Street harassment: not just a minor issue

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!

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