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NYC women take to social media to fight street harassment
New York City women fed up with catcalls and street harassment have turned to social media and blogs to fight back, share their stories and console each other.
Going public about street harassment on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter or with one of the online organizations combating the scourge "can be incredibly empowering," said Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!, an anti-harassment organization.
ihollaback.org's "harassment app" has recorded 237 incidents in New York City so far this year. The organization has 12,700 followers on Twitter.
A national survey taken this year by Stop Street Harassment found that 65% of women had experienced street harassment, 23% had been sexually touched, and 20% had been followed.
Most women discussing street harassment on Internet forums have largely found a chorus of support. But trolls bullying them for coming forward can "retraumatize" victims, May, of Hollaback, added.
Naima Muhammad, 30, who writes under the pen name "Queen" for afropunk.com and has tweeted her experiences and blogged about them on
Thequeenspeaks on Tumblr and MSVIXENMAG.COM, said social media is indispensable for getting a conversation going about the daily, casual degradation women experience in New York City.
The East New York writer silenced a male commenter on Twitter who insisted that women were flattered by harassment by pointing out that women were no more deserving of his assumptions than young men were of being racially profiled.
Following the Twitter hashtag #YouOkSis, which is devoted to de-escalating street aggression, particularly aggression against women of color, taught her not to look the other way when witnessing the harassment of another female.
"Now, if I see another woman looking uncomfortable, I ask her" if she'd like help, she explained.
Twitter hashtags such as #endsh, #catcalls and #notjusthello also cover the topic.
In July, Alicia Lim, 25, a Greenpoint artist, started a "Record of My Daily Street Harassment" page on Tumblr to record the micro injustices she experiences each day, from kissing noises and leers to car honks and furtive touches.
The blog "is therapy for myself," to process incidents she doesn't necessarily want to discuss.
Her daily objectification, she explained, "is a bunch of small things. They happen on a small scale all the time but it's every day and constant," she sighed.
The blog has helped her emotionally, by allowing her to view the behaviors in a detached, almost anthropological way. "Now, instead of getting upset, I think: What can I write about?" she said.
Catcalling has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, largely due to a Huffington Post piece showing staffers holding signs of the vile things yelled at them on the streets. Last week, an article in another city publication was ridiculed for stating that catcalling should be considered complimentary.
While women may air their frustration, rage and disappointment on the web in words, they are usually less likely to publicly shame boors by taking and posting pictures of their harassers.
That's because they are often scared and fear an "escalation" of the aggression, explained Debjani Roy, deputy director of Hollaback.
"You never know who you're dealing with," added Eugene O'Donnell, a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD officer. Men often catcall in groups and "that's never a good dynamic," O'Donnell said. Should a woman confront the wrong man or an armed one, "it could end lethally," he added.
The NYPD refused to provide harassment statistics because, a spokesman said via email, "there will be thousands of harassments that have absolutely nothing to do," with street harassment. Cops can't do much about an incident unless they witness it, said O'Donnell, and pertinent laws are murky, he continued. "A person who puts up with a lot can say, 'I'm OK,' and a person who was looked at once can say, 'I'm harassed,'" he said.
Lilly Vanek, 25, a nanny and musician from Washington Heights, not only posts accounts of harassment molded into "can you believe this?" narratives, but writes haikus inspired by hideous and pathetic pickup lines on her Tumblr blog, Lillysaysthings. (Sample: "I see you, baby/I see you with your head down/Hurrying past me").
"I've found humor is the best way to go," she said. "It bothers everybody to be objectified and talked about and the men who catcall are ridiculous." Turning harassment into poetry and blog posts "is taking something that bothers me and making fun of it. I think everybody should respect each other - and that it's okay to make fun of other people who don't respect others," she said.
"Getting a dialogue going about street harassment is really important," Vanek continued, "because some guys who hit on women may not realize what they're doing."