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.