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Interview with Hollaback

Hollaback! is a global movement dedicated to ending street harassment, most recently through mobile technology. Hollaback!’s website states: “we believe that everyone has a right to feel safe and confident without being objectified. Sexual harassment is a gateway crime that creates a cultural environment that makes gender-based violence OK. There exists a clear legal framework to reproach sexual harassment and abuse in the home and at work, but when it comes to the streets—all bets are off. This gap isn’t because street harassment hurts any less, it’s because there hasn’t been a solution. Until now. The explosion of mobile technology has given us an unprecedented opportunity to end street harassmentand with it, the opportunity to take on one of the final new frontiers for women’s rights around the world.”

Hollaback published an interview with me on February 1st. Read the full text here or on their website:

Tell us about the first time you were street harassed. How old were you, and how did you respond?

I don’t remember the first time I was harassed on the street, but I think I must have been 13 or 14. It’s hard to pinpoint the first time because as young girls we aren’t aware enough to realize that men telling us to smile or pressing us for conversation isn’t okay. Encounters like that just left me with bad feelings in my gut.

Your post has received tons of attention on Jezebel and throughout the blogsphere. Why do you think that is?

I believe my post created a stir for a couple reasons. First, it struck a chord with women and queers who are harassed on a regular basis and showed that we can break the silence about these experiences. Secondly, a lot of people got worked up in the controversy of the punch. We’re taught that violence is never okay, period. But pacifism is a privileged position for people to be able to take, and in many cases I think it’s because they have not been the target of abuse. It’s interesting because many people believe that my act was violent, but don’t see repeated, menacing, degrading behavior as violent, when that behavior can be so damaging to our mental and emotional wellbeing.

On Jezebel and your blog, many commenters seem to think Allston, Mass. is a breeding ground for street harassers. Do you think women and LGBTQ individuals are more prone to harassment in Allston than in other areas?

Allston has a disproportionate amount of street harassment compared to other neighborhoods, partially because of the BU [Boston University] bros who act like the town is their playground. People seem to think I’m exaggerating about experiencing street harassment every day here, but truly, not a day in Allston goes by that I don’t receive unwanted sexual attention. It happens everywhere though; it’s just very blatant here.

What would you say to those who say we should “just ignore or walk away” from street harassers?

Sometimes ignoring or walking away is the safest thing to do in that moment. However, doing so just proves to harassers that they are free to keep bullying. Standing up for yourself, whether that is verbal or physical, can be very empowering. It’s not up to other people to decide what will be empowering for you, so I urge targets of harassment to do whatever will make you feel safest and strongest. As for men’s role in stopping street harassment, I believe it is absolutely necessary for men to call out their friends on their actions. Only with allies of all genders and sexualities do we have a shot at smashing rape culture.

Did you feel more safe punching this guy because your girlfriend was with you?

I didn’t feel safe punching the guy and half-expected to be hit back. I probably wouldn’t have hit him if I weren’t both with my girlfriend and on a populated street. It had just gotten to the point where I was willing to physically put my body on the line to confront the verbal abuse I experience every day.

You mentioned that after years of being harassed by strangers daily, you “snapped” and that the guy “got the brunt of my rage of him and hundreds of other men’s blatant sexual harassment.  The punch I threw carried the pain and solidarity of thousands of other women, queers and other non-normative people who are targeted by hate and ignorance every day.” Now that the punch has been thrown — how are you going to target your anger and pain? Do you think you’ll ever punch a street harasser again?

I target my anger and pain into consciousness raising and activist work. Hearteningly enough, some amazing feminist work has been blossoming in the Boston area lately. An advocacy group called Knockout Barstool just formed at Northeastern University to call out a blog that promotes rape culture through its “Blackout Tour”. The Boston branch of Permanent Wave (NY-based feminist group) has its first meeting this Sunday. I’m involved with the Women’s Caucus of Occupy Boston, and Occupy Allston-Brighton has a feminist/anti-oppression working group I want to get involved with. Basically I want to be part of a greater effort to raise consciousness in our society and destroy rape culture. I don’t have plans to hit anyone again, but I will stand up for myself and my loved ones in whatever way is necessary.

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