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“if you didn’t want to be stared at you shouldn’t go outside”*

August 6th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

*(actual street harasser quote as per a Hollaback NYC report)

Summer is well upon us, and as a result I’ve been (as per usual) a victim of some leering and catcalling regardless of whether I’m wearing a minidress or a burlap sack. As soon as the clothes come off to beat the heat, it seems some people think they got their permission slip to yell and ogle as much as they like. I talk a mean game, but to be honest there’s times when the discomfort of someone’s comments causes me to feel vulnerable, mute and well, afraid. Case in point: after I ignored one guy’s invitation to come over and have a beer with him and his friends, he proceeded to call me an “ugly bitch.” Street harrassment may sometimes feel like a fact of life, but looks like there’s some people unwilling to accept it and willing to do something about it.

Hollaback Canada is a website that describes itself as follows: “If you are a Canadian woman who is harassed, catcalled, commented on, kissy-noised at, or otherwise bothered by men on the street, whip out your camera and snap a pic of the offending jacka**. Then email the pic, along with the location of the incident (as specific or vague as you like) and your comments, and we will post it for the world to see.”

Oh, sweet vindication. Hollaback Canada is a site that is not affiliated with the originator of this concept, Hollaback New York, but the concept is identical: embarrass the street harrassers and create a forum for women to discuss, share and protect themselves. The Canadian site is a little meager right now, so check out the NY site to get an idea of how women (and men) are working together to eliminate the problem. There’s some great testimonials from real people who want to help to empower women who have been victims of leering, inappropriate comments and even touching and groping. One lady who had her “butt touched” on a subway had this to say:

My advice to all of you? Talk it out if it ever happened to you. If you do find yourself in that situation, remember that everyone is on your side. There is no doubt that what he is doing is unlawful… let everyone know in the car who the pervert is so this won’t happen to someone else you care about.

Interestingly enough I was at the Hillside music festival last weekend and got to experience the sheer joy of stripping down without discomfort. Hillside is a haven of all sorts of eco/gender-friendliness, and when me and some girlfriends decided to change on the beach before a swim the family-friendly/queer-friendly environment meant that flashing our wares momentarily was a-okay. Many a girl that weekend wandered the grounds of the site in a bikini top or bottom without fear of harassment. I wonder if there’s a correlation between the fact that the event was as environmentally friendly as they come (composting! reusable dishes and cups!) and the fact that it was comfortable to semi-clothed? Why is it that in some scenarios showing skin seems natural, while in others (like the subway, for example) wearing a too snug turtleneck will get you a catcall and a leer?

I’m interested to hear what other readers have experienced with this issue out in their world, and whether or not you think it’s possible to eliminate this kind of harassment from our culture?

Tags: body politics, shameless behaviour

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