Tuesday, July 03, 2007

'Street Harassment Is a Crime!'

Last month, the Village Voice reported on Girls for Gender Equality, a Brooklyn, NY group that's taking their fight against street harassment to the front lines of their battle--the very streets of their neighborhoods. They're speaking up and using their voices to remind their city that street harassment is a crime!

Like Holla Back NYC, a photoblog that allows women to respond to street harassment by photographing their harasser and posting it on the blog, the Girls for Gender Equality's project is a grassroots way to take a stand against harassment and show that girls and women have a right to feel comfortable and safe in public spaces.

The girls, who range in age from 15 to 18, shot and directed an 18-minute documentary on street harassment by interviewing the harassers themselves, work to raise awareness of street harassment within Brooklyn's diverse cultures, and organized workshops on self-defense and responding to street harassment. They also created posters, described here by the Village Voice:

The poster features a young woman standing in front of the shadows of men and a checklist: "I am followed by older men every day after school," "I am afraid to walk with my sisters or friends at night," and "Men think my name is 'Psst . . . ma!' or 'Ayo, shorty!' " Under the line "Street Harassment Is a Crime!" reads: "New York law prohibits street harassment (Article 120 and Article 240). You are not alone."

You go, girls!

The project reminds me of The Blank Noise Project, a public art project started to address street harassment in India. The project includes public displays of the actual clothes that victims were wearing when they were harassed (to fight the myth that only women wearing ‘provocative’ clothes are harassed) and spray-painted stories of sexual harassment in public places, created by victims of harassment. It's very cool--check it out!

P.S. Looking for your own ways to fight back against street harassment? Try these tips, adapted from the Dane County Rape Crisis Center in Madison, WI:

  1. Name the behavior and the person behind it. For example, “Don’t stare at me. That’s harassment” or “You, the man in the blue polo shirt, stop making catcalls.”
  2. Use a ‘silent stare.’ Sometimes, a stare is more powerful than words. Staring at a harasser turns the tables on the harasser.
  3. ‘Bring it home.’ Try, “I hope nobody ever treats your mom the way you’re treating me.”
  4. Use strong body language: hold your head high, look your harasser in the eye, and speak clearly and loudly

Looking for an inspiring (and thought-provoking) movie to watch? Check out War Zone, a 1998 documentary created by filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West. Here's what the Media Education Foundation says about the movie:

What does it feel like to be a woman on the street in a cultural environment that does nothing to discourage men from heckling, following, touching or disparaging women in public spaces?

Filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West believes that the streets are a War Zone for women. Armed with only a video-camera, she both demonstrates this experience and, by turning and confronting her abusers, reclaims space that was stolen from her.

War Zone is an excellent discussion starter for both men and women. It gives voice and expression to a disturbing daily aspect of being a woman in this society. It also gives men a direct personal feeling for what harassing behavior looks and feels like to a woman. Young men who may think such behavior is cool or funny will be forced to rethink their assumptions.

When I watched War Zone with a mixed-gender group at my high school, it sparked some of the most interesting discussions on gender I'd ever heard. Click here to watch a YouTube trailer for the film!


Anonymous said...

You guys are only talking about harassment where men are the harassers. That's sexist, women are harassers too.

New Moon said...

Two comments:

First, we don't deny that men can also be victims of harassment and assault. We certainly don't condone ANY form of violence against ANYONE.

Second, the reality that projects like those of Holla Back, Girls for Gender Equality, and the Street Harassment Project address is that women are victimized (through harassment and violence) at a MUCH greater rate than men. Study after study--as well as a lot of personal experience--has shown that women usually feel far more unsafe on city streets than do men. As some activists have written, women live with the perpetual fear of violence, and they are constantly adjusting their lives to avoid it: by taking a 'rape whistle' on runs, interlacing their keys through their fingers when they're alone at night, or watching their backs countless times throughout the day. We are part of a culture where violence against women happens far more often than violence against men. Every day four women die in this country as a result of domestic violence, and every two minutes a woman is raped. Such startling statistics don't exist for men.

Anonymous is one of too many who have called New Moon's work sexist because we place a special emphasis on girl's issues. Creating a safe place for girls is far from sexist. We're simply trying to make up for all of the real sexism in the world that keeps girls and women from acheiving equality--like sexist street harassers who undermine their safety.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what my fellow Anon has said. There -IS- a bias towards women in this subject. I have been harassed by men on the street for years, and being a man myself, it makes it all the more frightening. What doesn't help at all is that there is no one speaking out about this. I have searched, and searched for topics devoted to this, and all I can find are those on women. I know it's scary for you girls, but it's also scary for us, too. Not all men are large, hulking muscle factories that can pound anything on two legs into a bloody pulp. I am not very strong, or very fast. I'm not even very big. I can't change my genetics to make me more masculine in appearance. I can only be me, and that does not make it O K to be scared of other men when I'm in public. I don't think having a penis makes a difference to some of the men out there who commit these crimes.