The first time it happened, two young men in a yellow sports car drove by and yelled “I love your pussy” at me as I walked down the sidewalk on my way home from school in fourth grade. I was 9 years old. The last time it happened was two days ago. I was pulling out of a Wawa parking lot, and the man in the next car over blew kisses and made obscene gestures with his tongue at me.
I don’t know of a single woman who hasn’t experienced it countless times. For some of us, it happens nearly every time we go out in public. It starts when we’re minors, in some cases, like mine, it starts when we’re still prepubescent; men whistling, barking, catcalling, yelling, leering, even stalking. Once I was walking down the street when a man in a car in the oncoming lane did a sudden u-turn in the middle of the road so he could drive up next to me at 3 miles per hour, pacing me as I walked, incessantly asking me to get in his car. I was 17.
It’s a phenomenon that every woman knows it exists and yet, we have no name for it, no measure, no data or way to measure and quantify it. It’s a phenomenon that every woman you know has had to contend with if she goes outside, and yet it lives in secret as a nameless event that’s hard to describe. At least it used to live in secret.
An organization called hollaback has been working tirelessly to end it. First, they popularized a label: street harassment. How can we talk about something when there isn’t even a word to describe it? Giving street harassment a name was such an important next step.
Next, hollaback created a phone app that lets women clock their location when they are street harassed, as well as submit a description of what the offender said, and even take a picture of him. This has provided a wealth of data documenting patterns in this behavior, learning where women are getting street harassed, who is harassing them, and what types of things they’re saying.
And just this month, hollaback has launched an awareness campaign in Philadelphia by creating several different advertisements now on SEPTA subway cars. Click here to view photos of all the ads.
HEY SEXY is not a compliment. Unwanted comments are street harassment.
Hey sexy. Hey baby. THIS IS STREET HARASSMENT. Lookin’ good. MMM. Look at you. Look at those legs. THIS IS STREET HARASSMENT. Hey, you a man or a woman? You a dyke? THIS IS STREET HARASSMENT. Can I have a smile? What’s your name? You got a boyfriend? Where are you going? Come here. Let me get at you. Oh you’re ugly anyway. THIS IS STREET HARASSMENT.
If your boss says “Hey sexy, lookin’ good today” at work, that’s a problem. What if a stranger says it to you on the street? Catcalls, staring, whistling, and following are street harassment. It’s time to start calling it what it is.
In a perfect world, what would your sister/daughter/girlfriend hear as she walks to the subway?
If you see it happen, have her back. Unwanted comments are street harassment.
The last one is my favorite. Street harassment doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it by definition exists in public. We’ve all seen it. What would happen if a bystander called a harasser out every time they see it happen?
Dr. Jill McDevitt is a nationally recognized sexologist, and the only person in the world with a bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree in human sexuality, making her the most formally educated person about sex on the planet. Dr. Jill has reached a documented 8.1 million people in her relentless promotion of the idea that sex should be fun, and everyone has the right to enjoy their sexuality without fear of violence. She founded Feminique, her sex education business, at just 21 years old.