Hollaback! is an international organization that strives to combat street harassment and empower women to stand up for each other and report incidents of harassment. Day one of my internship was a whirlwind introduction to the executive director, the mission, the pro-bono staff, the international sites, “a culture of badass” and the historical context underlying the street harassment resistance movement. It’s simply hard to believe the amount of work overseen by this tiny one room office in Brooklyn, which had six of us tripping over each other.
As part of our orientation, Emily May asked us to each share a story about a time when we had experienced street harassment. I was immediately anxious — stories like this are embarrassing and sensitive. I explained how disruptive and triggering it was when day drinking frat-stars would catcall and yell at me from across the quad. Telling Hollaback! during my internship orientation was the first time I had ever verbally acknowledged this behavior for what it was– harassment. Someone else described walking home from school every day as a young teen while being followed, catcalled, and threatened. Another story involved a middle aged man masturbating at a seventeen year old, as he followed her down the street in his car. It’s disgusting, and so tragic to realize that we really do ALL have these stories.
Emily pointed out that women are taught from birth to remain silent– to step back and shut up in the face of aggression, harassment, or opposition. She stressed how important story sharing was in the formation of Hollaback!, which started when she and a few friends were telling stories about their experiences walking down the sidewalks of New York. They realized that each woman in the group had stories to share about street harassment, incidents they had all experienced, but didn’t talk about. Friend and co-founder Samuel Carter was shocked and appalled by their stories, sadly stating that he truly lived in a different New York than his female friends.
The true beauty of the exercise was that it made me think about why we don’t talk about these things more often, why I felt so anxious and fearful repeating an experience to me that wasn’t my fault in any way, and in the end, why Hollaback! is so unique.