What is street harassment?
Street harassment is any unwanted sexual/sexualizing behavior that makes women and LGBTQ people feel uncomfortable in a public space. This can include: staring, leering, commenting, shouting, following, touching, grabbing, public masturbating, groping, flashing and assault.
The current social situation perpetuates the idea that women-identified bodies are public property, are somehow on offer, and that harassment, abuse, assault and daily fear is just the price we pay for being female.
Street harassment is a form of violence and oppression that happens every day. We are here to stop it. Everyone has the right to feel safe in public.
Are you a bunch of crazed feminazis who hate men?
No way! HollabackMTL! believes in building communities where everyone feels comfortable, safe and respected. Many people, particularly men, are unaware of the frequency and severity of disrespect and intimidation that numerous folks, especially women and LGBTQ folks, experience in public spaces on a daily basis. HollabackMTL! aims to expose and combat street harassment as well as provide an empowering forum in this struggle.
But aren’t you worried that your site will fuel the latent vindictiveness within women and LGBTQ-identified folks across the country, leading to a massive witch-hunt and rampant Soviet-style denunciations of countless innocents?
I heard something about your position on anti-discrimination. What’s that about, and what does it have to do with street harassment?
Replacing sexism with racism is not a proper holla back. Ditto to classism, homophobia, transphobia, and the usage of any other identity signifier.
But isn’t your idea of “street harassment” just belittling another person’s culture?
Street harassers occupy the full spectrum of class, race, and ethnicity. Sexual harassment, and street harassment specifically, is resisted around the world. To condense another’s culture into vague assumptions about who and what they are is to dangerously generalize about a wide range of experiences and perspectives.
Confronting street harassers can be dangerous. What about safety issues?
While everyone is vulnerable to stranger rape and sexual assault, we want folks to have each other’s backs in helping make public space safe for everyone. Nevertheless, direct confrontations with street harassers may prove extremely dangerous, particularly alone or in unpopulated spaces. While it is each individual’s right to decide when, how, and if to respond, do keep issues of safety in mind. If you decide to photograph a harasser, you may consider doing so substantially after the initial encounter and from a distance, ensuring the harasser is unaware of your actions. Keep in mind that Montreal is a small enough city where the harasser may find themselves on the internet, or could be a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. Think first about your safety before you post a picture or any identifying information about the harasser or yourself.
Many of us who are harassed decide not to say anything back to our harassers. This is absolutely OK and this is why this blog exists. HollabackMTL! maintains this forum to give victims of street harassment a voice to share with others – this is another way to hollaback.
Isn’t street harassment the price you pay for living in a city?
No, local taxes are the price you pay for living in a city. In fact, street harassment is not confined to urban areas. It occurs in shopping malls, cars, parking lots, public parks, airplanes, fast-food restaurants, gas stations, churches, and numerous other public spaces.
So let’s say a man sees a woman he thinks is attractive and tells her so. Are you saying that makes him a harasser?
Some do not find comments such as “Hello, beautiful” or “Hey, gorgeous” offensive, but many do. Many find comments intimidating, intrusive, or just plain annoying. It is important to keep in mind that many women and LGBTQ folks, who come from all different backgrounds, experience unsolicited comments as well as violent verbal assault from others in public spaces on a regular basis. Even if the harasser thinks of themselves as harmless, they are still exerting some degree of sexual power over another person, and cannot predict how that person will take the comment. Rather than deliberating the “gray areas” of street harassment, treat everyone you encounter with respect.
If you show off your boobage, shouldn’t you expect some compliments?
As many of us know, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or what you’re flaunting. A compliment is not a compliment if it makes the recipient feel bad.
Sure, but if “the harasser” were hot, wouldn’t you like it?
This has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power.
You’re just a bunch of prudes, then?
Like we said, this has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power.
Street harassment sucks, but it’s only a small part of the patriarchy. Doesn’t focusing on this specific issue detract from everything else we’re up against?
The violence and disrespect experienced daily by countless people in public spaces is a serious problem with real, material consequences. While HollabackMTL! is dedicated to this particular issue, it is committed to a collaborative approach and situates street harassment within a larger framework of social and economic questions. Thus, we seek to collaborate with a diverse range of feminist, queer and anti-racist initiatives.
Doesn’t your internet-only-based activism shrink the pool of people who could benefit from this effort?
When the idea of creating a HollabackMTL! blog was gaining momentum, we realized this right away – that there are limitations to internet-based activism, and people without regular computer access may not be as likely to read and post content and comments. We do things like workshops and discussion groups to interact in the community outside of our online presence. We are interested in exploring different ways for people to participate and hollaback. We are welcome to suggestions, so please contact us if you have any.
Disclaimer: HollabackMTL! is not responsible for the accuracy of individual postings. All views and positions expressed in posted submissions are those of individual contributors only. HollabackMTL! does moderate comments and posts to ensure that this public forum continues to be a safe space for community dialogue and engagement.