Hollaback battles street harassment

Cat-calling is an institution in our society. For most, the idea brings to mind the iconic construction worker hooting at a model...

Cat-calling is an institution in our society. For most, the idea brings to mind the iconic construction worker hooting at a model in some perfume commercial, or a droning “Hey bay-bee” shouted from a car window. Half of you are aware that this institution has long since worn out its welcome — the other half have never had anyone demand sex or bark homophobic slurs at them from the safety of a moving vehicle.

“Many people who are less likely to be harassed on the street are unaware of the impact of that behaviour,” says Julie MacSween. MacSween is one of the people responsible for the creation of victoria.ihollaback.org, dedicated to combating street harassment in The Capital. Along with raising awareness, the site provides an outlet for those affected by street harassment to share their stories, and allows readers to voice their support for those who speak out.

The idea behind the site goes beyond shaming people who engage in street harassment, says Hollaback volunteer Rowan Hébert. “If we create a culture where we decide that street harassment is okay, we start to decide that other things are okay.”

People share stories about all kinds of harassment, and support from readers encourages those affected to react to harassment with confidence rather than fear. “If you see that 40 people have read your story and are behind you, that’s empowering,” says Hébert.

The stories collected on the Hollaback site since its launch on Sept. 6 shatter the image of the sleazy but charming construction worker. Experiences range from queer couples berated for being confident enough to walk down the street holding hands to 13-year-old girls being asked if they’ll “fuck for money” by a car full of young men. These stories represent all that is still vicious and crude in our society.

Street harassment isn’t about paying compliments or having a laugh on Friday night. It sets a precedent for public interactions characterized not by friendly smiles but by juvenile humour, bigotry, threats and sexual harassment. By refusing to brush this off as a routine hazard of walking around in The Capital, Victoria Hollaback is shouldering the burden of our collective failure to simply be decent to one another.

Anyone interested in becoming involved in Victoria Hollaback can visit victoria.ihollaback.org. M

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