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Today, we have a guest post on cat calling from Hanifa Haris!
Hanifa Haris is a born-and-raised Brooklynite who has spent her career immersed in the arts. While obtaining a BFA in art, media and technology at Parsons, the New School for Design, Ms. Haris co-founded the arts organization Paper Planez, which promotes arts education in developing communities around the world. Along with teaching photography workshops locally and internationally, Hanifa has worked at leading New York based art galleries. Interested in using art as a tool for global discourse, She has worked on a number of publications in various roles. She has experience designing, producing, photo editing and writing for publications including: Got Wudu, KONG, Divanee and TIME magazine.
On a brisk early fall morning, I juggled my chai as the cold wind pushed toward me with a crowd of people. My oversized scarf swaying, a slight stumble - and as I straightened out, I heard a simmer, a whisper. I turned to see a man lurking in the shadow of my ear, whispering a sour nothing. This is not the way I want to start my morning. Ever.
This wasn’t the first time I experienced this and it won’t be the last. I’ve factored in that approximately once every three days, I will be cat called, hollered at, objectified, [insert word here]. That is, a random stranger will attempt communication in some of the most degrading ways at least twenty four times a month. Let me be clear: there is a fine line between a polite hello and a holler.
Street harassment is a common experience and while it can still feel taboo to talk about these experiences, the movement to confront "cat calling" is quickly growing. Some people are using art to process their experiences with street harassment, while raising awareness of the problem.
Internet sensation Hannah Price turns the lens to her cat callers and photographs them. This provocative portrait series documents Price’s experience with cat callers. "I'm in the photograph, but I'm not. Just turning the photograph on them kind of gives them a feel of what it's like to be in a vulnerable position — it's just a different dynamic," Price says. "But it's just another way of dealing with the experience, of trying to understand it."
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, a street artist, publicly addressed her frustrations with cat calling on the streets of her neighborhood, Bedford Stuyvesant. She posted portraits of how she would have responded, had she not been shocked. She says: “It happens almost daily to me where I get frustrated or annoyed or upset by something that someone has said to me or done to me outside on the street.” Phrases popped into her head, the kind of things she wants to shout back, but doesn’t. Things like: “Stop telling woman to smile. My name is not baby. Women* are not seeking your validation. Women* do not owe you their time or conversation. You’re not entitled to my body.”
“A lot of the times you don’t say it. At least I don’t. You keep walking. You keep moving because you don’t have time. You don’t have the energy, or you don’t want it to escalate. You never really know what will happen. It could easily get dangerous,” she said.
Cat calling perpetuates rape culture. It begins with a holler and leads to aggressive and hostile harassment and assaults. It happens often, too often, to a lot of people. 1 in every 4 women* is sexually assaulted in their lifetime (U.S. Department of Justice). Cat calling can seem harmless, but when experienced regularly, it starts to affect the psyche. When it’s accepted, allowed and defended in society, that is the problem. And when it is combined with other oppressions, it is even more harmful.
Price and Fazlalizadeh are not alone in addressing street harassment. Hollaback, an organization started by activists, offers an app that enables pedestrians to document, map and record these uncomfortable encounters. It's available in over 64 cities and 22 countries. To learn more, click here.
Superstars: do any of these anti-harassment efforts resonate especially well with you? How do you feel about Hollaback - is it a good idea, something you'd use? Are there other efforts you know of? How do you cope with street harassment? Sound off in the comments!
*= people perceived as women