Thursday, September 07, 2006

Holla Back

When I was about 21, I was walking in San Francisco and a really frightening looking man, obviously drunk (I could smell it) yelled at a young woman walking about half a block in front of me, "Hey, baby, how about a good f**k?" She shrank into herself, embarrassed that anyone could think she deserved that (I know how she felt, because women have all felt that way in that circumstance. As though it were our fault.) I have no idea how it happened, but the next thing, I was walking beside her with my arm around her shoulders, facing down the offensive person, and saying, "You weren't capable of a good f**k the best day of your life."

On a different subject, which I will bring together shortly, I promise. I hate to admit it (no, I don't. I revel in admitting it. I thrive on being unique and unusual and so I love to admit anything that will fill out my image in your mind and allow you to appreciate the full wonder that is me), but I'm a bit of a purist. I think that a phone should be a phone. It should ring without my having to learn how to make it ring the way I want it to. It should allow me to talk to people. That's it. (I resisted the answering machine, as well, and now I love mine, so just accept this as Maya's Granny being older and resisting change.) I have seen no use for having a camera in a phone, it has seemed to me rather like having a duck in a box of cat litter -- barely related if you really strain the concept, but dufus level dumb. At last! A use for cameras in cell phones that I can get behind! Not only that, but something to do when strangers men (let's admit it, the folks who do this are men) make sexual comments and disgusting noises at you on the street and you don't have my brass.

Women Expose Street Harassment by Elana Fiske on

Next time a stranger comments on your breasts in public, just shoot him -- with a camera, such as the one built into your cell phone.

This is the unorthodox advice of Holla Back NYC, a blog-cum-grass-roots movement that uses digital technology to combat street harassment. They urge women not only to take a photo when men hassle or insult them in public, but to make the photo public on

Such grassroots action is vital, because street harassment is a very difficult crime to deal with by law, says Marty Langelan, author of Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers. "Most cities do not even have ordinances that would make it a misdemeanor, and even in cities that do, such as Washington [D.C.] ... police won't make an arrest unless they witness the behavior and consider it threatening. But [police] are [most often] males with guns, and not much is threatening to them."

Women, on the other hand, may feel threatened even by statements that seem to be compliments -- because they may be the precursor to more lewd or injurious conduct. (Indeed, Langelan urges women to be cautious about photographing harassers who seem at all violent.)

"Most of the guys I've spoken with can't believe that the problem is really that big a deal," adds Katie Runyan, 23, who founded Holla Back D.C., a group with whom Langelan plans to work. "They seem to believe that it's a mild annoyance or that it only happens once in a while. This proves to me exactly why this site needs to be created."


saz said...

I think this is a fantastic idea. Now at last I can see why a camera in a cell phone could be useful.

naomi dagen bloom said...

it was just a day or two since i last visited and i missed terrific posts here.

this one is dynamite! your strong language about all inequities in our society is a healthy antidote to the make-nice grannies image we're supposed to follow. and here i am in new york and did not know about holla back new york. will visit right now!

Tabor said...

I think we are changing culturally with younger women becoming more provative and lewd as well. I see this on Myspace and other internet places and this leads to even more problems and mixed messages. I am wondering if the guy who is being rude even cares if he is listed on a website?

Potato Print said...

Hi Maya's Granny,
I liked your thoughts on technology. I am also quite resistant to new-fangled anything. Interesting use of photo-phones. I wonder though it it's not just feeding their miniscule and suffering egos to be photographed by a woman. But I can't suggest anything better. Anyway, bravo to you for being intent on being you, even if it doesn't suit some other people's tastes.

J said...

I've heard of this group. Great idea. :) Also heard of a boy who was almost abducted, got away, and took a picture of the guy's license plate with his phone. The guy was arrested before he could try to grab another child. So no, not ALL bad.

Josephine said...

Finally. Something at least to document what goes on in our culture. I have taken to flipping them off with both hands. It shuts them up, but also leaves me with the fear that I'm going to get some bad kharma out of doing it.

To be honest, it can totally ruin my day to be walking, minding my own business, and then hear that a man on the other side of the street has stopped what he's doing to predate me. In the wild, this sort of behavior would not be tolerated, because the males of the species would be protecting their mates.

But, in society, we let it slide. The men who behave that way should be treated, in kind, like the animals that they are.

Maya's Granny said...

Josephine, That's the real crime. That it ruins the day for a woman as she is walking along, minding her own business.

I don't think you can get bad karma for protecting yourself. Not to protect yourself will absolutely lead to bad karma, from feeling helpless through assault, at some level to not fight back is to suffer.

Not that anyone should do anything if it looks dangerous. Better to tolerate it than risk attack.

Tabor, When you sexualize children, as our society does, young women become provocative and lewd with no knowledge of the possible consequences. I don't know if the guy cares or not, but I do know that publishing picutres of johns is an excellent way to at least move the activity out of certain neighborhoods.

J - I love that the boy used his photo/phone to take a picture of the license plate. What quickness of wit!

Ginnie said...

Sad as it is, most men still think that it's not a "big deal" or that it's just "a male thing". Hooray for "Holla Back" and all the rest of us who fight this. A great reason to use the camera part of a cell phone

kenju said...

Great idea! and I absolutely loved your comeback to that guy in SF. I would have loved to see his face when you said that!

When I was young and men said things to me on the street, I learned to get tough, and I always said "Eat your little heart out, buddy". That usually shut them up.

Py Korry said...

It's pretty accurate to say that guys don't really think street harassment is a problem. I certainly wasn't aware of it until we lived in Philly and I saw some asshole standing on the corner, smoking a cigarette and making really horrible comments to women who walked by. I made eye contact with him, and he was ready to fight if I had a problem with him (or so he told me). When I talked to J about it, she said "Welcome to my world."

lorettambeaver said...

I guess I need to learn to use my camera in my cell phone. Had not thought of this issue. The camera has been used by grandchildren, who put their photo's on their phone number's for me. that way I see them as I phone them.
Back from travel, will have to go back and read your posts, since I didn't have much access to internet when I traveled. tony was doing fair. Had good visit with him, and he sends you his love. Love Big Sister

Betty said...

What a great idea for the camera in the phone. I will pass it on to my daughter, who is absolutely fearless about going places alone. She is grown, so I can't do much but worry, and she has mellowed a bit in the last year or two. But, if she really wants to go somewhere, she'll go even if she has to go alone.

meno said...

I am too old to be yelled at on the streets anymore, but when it did happen, i HATED it. It made me feel like a victim.
I used to think that the only use for a cell phone camera would be if a sasquatch walked by, but this is another good use.

laluna said...

Wow, thanks for posting what to do if you are harrassed by an ass, just take out your camera phone and waa-laa. I am passing that on. Thank you

Gina said...

That might be enough for me to purchase a cell phone! ;)