With Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April and International Anti-Street Harassment Week back in March, we’ve had street harassment on the brain lately. But, as you can see in Veralyn’s vlog above, folks don’t always agree on what qualifies.
That said, between Veralyn’s interviews, Khalea’s post on Anti-Street Harassment Week, and feedback from the Bedsider community, I’ve noticed two themes weaving their way through all the different perspectives on hollas vs. harassment.
1) Respect. When we asked folks on Facebook how they would respond to a comment from a stranger along the lines of “you look beautiful today,” 14 out of the 14 who responded said they would “smile and say thank you” (the other options were keeping their blinders on and walking faster or giving out their number on the spot). Veralyn’s interview with Nicole, where Nicole says there’s a big difference between telling someone she looks beautiful and commenting on her body, may shed some light on why the response was so consistent. Emily May of Hollaback! takes that distinction a step further when she talks about intention—a comment that’s intended to be a genuine compliment can feel very different from a remark intended to cause discomfort or shame.
2) Consent. It seems a bit counter-intuitive to talk about consent and street hollas, but Emily May’s interview got me thinking about it. Emily describes a scenario in which a woman says thanks for a compliment and keeps walking and notes that a respectful encounter should be able to end there. Veralyn alludes to something similar when she admits “the reality of how quickly a ‘You looking good, girl’ could potentially turn into a ‘F*** you, B****’ is always in the back of my mind.” In other words, a part of the harassment equation is an unwillingness to read and respect the way the person you’re talking to responds—or doesn’t respond—to you.
It’s not exactly groundbreaking to say that respect and consent are crucial for a healthy relationship—fortunately there are some very awesome conversations already going on about exactly that. I just found it interesting to think about the part those qualities can play in a fleeting interaction with a stranger. And indeed, I’d say that if we can make respect and consent a part of our random public interactions, we’ll be on the right track for the private ones too.
Liz Sabatiuk is Social Media Manager for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. When she’s not blogging about birth control and relationships, she dances and teaches Argentine tango and spends a little too much time on Facebook.
Holla, Hollaback: An Interview with Emily May
So you’re walking down the street, headed to work, or school, or the laundromat (because only the sweatpants and T-shirt you have on are clean) and you hear: “If no one has told you how beautiful you are today, please let me be the first.” What do you do?
a) Stop and give out your phone number immediately!
b) Keep your blinders up and start walking a little faster.
c) Smile and say thank you.
Personally, I’m an option “c” kind of girl. As I admitted in Street Hollas: When Is It NOT Harassment?, I enjoy the occasional compliment from a stranger in the street. But yes, the reality of how quickly a “You looking good, girl” could potentially turn into a “F*** you, B****” is always in the back of my mind. And when it happens, the experience can ruin more than just your day.
So what is the solution? Because as a single gal in NYC, eliminating the public sphere as a possible place to meet “Mr. Right” is just not realistic.
To get some answers on when a street “holla” crosses the line into “street harassment,” I spoke to Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback!, an international movement dedicated to ending street harassment by empowering victims to share their personal stories. (FYI, according to Stop Street Harassment, street harassment means unwelcome words and actions from unknown persons in public, which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.)
Emily talked to me about the difference she sees between a friendly street holla and street harassment and explained why she thinks Hollaback! is so important.
Your turn: what are your thoughts and experiences RE street hollas? Is a holla always harassment?
Veralyn Williams is a Multimedia Freelance Journalist currently working in New York City. She has spent 4 years at WNYC Radio working with various departments including: Radio Rookies, Culture, News, and Freakonomincs. Also freelancing for Black Enterprise, BronxNet Television,Bedsider, and The Museum for African Art. Her independent work is featured on her website VeralynMedia.com. Through all of her endeavors she aims to give a voice to perspectives that are often forgotten in the media.