Hollaback: The fight to end street harassment

Posted on: April 20, 2012

Today I was told by my bestie Lisa that she experienced harrassment on campus this week.  I immediately put on my “oh no you didn’t” face and cocked my head to the side.  The story she proceeded to tell me horrified me and I suddenly pictured myself with a purple cape on coming to her rescue and kicking the perpatrators in the balls.  Pissed does not begin to describe the feeling that was bubbling up inside me.  This is my best friend who has suffered an injustice, but even if it were someone I didn’t know, I would be just as pissed.  Let me set the stage for you so you can understand my horror at this occurance.

Victim: Lisa – beautiful woman in her mid 30’s walking to the gym on the college campus where she works; currently changing her diet to try to get to a weight she feels is healthy for her body type; on her way to meet with her trainer who is helping her figure out why she injures herself (obviously not on purpose) after a few months of working out.  She has a healthy grasp on body image and the media pressures on women to be thin, etc… and is by no means attempting to look like the airbrushed models in the magazines.  The average woman is a size 14 and she is well below that.  No one in their right mind would refer to her as fat.

Bastards 1 & 2: Two college guys sitting on a bench on the path to the gym.

Lisa: Hi! (being friendly as she always is)

Bastard #1: (elbows his friend and nods towards Lisa) “Yeah, I like it thick like her.”

Lisa: (looks back at them) “What?!”

Bastard #2: “Actually, no I don’t. Moo.”

Lisa: (in shock and very hurt turns back around and keeps walking to the gym)

Anybody else say OMG WTF?!  Anybody else picture themselves as a superheroin swooping in to save the day and kick some balls?  Let me reiterate that Lisa is no where near the word “fat”.  This is a result of our culture valuing airbrushed models that we’re told are beautiful by those who want to sell us products and get our money.  This is also a result of our society giving guys a free pass to act like complete jerks.  This is also a result of women’s self-esteem being so low because of all the harmful messages our culture/media send them that they starve themselves to an unhealthy weight just to “fit in” and look similar to those airbrushed models who don’t event look like that in real life because they are photoshopped!  Then guys grow up thinking that’s what women are supposed to look like and when they don’t they take it upon themselves to put us in our place to make themselves feel powerful and superior.  FUCK THAT!

Women are too valuable to let ourselves get caught up in this vicious cycle.  They’re distracting us with media images and harassment from participating in our culture as subjects making great changes and bringing us to a place of equality and justice for all.  This is a form of oppression because while we’re busy buying all these products to make us look (or try to look) like they say we need to we’re giving them our money and our power.  The “beauty” industry is a $40 billion industry.  They don’t care how they’re catchy tag lines affect our self-esteem, only that it makes us buy their products.  Imagine all the things you could do with the money you spend on lipstick to plump up those lips, lip liner to define those plump lips, mascara to give you fuller lashes (or thinner depending on the trend) eye liner to make your eyes pop, eye shadow to give you that dramatic look, eye brow pencils to fill in those gappy or thin eye brows, foundation and powder to keep the shine off your face (your natural glow?), bronzer to make you look like you spent a relaxing week at the beach, blush or “cheek stain” to give you a rosy glow (something you may have already had before applying all these layers) and hair color to cover any greys and look like the latest celebrity crush.  I’m sure I forgot something.  You see, I don’t wear makeup.  Not a stitch.  I’m rebelling.  I only wore it for High School Proms and Homecomings, the last few months of high school (might as well use it up after Prom), and the last time was for my wedding in 2005.  I’m not telling you this to cast judgement.  I’m telling you my experience and to show you it can be done (find a partner, get and education, get a job, etc…).  Life does not require makeup.  Otherwise both men and women would be wearing it.

I haven’t even begun to mention the weight loss industry.  Weight-reduction programs, diet foods, drinks, pills, etc…  The weigh loss industry racks in 33 billion of your precious dollars every year. (http://loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org/factsheet.html)  “In 2001, 8.5 million people had cosmetic procedures.  Of those 88% were women.” (http://loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org/factsheet1.html).  In 2008, Men’s Health magazine reported that Richmond, VA was the #7 “nip-and-tuck capital” of the U.S.  That’s right down the road people!  Norfolk, VA was listed as #75!  We made the top 100 woohoo! (NOT)  If you buy magazines, flip through them and count how many weight loss ads there are as well as how many make-up or other “beauty” ads you find.

Still think those media messages I keep referring to are a bunch of hullabaloo?  Bull!  Open your eyes people!  They’re stealing your money and kicking you in the face while they do it.  You wouldn’t let someone do that in person so why the hell are you letting them do it from the comfort of their fancy office?  Right?  If you were mugged and assaulted you’d press charges and send the cops after them.  Why is this any different?  You have a voice, use it!  Write letters to advertisers and tell them why you won’t be purchasing their products anymore.  About-Face.org has some great examples of people who have done just that.  And, they list the mailing addresses that you need to do so.

Those bastards who harassed my bestie are a product of our culture.  Let’s talk about masculinity for a second.  Our culture and our media tell me to be strong, save the day, kill the bad guy and women (only the ones who look like the “ideal”) will flock to you and throw themselves at you letting you fling them back in the pack when you’re done with them.  They’re told women are object there for men’s pleasure.  No wonder they don’t value us.  No wonder they harass us on the street.  They’re told that’s how men behave and let them get away with it.  They’re told don’t cry or be sensitive and be a man (which I would argue that such behavior is anything but manly – I call these deviants “guys” because calling them a real man would require them to behave as such.  My husband is the perfect example of a real man.  But I digress).  Have you seen the ads aimed at college guys?  “Liquor ’em up, boys, and they’ll be your playthings for the night!”  Anybody ever heard of consent?  A person cannot legally consent to sexual activity if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, whether voluntarily or not.  And yes, that’s the law in Virginia too.  So basically these ads are promoting rape.  Hey dads, do you really want your daughter to experience this?  No?  Then do something about masculinity in our culture!  Speak up for god’s sake!  This is not just a woman’s issue.  This is a human issue.

And what the fuck do guys do to impress us once we’ve gone through all this self-torture to look beautiful for them?  They harass us on the street and tell us everything we’ve done is not enough.  And they’re right.  Nothing we do will ever be good enough in this culture.  Because those beauty standards are impossible, even for models.  We pick each other apart because of our own insecurities because of the “rules” of our culture.  But those rules are fluid and changeable if we speak up and do something about it.  Just having the discussion out there has created all sorts of waves in the industry.  Dove has a “Campaign For Real Beauty”.  Glamour magazine has committed to not use photoshop so much on their images (I’m hoping they’ll keep that up.  More on that later once I have a chance to analyze.)

So back to the harassment of my beautiful bestie Lisa.  I can guarantee most of us have experiences something like this.  So what do we do?  We arm ourselves against it until our culture changes so we feel safe walking around in the world.  Because women are tired of being harassed a group got together and created the Hollaback website and app.  http://www.ihollaback.org/  Go check it out and download it on your phone if you have one of those.  Basically they collect women’s stories and pictures in a “safe and sharable way” which “brings attention to this long-ignored issue” and the goal is to shift public opinion and behavior.  You can literally see on a map where women experience harassment.  If enough harassment occurs in one area, this is something you could bring to your law makers.  So many possibilities!  So when this stuff happens to you or a friend, don’t just let it go!  Tell someone!  It may inspire them to write a blog post and share with their friends who share with their friends, etc…  (Like I’m doing)  Or it may add to the larger picture in an area where women experience a high volume of harassment and get policy and law makers to get off their patooties and do something about it.  Again another example of how using your voice can change our world.  You are more powerful than the beauty industry would like you to believe.  Wake up and smell the revolution! 

Another thing you can do it tell your girlfriends that not only are they beautiful the way they are, but how strong, capable, intelligent, special they are.  Compliment them!  Don’t pick them, yourself, or other women apart.  Let’s change the image of women from objects to subjects and participate in our culture instead of letting it dictate to us what we should and shouldn’t look like, how we should or shouldn’t behave, and what we can or cannot do in with our one life.

As for the guys who harassed my bestie, I only have one word: Karma.  Or, as my momma calls it “come-up-its”…they’ll get theirs.  I have faith in the universe and humanity that this injustice will be righted.

I’m thinking I should get myself that purple cape… 🙂

(Photo: My bestie Lisa.  See, isn’t she beautiful!)



2 Responses to "Hollaback: The fight to end street harassment"

Argh! That’s insane. Lisa is lovely and woman-shaped. On another note, I think it is particularly hard to accept yourself on a college campus. I’ve caught myself looking at the young women in line in front of me at Starbucks, etc. and thought, “I’m not that thin. I’m not that attractive. Okay, she’s 19 and I’m 33, but… was I that thin or attractive in college?” etc. etc. I always catch myself and do a mental lecture, but I think it. When you’re surrounded by younger women, it’s hard not to. So perhaps those men are products of the media, their upbringing, and environmental factors. It’s difficult to say, but I’d like to think their mamas would’ve slapped them upside the head for behaving that way. Since we’re on the topic of media, etc. I get super aggravated whenever Yahoo news puts out a picture of a female celebrity in a bathing suit. It always says something like, “Uma Thurman, 45.” What does her age have to do with it? Did you ever notice how often celebrity-related stories list the ages of these actresses even when there’s no relevance to the article?

I definitely like this new, vocal you, Gretchen 😉 If only we could shove this essay down those guys’ throats!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5 other followers

%d bloggers like this: