***Trigger Warning for description of street harassment*** (Mild, with no violence, but I’d rather be overly cautious than trigger someone!)
A couple of months ago, I was walking on the street by my house, sobbing. I’d just had a huge fight with my mom, hung up on her, and felt so miserable I didn’t even want to stop the tears. But the guy swaggering toward me on the other side of the sidewalk did and knew exactly how he’d do it, too: “Girl, I’d never make you cry, you come home with me and I’ll make you scream.”
Ew. Gross and so self-absorbed, as street harassment goes, for him presume he knew what was wrong and could fix it with his dick. I glared but otherwise ignored him as he passed. I guess he whipped around to take another look because the next thing I heard was, “Oooh, girl has an ass, too!”
I turned, raised my bag in the air and let loose with all the curse words for slime like him I could think of and some indignant feminist rage, too. As soon as I’d gotten the first f-bomb out of my mouth, he broke off into a run and I ran right after him, screaming at his back: “Would you say that to your mother? Your sister? You think you own this street and my body if you want it? FUCK YOU!”
As all the women reading this know, this situation could have turned dangerous quickly – often times confronting street harassers escalates the situation and I usually don’t do it to this extent, but I felt more comfortable, and probably more angry, because the door to my apartment was a few feet away. When I made it inside, I felt strong, powerful, and more than a little bit subversive.
Of course, this isn’t how I, or probably anyone else, usually feels after a run-in with street harassment in all it’s nefarious forms, which can range from whistles, barks, meows, and grunts from across the street to threats of violence or demands to smile, to out and out attempted physical assault. Whenever one of these occurs, which can be several times a day in New York City, I usually end up feeling some combination of angry, scared, annoyed and a little less hopeful about the progress women have made and are making in asserting our basic humanity to the world.
Today, however, I have a lot more hope, so much so that I’m almost excited to meet my first street creeper of the day. With the long-awaited launch of the iHollaback iPhone app dawns a new era in pairing mobile technology with woman-powered guerrilla activism to end street harassment – and, hopefully makes feeling subversive and empowered afterward the new norm, not the exception.
Here’s how it works: when an incidence of street harassment occurs, iPhone users can pull up the app and report the place and type of abuse, as well as upload a photo of the offender. The reports go into a central, searchable database that women can use to share their stories and figure out the routes on which street harassment is most likely to occur. As Rebekah Spicuglia points out in New York Daily News, street harassment is a crime that everyone knows occurs but on which we have very little data – iHollaback will serve as a resource for law enforcement looking to cut down on the behavior, legislators trying to pass stricter laws against it, and activists holding the feet of both to the fire to actually do so.
Activist Emily May started the iHollaback movement in 2005 with a site that allows users to upload photos of offenders along with short stories. The point was to send a signal to men that women will no longer be silent or powerless in the face of street harassment and their behavior will no longer be secret or without shame. That mission holds – and will soon be expanding worldwide and beyond the iPhone, with the upcoming introduction of an international app and an SMS text service and an app for Droid phones. (I’ve personally appealed to the iHollaback team for a Blackberry app – any developer who’d to help make that happen, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the right people!)
If you happen to be in NYC and want to drink to the beginning of the end of street harassment, the iHollaback launch party is tonight, in Brooklyn, details here.
As for me, I’m raising my glass to the dude who’s been staring at me across the train station the whole time I wrote this post – your creepy mug is going on the internets!