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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.
Interview with Kacie Kocher, Hollaback! Istanbul founder in Time Out magazine from October 2011. TimeOutIstanbul.Eng.Oct2011one comment
Check out volunteers Rasime, Nihan, and Kacie talk about Canimiz Sokakta’s role in fighting street harassment in Istanbul. International French Radio covers us starting at minute 6:50: http://www.rfi.fr/emission/20111219-disparition-vaclav-havel
(NOTE: This is in French.)no comments
Once we were walking home and it was dark and late. We weren’t wearing anything provocative, not that it should matter. There was a man waiting for the bus or whatever, and when we passed by he started to come towards us and shout. He asked us if we were Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or whatever; we didn’t respond, but just acted as if we didn’t speak Turkish. Then he said “$1oo,” and touched my friend to get our attention.
That’s when I told him to keep going on his way in Turkish, and he got scared and left us alone.
HOLLABACK! GROWS TO 45 CITIES INTERNATIONALLY
The movement to end street harassment takes another giant leap forward this week as an additional 11 Hollaback! sites launch internationally, to make a total of 45 cities across four continents. Canımız Sokakta is apart of this global network representing Hollaback! Istanbul.
“I decided to start a Hollaback! because I wanted to be a part of a collective of dedicated and passionate activists fighting to make the streets safe for women all over the world,” said Hollaback! Palo Alto Founder Viviana Arcia. The organization is now across 16 countries, with leaders speaking more than nine different languages — each with the same message: street harassment must be put to a stop. New locations include Bogota, Colombia; Boston, USA; San Luis Obispo, USA; Chennai, India; Dusseldorf, Germany; Minneapolis, USA; Montreal, Canada; Palo Alto, USA; Portland, USA; Santiago, Chile; and Winnipeg, Canada.
Local Hollaback! site leaders run their local blogs and organize their communities through advocacy, community partnerships, and direct action. Site leaders are as diverse in their backgrounds as they are in their experiences of harassment. Hollaback! leaders are 44% lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer, 33% identify as people of color, 76% are under the age of 30, and 90% are women.
Hollaback!’s international sites are already having an impact. Istanbul has been active on university campuses, giving panels and collecting stories and will be coming to both Fatih University and Istanbul University this month. In Querétaro, Mexico, site leaders have developed a workshop to promote cities free of harassment for all people. In the last two months, 600 young people have taken part. In Istanbul and Croatia, site leaders have been creating a survey that will allow them to collect data on street harassment that will then be used across the Hollaback! network, giving Hollaback! an ability to compare street harassment across cultures.no comments
(The Petition is in English and in Turkish)
You might/might not know but in Mumbai two men were killed for standing up against a harasser. Essentially a man (Jitendra Rana) began harassing the girls in their group, and when he was told to leave them alone, he vowed to take revenge. He came back with 13 friends and stabbed the men, some of whom later died. No one came to their aid in the moment, even though it was in a crowded area. (More on the story)
As many of you know, India has an extremely corrupt justice system, and many are worried that those in prison will bride their way to an insignificant sentence. Please take 30 second to sign their petition which will go to the government.
Also check out their facebook group. In less than a week more than 80,000 people have joined. Be apart of the movement, because we need more people to stand up for victims and against harassers. This is one way to begin that changeno comments