My new perspective on street harassment
By Danielle Hrachovec
I come before you with such an anti-feminist confession that I’m ashamed. Before yesterday, I didn’t understand street harassment. I thought, “Sure, it’s annoying when men holler, and it makes girls feel uncomfortable, but what’s the big deal?” Let me tell you, after yesterday, I am aghast that I got away with thinking like that for so long.
Being from a more conservative suburban environment, I have been “harassed” in the broadest sense of the term. Teenage boys, drunken adults, and truckers will all honk, whistle, and shout at a “pretty girl” that they see walking anywhere. It’s essentially harmless. While it’s a form of gender selective treatment, the men are just being overtly sexual idiots. There are plenty of girls in my city that take it as a form of flattery. This comes from the security in knowing that if things were to ever cross the boundary and go “too far,” the rest of the community would intercede and oversee her safety.
I have been spending the last two weeks visiting my family and colleges in a much bigger, crazier city, Seattle, Washington, and I love it. However, yesterday, I had the misfortune to have a man initiate an exchange of words on the streets while climbing the mountain-like hills in downtown’s unfamiliar territory. He started off by shouting after me, “You know you are a very attractive woman. You have a fine ___.” I kept walking, brushing it off as a brazen compliment until the man turned the direction he was heading and began to follow me, asking me to see the city with him and grant him a day of my company.
Not being used to this kind of unwelcome attention, I kept walking and shouted that I was late and he really shouldn’t try to pick up girls on the street like that. He kept following, shouting his interest in my body, and I was thinking about calling 9-1-1 until he decided I was a lost cause and turned around. This was the first time that “street harassment” has ever made me feel in danger. Normally, I know that I will not be harmed on a crowded street in the middle of Indiana, but there is something about the bustle of the city that can make strangers apathetic to harassers approaching unsuspecting pedestrians and the harassers unaware of women’s personal boundaries.
This is why I have a new fixation with the organization Hollaback! This organization is now across the globe, trying to empower women to counter their harassers and spread their stories to let fellow victims know they aren’t alone. The mission is to protect women and LGBTQ’s rights to, “feel safe and confident without being objectified.” This network of support helps the LGBTQ community and women discuss the possible end of street harassment. How can one person, by saying buzz off, dissuade the harasser from just walking off and humiliating another person? There are centers in several communities and stories are available in nine different languages.
On top of this mission of spreading awareness, Hollaback! also uses its power to encourage and publicize conferences and lessons that spread the message: unwelcome attention is unwelcome attention. Do not follow folks around sexualizing and embarrassing them if you are a harasser, and don’t take harassment placidly if you are a victim. “We don’t put up with harassment in the home, at work, or at school.” So why should we accept it on the streets?