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.
The Creeps on the Street
Ick. Last night, an older man followed me out of a drugstore near my school. For almost a block, he relentlessly questioned me about anything and everything to get a response. “Where are you from? What’s your major? Do you wanna be texting buddies?” I could’ve sworn that my body language and rapid eye rolls would keep him moving…moving away. But my non-answers motivated him even more. The creep wouldn’t stop until he almost collided with another car.
The street jeers—you know, “Aye, girl!” “Excuse me, miss…” and “Lemme talk to you for a minute, sweetheart!”—are something I’ve grown used to. At first, I found them flattering. Then I found them annoying. And now I find them commonplace. A guy once told me that most males do it as a sport—the whistles and gestures are the bait. It’s up to us to decide if we want to bite.
I figured that most women are used to brushing off and ignoring the lewd comments on the streets. Holly Kearl isn’t one of them. She’s the creator of Stop Street Harassment, a web resource that has grown into a worldwide movement. This week marks the first annual International Anti-Street Harassment Week, but it isn’t the first time that this issue has been brought to light.
This week stemmed from one lone day that sparked a global response.
“Last year, we only observed one day of activism.” she told me. “After thousands of people from all over the world participated, we extended the awareness to a week. It’s still growing. Going into the week, we had 100 cosponsors from 18 countries, and now we have 21.”
So what is street harassment? “Any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender,” according to Stop Street Harassment’s website. There’s a huge difference between a compliment and a catcall.
“It comes down to tone of voice and what they convey,” Holly said. “A ‘hello’ should be fine, but up and down looks can be creepy and unwelcome.”
She wants us to know that no response is not always the best response in situations like that. “Say whatever makes you feel strong and empowered,” she advised. “Ask ‘would you want your sister talked to that way?’ or repeat their comment to make them feel dumb. But be careful…you never know how harassment can escalate.”
The video above shows guys—GOOD guys—taking a stance against street creeping. It’s not too late to join them.
International Anti-Street Harassment Week ends tomorrow, Saturday, March 24—but I have a feeling the fight will continue year round.
Khalea Underwood is an intern for the digital media team of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. When she’s not writing, shopping, or listening to music, the Howard University print journalism student moonlights as an older sister, a contributor for MTVIggy.com, and a copy editor for The Hilltop newspaper.