‘If we all speak of our experiences of street harassment, loudly and unapologetically, then we can begin to effect change’
(L-R) Isabelle Burns, Jessica Vovers, Alanna Inserra, Kit Catterson
I was so happy to learn that the US-based anti-street harassment movement Hollaback! was launching in Australia. I’d been wanting to get it started here myself, but with multiple commitments, it never happened. But now past and current Melbourne University students Alanna Inserra, Isabelle Burns, Jessica Vovers, Alanna Inserra, Kit Catterson have taken the initiative. Alanna explains what motivated her to launch this brave and gusty movement here. Please support Hollaback!
The summer after my thirteenth birthday I went on a family holiday to the beach. I was walking when a young man at the top of a sand dune called out to me. When I looked up he asked me if I “wanted some” and grabbed his groin.
Already uncomfortable in my rapidly changing body, this experience made me feel highly visible, and I became hyper aware that men could be viewing me sexually. My body image changed, it became less positive. Aware that others were seeing me sexually, I felt the need to hide my body while being simultaneously pressured by society and the media to be sexual and wear revealing clothes in order to get the approval of others.
This summer also marked the first time that I was first publicly judged and shamed for my appearance. I was wearing my brand new skirt – a faux snake skin print which, in retrospect, was perhaps not the most fashionable decision but hey, it was 2001 and I was 13- years old. I felt wonderful in it. As I walked through the campground a group of young men and women heckled me about it.
These formative experiences altered my outlook and taught me some damaging lessons: that I was to be ashamed of my body; that I should be less noticeable in public; that the world will judge me for my appearance. Unlearning these harmful lessons, which were reinforced throughout my teenage years, has been the work of my young adult life, and it is these formative experiences which have largely contributed to why I feel we must put a stop to street harassment.
Street harassment encompasses a wide range of behaviours including honking, leering, comments like “smile” and “hey baby”, verbal assault, public masturbation, flashing, groping, and stalking. Although this is not an exhaustive list many of these behaviours will most likely have been experienced by you, and if not by you then by the women around you.
When you are harassed on the street the message that is being sent is that your body is not your own; what is being reinforced is that you are subject to the whims and judgements of others. The negative impact this has upon girls and young women cannot be overstated.
We need to be asking what it does to the way we view ourselves when we are publicly humiliated and harassed, defined by others as sexual objects, and then made to feel we must curtail our behaviour out of fear of unwanted attention or violence.
Hollaback! Melbourne is allowing women and girls to share their stories of street harassment in real time via mobile technology, or to tell their past stories on the website. When we publish a woman’s story we are giving voice to the harms inflicted upon her, while also highlighting the commonality of such experiences. Hollaback! provides a safe space in which women and girls can discuss street harassment and be encouraged to believe that such behaviour should not just be considered an inevitable part of being born female, but rather that it is unacceptable and can be stopped.
When we collect stories we are not only giving women and girls a platform to speak out about street harassment, we are also charting the location, frequency and severity of street harassment in Melbourne. We are in the process of building a complex profile of the harms of street harassment to present to both legislators and the police.
There are multiple courses of action open to us, from mounting a public awareness campaign to increasing police presence in trouble areas to taking the Brussels pathway and introducing legislation that will enable the police to fine those who harass women on the street (http://rt.com/news/law-fines-insults-brussels-421/).
Writing about my personal experiences with street harassment is difficult. However it is only be sharing our stories that we can band together over such injustice and move towards ending street harassment. The most powerful tool we have to end the harassment of young girls and women are our voices. If we all speak of our experiences of street harassment, loudly and unapologetically, then we can begin to effect change. First for the girls in our neighbourhood, then the girls in our cities and finally, the world.
Submit your story here
Download the iphone app for free here and share your experiences as they happen in real time.
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Want to start a Hollaback! in your city? Join the movement here.