Street harassment snapshot: April 24, 2011

April 24, 2011

After a short hiatus during a hectic travel/speaking month for me, I’m back with this weekly series. Read stories, news articles, blog posts, and tweets about street harassment from the past week and find relevant announcements and upcoming street harassment events.

Street Harassment Stories:

I accept street harassment submissions from anywhere in the world. Share your story!

You can read new street harassment stories on the Web from the past week at:

Street Harassment in the News, on the Blogs:




10 Tweets from the Week:

Harasser uses loudspeaker in a grocery store parking lot

April 24, 2011

When I got out of my car I heard someone on a loud speaker say, “Have a nice day,” which has never happened before. Some new gimmick? At 10pm? No.

Walking from my car to the store, the voice starts to address me…”Looking good ma’am, with those silver shoes. I see you rockin’ them silver shoes.”

I realized the voice was coming from a cluster of three automobiles, one of which was an old van with tinted windows. Nice. I sped up and ignored whatever else he said. As I entered the store, I heard him calling out some other hapless patron. ‘What a wack-job,’ I thought. I told the cashier, who said she was leaving soon, so she’d tell the on duty cop. I was relieved.

As I left, I was more curious than anything, so as soon as I heard the voice, I looked for the speaker’s silhouette. This must have encouraged him, because he really locked onto me. Now he was talking about the “Girl with the striped shirt, with the brown pants, in them striped silver shoes, I see you looking good. Damn. Can I have your number?”

I felt completely exposed. It was so creepy. I wanted to do something to shut him up but I also felt like getting away as quick as I could, so I calmly drove away. I didn’t want to give him any more reason to take interest in me. What if he followed me home? Doesn’t he just sound like a Junior Serial Killer, playing a little cat and mouse game of voyeur?

So, now I don’t feel safe while making a run to the local grocery store on a Thursday night. That’s pretty ridiculous.

– Snackrun

Location: The Kroger grocery store down the hill from our town.

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.

How much street harassment can a person deal with across 3 miles?!

April 22, 2011

I had two errands to do at lunch today: Mail a package at the post office next to the Alamo, then grab a shared-bicycle at the corner of Houston and Alamo, ride down Houston street, park the bike near a bus stop, and walk two blocks to a county office for new license plates.

Two skeezed-out looking guys at the bus stop outright grunted and howled at me for 5 minutes straight until I disappeared around the corner, and threw out obscene suggestions, too.

Though the two dudes on the bench on Houston and Alamo when I was waiting to cross to the post office had a nicer tactic (“Hey beautiful. Man you have a beautiful smile. Mmm mmmm what a smile”), it is still embarassing as hell. Especially when I got the bike 10 minutes later and got out into the lane and they hollered after me, “Hey hey there Miss America!” (it’s 90 degree out already in April in Texas, and my tattoo is showing in my tank top).

Riding down Houston Street on the way to the bus stop where I kept my head low and made eye contact with no one, a man leaned out his the open window of his truck and honked and said, “Ay-chihahau!”

All in a 3 mile roundtrip to the post office and a county office.

– Anonymous

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.

A history of “aggressive male street flirts, or ‘mashers'” in the U.S.

April 20, 2011

Via Stanford University, this image is from 1906

An article on a Stanford University blog about the research of historian Estelle Freedman, the Edgar E. Robinson Professor in U.S. History at Stanford University, brings to light the long history of women’s resistance to street harassment. I include an excerpt below and bold some of the parts I found the most fascinating.

Aggressive male street flirts, or “mashers,” were a widespread and vexatious problem for American urban women in the pre-suffrage era. [Freedman] recently encountered the term in old newspaper articles and editorial cartoons, while doing research for a book on the history of sexual violence in America. Unlike the stereotypical black rapist in the white press and in the 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, mashers usually were depicted as well-dressed white men whose behavior was more irritating or comical than menacing. In this way, Freedman explained, the masher scare minimized the sexual threat of white men while leaving intact dominant fears of black men as violent rapists.”

In America the term ‘masher’ initially applied to married men who approached women in public, or who frequented brothels. By the 1880s more sinister representations of mashers appeared. Cartoons showed them ogling women ominously in public spaces like Coney Island, which were becoming popular.”

The rise of the masher phenomenon reflected changes in American demographics. As industry supplanted agriculture, more single men were leaving their families for work in the cities. At the same time, more women were entering the public sphere on their own as shoppers, students and wage earners “Matrons ventured downtown to go to the new department stores, where they would encounter an increasingly young female sales force,” Freedman noted. “En route downtown, both shoppers and shopgirls might encounter the masher.”

One of the most interesting things about the masher problem, Freedman said, was the evolving public response to it. At first newspapers urged respectable men to play a stronger role in protecting women from ogling and catcalls. Gradually though, women began taking matters into their own hands. One of the masher cartoons shows an outraged shopper beating her tormentor with an umbrella.

When a crime wave terrorized Chicago in 1905, the Tribune helpfully reprinted stories from around the country about women who had fought back successfully. “One told of a Philadelphia stenographer who took boxing lessons from her brother and then knocked out the man who was forcing his attentions on her,” Freedman said. “Another told of a Japanese visitor to New York who used jujitsu against an electrician who tried to speak to her on the street.”

The masher threat also impelled more women to exercise in city parks not to improve their health or looks or even to provide the brute strength to fend off an attack, said Freedman, but to give them a “keener intuition of what her assailant” might be planning, noted the Tribune article.

On an institutional level, cities from New York to Los Angeles began hiring female police officers specifically to protect young women. “By 1920,” Freedman noted, “almost 300 women were serving on police forces in over 200 cities, many of them acting as quasi social workers.” Victims of street harassment also were encouraged to prosecute men who had tormented them, despite the notoriety a public court appearance might bring.

Interestingly, public outrage over mashers seemed to decline significantly after women got the vote in 1920. As Freedman observed, “In the new sexual era taking shape, public flirtation ceased to be as offensive as it had once been.” Movies popularized the adventurous flapper, while radio stations filled the airwaves with titillating songs about flirting. At the same time, “a more aggressive ideal of manhood was replacing the chivalrous protector and the respectful gentleman of the late Victorian era,” she said. “Guardians of street morality seemed outdated . . . The street pickup became comic and normative.”

It wasn’t until the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s that mashing again became a matter of public interest – only by this time the behavior had a new name: street harassment. As with the anti-masher movement, outrage over street harassment emerged at a time when more women were venturing into historically male spaces. And just as at the turn of the century, “Fighting back physically and legally represented a forum of female resistance to sexual threats,” Freedman said, “and insistence on full economic and political citizenship.”

I love learning about our predecessor resistors. It’s kinda depressing though to think about how long women have been putting up with and fighting street harassment. But let’s keep on going. A better future depends on our work.

Social Class Matters

I also want to note that when I think about history and street harassment, I always think about how street harassment is something lower class women have always had to deal with because they are the ones who’ve had to leave their homes to work, to go to the market, to run errands, etc, both for their families and perhaps for middle and upper class women’s families.

During different time periods, including ours today, whenever large numbers of upper and middle class women (and in the US, this often means white women) leave their homes unaccompanied by men to go places like work, school, and stores, they encounter street harassment, too. That’s when suddenly (some) people care about street harassment (but not enough). Class privilege. This was apparent to me in the Standford blog post and you can see it in articles like:

Hey, Shorty!: Book giveaway, event, review

April 13, 2011

Guess, what? There’s a fantastic new (and very affordable) book you can check out that addresses street harassment, Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets.

I’m excited because in my book about street harassment, I note the need for more books on the topic and here is one! And I’m also excited because the book comes from one of the groups I featured in my book, the New York City-based organization Girls for Gender Equity (GGE).

Hey, Shorty! is an essential, much-needed resource for students, teachers, parents, and any community member who wants teens to be safe at school and on the streets. Because the book is so important, I’m giving away a free copy of Hey, Shorty! in a random drawing. To have your name included in the drawing, put your name in the comments of this post or e-mail stopstreetharassment AT yahoo DOT com by April 19.

[4/15 UPDATE: I’m giving away TWO free copies of the book and also a free copy of the Hey…Shorty documentary. The additions are courtesy of one of my AAUW coworkers who got them for me without knowing I already own both :)]

If you live in New York City, you can go to Bluestockings Bookstore tonight, April 13, at 7 p.m. for the book launch event. Authors Joanne N. Smith, Mandy Van Deven, and Meghan Huppuch will talk about the book and the work of GGE (Smith is the founder of GGE and Deven and Huppuch work or worked for GGE). Several GGE youth organizers including Nefertiti Martin, Ariel Natasha, Veronica Tirado, Cyndi Yahya will read passages from the book. Books will be available for sale and signing.

Hey, Shorty! provides readers with two types of resource. First, in the main portion of the book, Smith, Van Deven, and Huppuch take readers through the 10 year history and work of GGE and their efforts to create an organization that empowers teenage girls to address issues that impact them and also to have schools address the widespread issue of sexual harassment (which, by the way, they are required to do by law under Title IX of the Educational Amendment of 1972).

The authors share personal experiences, thoughts, struggles and successes with designing programming, working with teenagers, learning from teenagers, and creating outcomes. The chapters are interesting and provide a model for action through the example of their work, in particular the model of prioritizing youth leadership on issues that relate to youth because, as Smith notes, they are the experts on these issues and they are the main stakeholders.

Two of the teen-led projects shared in the book that I have first-hand experience with are the Sisters in Strength Street Harassment Summit and Hey…Shorty documentary (available for purchase for $20 from the GGE website). I attended the Summit in 2007 as part of my master’s thesis research and I own the documentary. Both the summit and documentary were phenomenal and I was very impressed by the vision, articulation and hard work of teenage girls around the issues of street harassment.

Second, in the appendix, there are guides for students, school staff, and parents about how to prevent and also deal with sexual harassment. There is information about how to respond to harassers as the person being harassed or as a bystander and how to report harassers. Additional materials readers can use are a sexual harassment quiz and survey questions GGE used in their survey about sexual harassment in schools. These guides are easy to read and understand and are very important resources for anyone who cares about this issue. Soon you can add workshop curriculum to your list of resources, which GGE is developing with the help of 67 middle and high school students.

Lately I’ve been giving a lot of talks about street harassment, particularly to members of the nonprofit organization I work for, the American Association of University Women. Many of the people in attendance are current or retired teachers and are eager for information and resources they can use and they are very happy to hear about Hey, Shorty!

I hope you will read Hey, Shorty! and if you are a teenager, a parent of one, or work with teens, I hope you will consider using some of the materials in your own lives and work. GGE will celebrate 10 years this September. I look forward to seeing what they will achieve in the next 10 years!