We’re thrilled to introduce our newest member Rebecca and her thoughts on street harassment and the Hollaback! movement.
I have lived, despite my best efforts, in smaller communities my entire life. I grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada where we played in our neighbours equally large backyards, knew most of the townsfolk by face if not by name, and were free to explore the familiar streets on our bikes. My town, just to really drive this point home, didn’t have a single set of traffic lights until I was grown and away at University. Those Gilmore Girls fans out there are close in imagining a Stars Hallow type existence. When I moved away to University I thought I had chosen a larger municipal, there was a bus system which made the area feel downright vast to the rural setting I was used to, but in reality it was much closer to a “town” than a “city”. It was during University where I was first able to put a tangible title to my lifelong beliefs; I welcomed the term “feminist” into my vocabulary like a delicious taste in my mouth I didn’t want to wash out. I enjoyed saying it, exploring it, and learning more about it. I can remember clearly in a third year philosophy class a professor explaining to us how women are repressed in the western world. He had to reveal to me my own oppression, that is the sort of sheltered, no traffic light life that I led. As I continued my education and pursued work around the country I continued to, quite honestly by accident, choose places that were small and “safe”. So when I moved to Edinburgh in the summer of 2015 I was in for a bit of a shock and I began my crash course in what it means to feel scared when walking home.
More and more I had been hearing stories from women I was meeting about their experiences in the street; daily street harassment was the norm apparently. I felt outraged for them. Then it started happening to me, small things here and there- a dude yells at you from his car, a group of guys make a face at you and some gesture as you walk by. No matter the act though it always left me feeling uneasy, shaken and scared. I started walking down my own street with keys between my knuckles, just in case. These things weren’t just happening during my commute, they were happening at my job too. A guy would ask me my name, offended when I refused to give him my last name “calm down” he says a little too loudly at me, “I was just trying to be friendly”. I became afraid to leave my home, I felt resentful to my male friends who didn’t share these problems, angry at my long time partner that he would never be able to understand how it feels to be put in that situation so often.
When I would tell people why I joined Hollaback I felt the need to come up with examples of my own experiences of street harassment. I would talk about passing looks, words said and actions taken and how they made me feel small. But ultimately what I was doing was trying to stake my claim, to prove that I belonged in this type of organization because I had experienced these things. The more I have spoken to fellow victims the more I felt I didn’t deserve to take a stand, I was realizing that my experiences weren’t “that bad” compared to others. But this type of thinking is what further proves why we need to be allies to one another! We have been conditioned to think that unless something truly horrible has happened to us personally we shouldn’t point out that there is a problem to be solved. Perhaps there have been others who have had more traumatic experiences of harassment than I, but my experiences are my own and they mean something to me. I cannot know what it is like to be trans and walking the streets in fear of violence, I don’t know how it feels to have racial slurs yelled at me, but I do know that it is not acceptable and that it is my duty to support those who know what that feels like. By joining Hollaback I am taking a stand not just for me (which is where my original misconception began) but I am joining for all the others out there who walk home in fear, who log online in a panic, who enter the work place with their emotional armor on. I join Hollaback not just for me but for us all who have felt afraid, who have heard vile things, who have seen things they cannot be unseen. I join for the bystanders who wanted to say something but didn’t know how. I join for myself and I join for you. Let’s ‘Hollaback’ together!