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Walking home and a guy literally pushes his face up in mine and says in a kind of sing song voice ‘Hiiiii’. I was really taken a back at first, I thought I must have known him for someone to come so close to me, and then I saw the leery grin on his face and thought ‘no, just another day, another street harasser’.
I know people say ‘oh there’s nothing wrong with someone saying hello on the street that’s not street harassment blah blah blah….’ but actually, this guy wasn’t doing this to be friendly, it wasn’t even about him saying ‘hello’. He could have used any words from Zebra to Avocado, because really his reasons for doing it were to make me uncomfortable, and let me know that in his view with his leery leery stare, I’m not a person, I’m just a sexual object.
By Felicity Tolley
I grew up in Edinburgh, and my teenage memories are peppered with incidents where comments from strangers made me feel even more conscious and insecure about the way my body was changing than I already was. It wasn’t until I left school and moved away that I realised that this unwanted attention happens everywhere, and to many different groups of people. At university, the night life and general ‘lad culture’ has exposed me to a new world of harassment, fuelled often by the ways in which the media portray and describe women and LGBTQ people. I have tried and largely failed to dissuade my classmates and anyone I meet from being sexist, homophobic, ableist and racist, yet I generally become the one who is making ‘a fuss about nothing’. I have also been met with anger when calmly calling out harassers for their behaviour.
Incidents of street harassment are an outward representation of cultural and societal conceptions, and so it is incredibly important to raise awareness of how damaging it can be. For example, the pervasiveness of catcalling shows the way that our society still seems to judge women by their looks and what pleasure they might bring to men before any other consideration. Each time this happens without repercussions, the catcaller feels that their sense of patriarchal entitlement is justified and the victim internalises the idea that they are only worth as much as their outward appearance.
Street harassment should not be an accepted part of growing up, or a reason to change the way you express yourself. I have joined Hollaback to contribute what I can to raising awareness of how damaging street harassment can be, and to show society that we can have higher expectations for our public spaces. Tackling street harassment is the first step towards challenging rape culture and ending gender inequality, which is still essential in the 21st Century. I have already experienced enough of this particular societal problem for a lifetime, and I don’t want the next generation to have to deal with it too. Our world wouldn’t be at all interesting if everyone was of the same gender, race, sexual orientation and ability, and just because some opinions are more pervasive, doesn’t mean that they should dominate. Joining Hollaback is my way of making my voice a little bit louder.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city, but the narrow closes of the old town and the big, open parks contribute to a general feeling of insecurity when walking around alone, especially at night. No one should be made to feel threatened by someone just walking near them, or have to change their route or pay for a taxi to avoid a ten minute walk alone. Those going to clubs and bars should not be prepared for the simple act of buying a drink or dancing with friends to be accompanied by comments about the way they look or speculation about their sexuality. Being inappropriately touched by a stranger should not be an accepted hazard of going out at night. Until harassment on the street and in public places is a thing of the past, every stranger is a potential threat. Talking to each other is a simple way to show how fear of harassment can limit daily life. Modern technology allows us to communicate and share experiences with people all over the world, and Hollaback is building a strong, global community that promotes respect for all people.
One of our new committee members, Line Knudsen, shares why she joined Hollaback! Edinburgh.
When I first went to the Hollaback! Edinburgh day school back in October, I had never heard of Hollaback! before; neither had I given much thought to street harassment. In fact, just like so many others I had simply accepted that, as a woman, strangers may comment on your appearance, and, as a woman, walking on your own at night is ‘just not safe’. And just like so many others I was thinking, ‘that’s too bad, but there’s nothing I can do about it’. That was until I went to that Hollaback! event…
In case you’ve never been to a Hollaback! event, let me tell you a bit about the one I went to. Seated in a community room at the local library with plenty of coffee and tea to go around (not forgetting some delicious home baked goods), we were first of all reminded of the effects of street harassment: the feelings of guilt and self-blame by those who experience it (‘I shouldn’t have worn that skirt’ or ‘I shouldn’t have walked that way on my own’), and the change in behaviour that often follows from being harassed, or even occurs merely in anticipation of being harassed (‘I won’t wear that skirt (again)’ or ‘I won’t go to that part of the city (again)’). Second, we were reminded that street harassment is by no means a small or insignificant issue: millions (even billions?) of (especially, but not exclusively) women all over the world have experienced harassment in public spaces, and many experience it on a regular basis; they are being shouted at, whistled at, and, not least, touched up (!). Indeed, as research by Hollaback! Edinburgh has shown, many young women in Edinburgh have experienced harassment in the city and confirm that street harassment – often referred to as ‘banter’ – is often perceived as ‘normal’ behaviour that you really shouldn’t be making a fuss about.
Sitting there, with my tea and cake, I was reminded that street harassment matters and that it impacts my movements and my way of dressing and behaving, even when nothing ‘is happening’: when my body seems to automatically ‘tense up’ when I’m passing a group of strangers on the pavement at nighttime, when I avert my eyes and stare at my shoes to avoid some non-defined ‘attention’ from strangers, or when I decide to walk home a different way because I’m on my own. These examples may seem minor, but as I was reminded that day at the Hollaback! day school, they are part of the wider issue of street harassment, and as such they are not insignificant. Neither are, of course, the very real experiences of harassment in public spaces experienced by a huge number people every day – also here in Edinburgh.
So, this is some of what I took with me from my first Hollaback! event: that street harassment impacts on our abilities to live our lives the way we want to, and that it is an issue worthy of attention. But that was not all. In fact, an equally important message conveyed to us that day in Edinburgh, and which the Hollaback! movement seeks to spread across the globe, is that street harassment is not inevitable. It will take some work, it will take some time, but together we can challenge and – eventually – overcome street harassment. And that’s why I’ve now joined Hollaback! Edinburgh.
I very much hope to see you at our next event!
I was in the club and someone spilt their drink on me. I turned round saying “oi watch it!” and he was just laughing at me. Instead of apologising, one of his mates grabbed me and tried to kiss me. Typical rugby lads! Luckily my friend threatened him and they left me alone.
2013 has been a fantastic year for Hollaback! Edinburgh. We’ve had two motions of support lodged in the Scottish Parliament, we have spoken twice at events in the Scottish Parliament, we have engaged with our local community via our day school on Street Harassment and Intersectionality, we have presented on our work with a variety of organisations – from Edinburgh Council to the Women’s Support Project – and we conducted and published research on young people’s experiences of Street Harassment – just to name a few!
We wanted to end the year in a spirit of hope. While we will continue to raise awareness of the many challenges that still lie ahead, we also wanted to give a voice to those who have been there with us over the past year.
That’s why we are running the All I Want for Christmas campaign.
We are inviting our supporters to submit a photograph of themselves holding a sign with their Christmas wish in relation to ending street harassment – a variation on the theme “All I Want for Christmas is an end to street harassment” – and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can see the photos which have been submitted so far on our tumblr page, and on our social media (follow @HollabackEDIN).
Lastly, we’ll leave you with our Christmas Card – wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a Holla! New Year.
I was sitting on the bus going down London Road towards Meadowbank, and a car load of blokes pulled up next to us at the lights. They started shouting and generally being lairy, so I turned and looked at them. They started whistling and blowing me kisses. After doing a double take and a “are you talking to me?” type thing, I gave them a V sign. The bus pulled off. All fine. Then they sped up and overtook the bus shouting, jeering and beeping their horn as they did. It really pissed me off as 1) it was quite intimidating as I was just about to get off and 2) its humiliating in front of a bus load of strangers to be (bus?) harassed by a bunch of dudes. Annoying.
I’m an International student attending the University of Edinburgh, and I have always felt fairly safe in this city at night. I rarely go anywhere alone, and on this night, I was with my two friends.
We were on the 30 bus towards Princes Street (Clovenstone) and were talking amongst ourselves. We were fairly happy to be heading to Subway to have a different meal for dinner. A man (in his late 20s to early 30s) turned and began talking to us from a few rows up.
At fist we thought he was being friendly, because he told us that it was down the road. That quickly turned into him making sexual references like “You girls want a big sandwich, do you? With cheese?” Multiple times. He moved to the front of the bus, and when we had to get off the bus, I noticed that the few men that were on the bus were beginning to look uncomfortable.
The man stood at the entrance to the bus, and proceeded to ask us to have a drink. We politely declined. He continued to bother us, stating that he was “just joking”. I heard a man behind us quietly mumble “Could have fooled me. Good luck ladies.” When the doors opened, he refused to let us pass at first, but we managed to get around him (just barely). Needless to say, we booked it down the street and did not turn back as he yelled something behind us.
Besides being pestered by this man, what I found worse was the fact that not ONE male on the bus would simply say “Leave them alone, they’re not interested.” or something along those lines. Back home in North America, SOMEONE would say something! I’m very disappointed. What happened to chivalry, or a bit of sympathy?
Walking down Gorgie Road Friday night and a group of LADZ in a car swore at me. I recipricated the gesture, and flipped the bird. They then yelled from their car that I was a ‘fat cunt’, so I responded by shouting that they are losers and they should go and kill themselves.
Perhaps I didn’t mean it literally, but then perhaps they didn’t mean I was a literal giant vagina.