What is street harassment? Answer: Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life. Street harassment can be sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, sizeist and/or classist. It is an expression of the interlocking and overlapping oppressions we face and it functions as a means to silence our voices and “keep us in our place.” At Hollaback!, we believe that what specifically counts as street harassment is determined by those who experience it. If you’ve experienced street harassment, we’ve got your back!
3. What do you mean when you say “hollaback”?
Answer: We like using “hollaback” because it is a slippery term with many meanings and possibilities. It is most popularly coined in the Gwen Stefani song “Holla Back Girl,” in which she says she “ain’t no holla back girl,” making a cheerleading reference to paying lip service to someone or allowing someone to walk all over you. (see Urban Dictionary’s definitions here) We’ve reclaimed “hollaback” for the purpose of fighting street harassment, much the way other misappropriated terms (like “queer,” for example) have been reclaimed by marginalized groups to take back and redefine the power dynamic implicit in language.
4. How are you affiliated with other Hollaback! websites?
Answer: Hollaback! is a global movement to fight street harassment, and there are currently 71 affiliated sites worldwide. Hollaback! Kathmandu is a part of the global movement, but we operate locally – we collect local stories, attend and host local events, work with local media and authorities, and are able to bring a local flavor to the struggle against street harassment.
5. Are you going to edit my submission? What’s that about?
Answer: Hollaback! Kathmandu publishes every post we receive, and does not pass judgment on the circumstance – if a person feels they have been harassed, regardless of the context, we believe it is important to offer a forum to share that story. Encouraging discourse about street harassment as it is experienced is our goal. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity, and to remove potentially offensive language that addresses race, class or other defining characteristics that perpetuate stereotypes about street harassment and marginalized people. We also will not include specific references to businesses, but we will reach out to those businesses with your story to ask them to address the issue.
6. But isn’t your definition of “street harassment” just ridiculing another person’s culture?
Answer: 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 or race into vague assumptions about who and what they are is to generalize dangerously about a wide range of experiences, perspectives and identities.
7. Confronting street harassers could be dangerous. What about safety?
Answer: Studies have indicated that people who are aware of their surroundings, walk confidently and, if harassed, respond assertively, play an important role in combating street harassment. Direct confrontation with street harassers may be extremely dangerous, particularly when alone or in unoccupied spaces. While it is each individual’s right to decide when, how and if to hollaback, Hollaback! believes you should prioritize safety. Hollaback! Kathmandu serves as a forum in which a victim can publicly respond after safely exiting the situation. Should you choose to photograph or videotape a harasser, you may consider doing so from a safe distance, ensuring the harasser is unaware of your actions.
8. What’s Hollaback! Kathmandu’s position on women who harass men?
Answer: These situations are certainly conceivable. Yet, the power dynamics of such an encounter are very different in a society where women comprise a historically subordinated group. On the other hand, there are men who also belong to historically subordinated groups (transgender men, for example) that experience street harassment. Hollaback! Kathmandu is a project dedicated to combating a particular form of violence that designates all subordinated groups as targets in public spaces or as otherwise vulnerable to unsolicited, nonconsensual encounters with strangers. Our mission is specific, and we are not a forum for reporting other unpleasantries.
9. Do you think women can do and wear whatever they want in public without taking responsibility for their actions?
Answer: Hollaback! Kathmandu believes that women should have the right to feel safe in public spaces, regardless of what they wear or how they look. Our goal is to provide a way for women to feel more empowered while still acting in safe ways in public. Unfortunately, many times the blame is put on the victim (“She shouldn’t wear that,” etc.) when in reality, the problem is often more related to the harassers in our culture who have learned or believe that yelling at, touching, following and assaulting a stranger is acceptable behavior.
10. Isn’t street harassment the price you pay for living in a city?
Answer: We have enough bills to pay. Furthermore, street harassment is not confined to urban areas. It occurs in residential neighborhoods, shopping malls, stalled traffic, grocery stores, public parks, churches, airplanes, on the internet, in restaurants, gas stations, on public transportation and in numerous other public spaces. We think the stories shared here reflect that, as does the breadth of the Hollaback! movement.
11. 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?
Answer: Hollaback! Kathmandu does not define for others what constitutes harassment. Some find unsolicited comments like, “Hey sweetheart,” made in public to be downright annoying, intimidating or intrusive. Some do not. Keep in mind that women experience unsolicited comments, as well as violent verbal assault, from men in public spaces on a regular basis. Rather than deliberating the “grey areas” of street harassment, Hollaback! Kathmandu encourages you to treat everyone you encounter with respect.
12. But if you wear a miniskirt or tight pants, shouldn’t you expect some compliments?
Answer: Compliments are very different from harassment. A compliment doesn’t make a woman feel badly or unsafe about what she’s wearing. While you should be able to wear whatever you want, to feel sexy and confident without reactions from the general public, this is not the case. You may expect to be harassed, but any unwanted advances from another do not have to be accepted or tolerated.
13. If “the harasser” were hot, wouldn’t you like it?
Answer: Sex often gets misinterpreted and abusively wielded for the sake of power. Sexual harassment is about power.
14. Street harassment sucks, but it’s only a small part of the still patriarchal world in which we live. Doesn’t focusing on this specific issue detract from everything else we’re up against?
Answer: The violence and disrespect experienced daily by countless people in public spaces is a serious problem with real, material consequences. While Hollaback! Kahtmandu is a project dedicated to this particular issue, it is committed to a coalitional approach and indexes street harassment within a larger social and economic framework of resistance. This project collaborates with a diverse range of anti-racist, feminist, LGBTQI, and anti-violence initiatives.