid point that is not often given exposure in mainstream media.

So often women, as an entire gender group, are the ones who suffer as a result of action that is intended to curb sex attacks and assaults. Which is crazy, since women are the ones who are directly suffering from sex attacks and assaults anyway! The rolling out of the warning signs for women at Mudchute Park (effectively banning them from going about their legal business) is just another example of how society will try to wish away attacks by stunting the freedoms of potential victims, rather than attempting to get to the root of the problem and punish the perpetrators. For women, to have to live with the constant reminder that we are ‘potential victims’ and moderate our behaviour, well… it’s no way to live.

What Felber’s flyer does is remind us that the onus for sex attacks should be placed squarely on the perpetrators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not of the mind that all men are potential sex attackers. But then, the warning signs of Mudchute Park grouped the entire female gender into a ‘potential victim’ category – so at least her male targeted flyering acted as a rather bitter role reversal where men could experience the feeling of having their conduct monitored just because they belonged to a certain gender group.

I can imagine many men bristled at being handed such a leaflet, but let’s hope that any red mist descending did not get in the way of anyone seeing the bigger picture. After all, women are still being assaulted in public spaces that exist for everyone to use… and that, surely, is more of an atrocity than a small knock to the pride of a few men?

More refreshing tips to avoid sexual assault and rape here, here and here.

(Image taken from Company Magazine December 2009)

By: Sarah Barnes, 18.12.2009 | Comments (1)
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MTV worries me… part 4; Making Street Harassment ‘Sexy’

3OH!3 Katy Perry Starstrukk

Whilst writing my (ever multiplying… gosh, I’m easily perturbed, aint I?) blog posts about music videos, I’ve started to notice another little trend. This time, however, it’s not content of the videos that’s getting to me but the lyrics of the songs, instead. (more…)

By: Sarah Barnes, 15.12.2009 | Comments (6)
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New Uplift Contributor – Sina Becker

Say hello to Sina Becker, the talented illustrator who created the fantastic image adorning our latest feature. Check out the piece ‘Hollaback Grrrl‘, by Lydia Harris, to see what Sina has conjured up!

Sina Becker

“Hello lovely Uplift readers, my name is Sina and I’m a 23 year old illustrator who is currently based in the big scary city of London. Having moved around my whole life I have been lucky to have been exposed to all kinds of wonderful people and cultures which have had a great influence on my approach and style in art.

I have just finished doing illustrations for Ameila’s Anthology on alternative energy and whilst I’m not doing that I’m illustrating for various beautiful independent magazines and on-line publications, as well as doing band art work and any fun projects which come my way.

Momentarily I have developed a new obsession with set building and making hand made 3D props which I use in photo-shoots and on costumes.

It’s great fun working with Uplift, helping send out a strong message and I look forward to seeing what exciting new projects and articles the future still has in store for us. X”

To see more of Sina’s work, visit her website, or you can read her interview with here!

By: Sarah Barnes, 06.12.2009 | Comments (0)
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New Uplift Contributor – Lydia Harris

I’m very pleased to introduce our newest contributor, Lydia Harris, who wrote the latest feature ‘Hollaback Grrrl‘;

Lydia Harris

“I’m Lydia Harris.  I’m 21, a recent Goldsmiths graduate and living in London.  I’m involved in feminist activism and I’m especially interested in D.I.Y. culture, zines and riot grrrl.

I spend a lot of my time reading and writing words, listening to Sonic Youth and organising a feminist club night (with co-conspirators) called Girl Germs.  I also work in a second-hand bookshop and volunteer at the Feminist Library.   Reading that back, I guess it would be fair to say that I’m pretty into books!

I have a feminist blog called Swimsuit Issue.  I also write for BitchBuzz on a weekly basis and have been involved in editing the upcoming issue of Filament magazine.

I’m so pleased so be involved with the brilliant Uplift!”

To see more of Lydia’s writing, take a trip to her blog. And don’t forget to read her latest feature for Uplift, ‘Hollaback Grrrl‘!

By: Sarah Barnes, 06.12.2009 | Comments (1)
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New Feature – Hollaback Grrrl

Street harassment is something we, as women, will encounter far too often and it can be accompanied by the fear, if not the reality, of sexual assault, violence and rape. In light of this, Lydia Harris welcomes the arrival of a British Hollaback movement;

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…

Read the full article here.

(Illustration by Sina Becker)

By: Sarah Barnes, 06.12.2009 | Comments (0)
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