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CATCALLED is a writing project about street harassment that took place in New York in August 2012. During 2 weeks, participants wrote daily posts about their experiences of harassment. Currently it’s still going strong with pieces about women’s vulnerability, power, objectification and safety in the street.
Check it out at http://catcalled.tumblr.com/no comments
What did you do during Bayram? Like most people, you probably enjoyed your vacation talking strolls with your friends around the city. In Cairo, during the three days of Bayram (Eid al-Ahda in Arabic), not everyone could enjoy their free time: 727 cases of sexual harassment were reported. And most of them happened in front of the police, who stood there doing nothing.
Here is an interesting article about a video experiment in Cairo, where women are harassed on a daily basis. A girl and a guy put on a fake scene of harassment on the street to film the reaction of the passersby. The video shows how, instead of helping the girl, passersbys blame her for it and tell her to move on. Follow the Bussy Project on youtube.com to see more experiments about harassment.
I left work early to pick up my laptop from the shop. Rather than take the metro I thought, ‘I should really walk more. Why don’t I take these opportunities to walk and see more of the city.’ Just ten minutes later I was angrily reminded why. Walking down the street, a truck for a local water company that delivers the water to homes passes by me and stops about 20 meters ahead at a stop. The guy in the passenger seat has turned around to face me, licking his lips and vulgarly gesturing that he wants to eat me out. It was disgusting, truly disgusting. They stalled just waiting for me to approach, but I stopped walking, waiting for them to leave. I was so upset and mortified, and I just kept thinking about how many women and children these guys were going to deliver water to at their homes. How many more women would they pass in the street and make feel disgusting and uncomfortable? I am just upset.
Several blocks away from my house I noted that there was someone who seemed rather sketchy following a small group that included me, my small female housemate, and my very tall male friend. A few minutes later, he ran behind me, pulled my tight dress up to my waist, exposing my underwear. Throwing his hands into a victory motion, he ran.
This was completely unexpected, given that I was not walking alone and was in fact walking with two people, including a man who was about a foot taller than the guy.
My friend began to chase after him, with my housemate and I trailing and yelling. He tackled him to the ground after several blocks. At this point, my housemate and I yelled at him and hit him with our purses. Jerk. People came out of their houses to confirm we were okay. We let him go; he ran quickly away.
It makes me so incredibly angry the amount of abuse and assault that takes place in this country that serves only to humiliate women.
I was new in Istanbul and it was my second time on the bus. It was afternoon and the bus was almost full. I was holding onto a pole on the side standing, and I felt a man pressed against my back, so I moved sideways, so he moved too and pressed against my side. Then I moved and stood further from the poll on the side. The man held onto the pole on the other side of me (unnecessary) and the moved his arm further and touched my breasts, so I flinched and shouted at him and he backed off.
When did “hello” become a word of harassment?
Today around 6 PM I was walking with two other foreign friends and colleagues (one brown-haired and the other blond) toward the Yenibosna metrobus stop, on the sidewalk of the E-5. Three young men in a white van passed us by and shouted “hello hello!” in the obnoxious way I think all foreign women who’ve lived in Turkey long enough have experienced. My friends didn’t notice. I was just going to ignore it like all the other times when that has happened, sometimes with the men shouting in-your-face and obnoxiously, sometimes quietly, almost muttering to themselves as they walk by briskly. But then I noticed that the car had pulled over toward the sidewalk ahead of us. I tried not to panic but had a sinking feeling about why they had pulled over. And I was right: as soon as we were passing by they started shouting again, “hello, hello!”, this time louder. Again, my friends didn’t notice and I ignored them, walking past quickly. As they pulled away they shouted for a third time, this time loud enough that my friends and people around us noticed. This time I shouted back a few choice words in Turkish. People then looked at me strangely. I couldn’t see the men’s faces — they were probably laughing and mocking me. I on the other hand was shaking from anger.
It makes me sad that even a seemingly innocuous word, one that’s supposed to be used in greeting, is used as a word of harassment, shouted like a threat, by some men here. It’s a shame.
By Olivia Henry, writer and Canimiz Sokakta: Hollaback! Istanbul volunteer
Last year, Nancy Leong wrote an entry for the Feminist Law Professors blog in which she criticized Hollaback’s response to street harassment:
Scrolling through the Hollaback forums, one quickly notices that the vast majority of photographed harassers appear to be men of color, poor, possibly homeless…
In many instances the woman who suffers harassment is—at least from the standpoint of race and class—relatively privileged, and is seen as privileged by her harasser…The harassment begins to look less like a self-congratulatory exultation in masculine power and more like a bitter protest against lifelong disadvantage.
Leong makes no apologies for harassment. She wants us to reconsider the source of street harassment and the way it’s treated in the legal system:
If we read street harassment as often the product of disempowerment for both harasser and victim, legal intervention offers a sorely limited response to what is only the most obvious manifestation of a much larger, deeper, and more serious problem.
Large, Deep and Serious: Sourcing Street Harassment
Leong’s assumption of a predictable class dynamic to street harassment is little simplistic – poor women are, of course, harassed. Here at Hollaback Istanbul, we can’t draw any conclusions from user photo galleries as Leong did: this branch doesn’t use the mobile application (Turkish law somewhat restricts this). Without any statistics, it’s impossible to deny or endorse the author’s generalization, especially since disadvantage manifests in Turkey very differently; darker men suspected of Kurdish or Roma descent may suffer discrimination, but mannerisms or dress indicating poverty or “rural origin” are also significant sources of prejudice.
Whether or not the class dynamic is consistent, Leong is touching on a real paradigm within Hollaback and anti-street harassment groups at large: the legitimate indignation of privileged and non-privileged women alike takes precedent over a deeper examination of why the phenomenon exists.
A sociological explanation of street harassment doesn’t involve an uncomplicated disparagement of the male reptile brain, but acknowledgement of how social and economic factors determine gender relations. Both sexes suffer poverty, racism and urban anonymity, but women suffer from these doubly: first as direct victims, and then again as isolated, threatened, disenfranchised men articulate their rage by punishing women. Leong reminds us that at least some instances of street harassment can be attributed to this double victimization. Women’s punishment doesn’t always originate with a man in the street but with the agent of these systemic wrongs – a man in a corporate high rise.
Instead of tackling larger themes of economic justice or social norms that create and encourage street harassment, the prevailing messages of organizations like Hollaback are empowerment, awareness, and “speaking out.” They counsel women on how to react to harassment in the moment. We’re encouraged to share our stories. It’s not wrong, but it’s not enough.
Hollaback is primarily by and for women, but ultimately street harassment isn’t about us – its about society and the men it produces. Nancy Leong challenges how we look at these men: who they are, why they are and why they harass. The “why” of harassment could be reclamation of space, a punishment of privilege or an expression of power in light of its absence.
Confronting street harassment in the moment is a powerful tool – the immediate gratification, the prevention of harm, and the sense of personal empowerment are all things to work toward, to say nothing of hopefully regulating the harasser’s future behavior. Women should live and play in public without fear and even “hollaback” at those who persecute them. This is a noble goal and we should advocate the hell out of it. Although engagement with the larger structures that produce and encourage harassment is a less tangible, less tactile task, it is surely part of Hollaback’s work as well.
Our work is to creatively and effectively respond to street harassment in the moment. By engaging with the social conditions that precede and follow that moment, we can elevate our temporal triumphs into lasting change.
It was 1am Friday night on Istiklal. There was the standard weekend night crowd: a mix of drunk people stumbling to their next destinations and others racing to get home safely. My boyfriend and I were holding hands walking down the middle of the street where it was clearest, on our way home from a night out. There was nothing different, and nothing that felt threatening, so naturally, I couldn’t immediately register what had happened when a group of three guys passed us and one grabbed my ass. In that moment I was laughing about something with my boyfriend, and then it happened. I was still laughing when it registered with me and said, “That guy just grabbed me!” It started to sink in how uncomfortable I felt–even though the perpetrator was at least 50 feet away from us, it felt like his hand was still pressed onto my backside.
It was a fraction of a second between the moment I was laughing and the moment I was pulling my boyfriend to stop from going after the three guys. Yes, I wanted my groper to get punched but it’s not like that would have reversed what just happened. It would not have made me feel any less violated. I just wanted to get home and I didn’t want my boyfriend getting hurt. Besides, I didn’t know which of the three guys it was–I didn’t pay them any attention when they passed us, why should I have? I didn’t want the wrong guy to get blamed.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been harassed, certainly not in Istanbul, but it was by far the most shocking. I have never felt so helpless.
Unfortunately, street harassment is all too common, and most of us have developed strategies to avoid it when we know it’s more likely to happen: walking quickly, avoiding eye contact, using a different route to get home. But it shouldn’t be that way–it shouldn’t be a norm to AVOID, it should be a norm that does not EXIST.
I keep thinking about what I would and should do next time. Sadly, I do believe there will be a next time. Hopefully, though, the “next times” will become fewer over time as we empower more people to speak out against street harassment. Soon, we will no longer have to find ways to AVOID it because it will not be the norm.
It happened half an hour ago (it’s Feb 15 00:07 Istanbul time). I was coming home from my friends place. It’s a 15 min walk, on the 5th minute of which I noticed a guy walking behind me. When we approached a park he suddenly came up to me and said something in Turkish. The street was well-lighted, but no people around. I ignored him until he came even closer and said he wanted to become my “arkadaş” (making friends at midnight?). I noticed a car coming in our direction and when it neared us I yelled at the guy as loud as I could (so that the driver noticed us) to leave me alone. He did not. He kept following me. Then I entered a “bakkal”, where I usually buy stuff, and asked the cashier for directions to the nearest police station (I should have called them instead). I followed the directions, but in Istanbul it’s impossible to find a place you’re looking for. Besides, by then I lost the stalker from my sight. I returned home and waited for somebody else to enter my apartment building with.
My work requires me to visit customers and complete technical papers on possible solutions that always go in a red file. I spend hours preparing each individual file for every customer, and yet, most of the customers never even look and appreciate my dedication to detail and care for their case. Recently, I have realized how similar the issue of street harassment in Istanbul is to those ignored, red files. Women experience harassment on a daily basis when using public transportation, but being touched and disturbed by strangers is so psychologically accepted that these events are shoved on a shelf of similar events to be ignored, just like my customers’ red files.
I can see that some women have developed methods of defense such as carrying a needle under their collars to use when harassed, and others use their bags or umbrellas as a physical barrier between potential harassers. Pepper spray can be used, but when I look around me, most women are too embarrassed and do not react to perverts. They might change their position, move to another seat, or exit the metrobus at the soonest possible moment. The reason for this is that women do not know how to react when they are exposed to situations of harassment. We mostly know that being touched or disrespected by a stranger without permission should not be normal and nobody has the right to do that to someone else. However, women really are uninformed about how to react, whether on the tramvay or just walking. This situation has forced many women, including me, to look into buying a car as an escape from the uncomfortable and even dangerous harassment on public transportation. And still, that is only a compromise because many women drivers are still harassed by other drivers on the road, as they soon realize after ownership. Excessive honking, aggressive driving, being cut off, these are what women experience on the road, and very often, they receive a smile from these harassers who get joy from it.
Finally, I write this as a woman and as a human being making a life in Istanbul. We, as a society, need to establish legal and culturally accepted ways of responding to harassment that no longer punish the victim. Being safe from harassment is a human right, but it is up to us to define what we can do as individuals and as a community to face harassment. This discussion needs to happen at schools to prepare students for the realities of the world and to also begin to change harassment from being ‘normal’. There is such a big gap in this area, and I see this as a major way to prevent our children and their children from collecting their own red files of harassment.
There is a big gap in this area, and we need to fill that without many of our children affected by harassment especially at public transport.
Globally and in Turkey, street harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence, yet one of the least legislated against. Due to the prevalence of physical and verbal harassment in public spaces, Canımız Sokakat conducted research on the nature of street harassment in Istanbul. We wanted to see understand street harassment beyond the numerous stories we’ve received.
Here are our results:
Of the participants in our survey, 69% reported experiencing harassment regularly on at least a monthly basis.
The most common forms of harassment experienced included: leering (75%), being honked at (60%), being whistled at (59%), having kissing noises directed at them (48%), and being sexually touched or groped (46%).
Ninety-three percent of participants reported that they experienced harassment from a male perpetrator in a public space, with a vast majority of perpetrators falling between the ages of 18 and 59 years old. After experiencing street harassment, survey respondents most commonly felt annoyance, anger, disgust, and fear. Many also felt insulted.
One respondent to the survey explains: “Whether it is verbal or physical harassment, even after many years, unfortunately, one cannot forget it.” Another respondent echoes a similar sentiment: “It has been two and a half years since that incident, but I still feel fear and panic riding buses.” These feeling could be why 93% of our respondents consider street harassment an important issue today:
This research is only the beginning for us. We know there are hundreds of thousands undocumented stories of street harassment and that there are so many victims and bystanders who have been silenced by a culture that supports harassers. Research like this is one major step to understand street harassment in Istanbul and ultimately combat it. Any questions on our research, email us firstname.lastname@example.org. And help us out submitting your story of street harassment today!