A few weeks ago, I spoke about street harassment with a group of 16-year-old feminist bloggers in a seminar class taught by high school teacher and feminist activist Ileana Jiménez. Each student had a recent story to share.
One student said that when she walked down the street, a man exposed himself to her. She was so upset that she hasn't been back to that street. Another student said that since a man groped her on the New York City subway, she now goes out of her way to get to and from school because she refuses to take that same subway line.
After an upsetting or scary harassment incident, many people try to avoid going back to the spot where it happened. It’s understandable and I’ve certainly done it before, but it shrinks your world.
We belong in public spaces. We deserve to be there, to use them. I encourage us all to be brave and bold and not shirk away from the places where we’ve been harassed, but instead take them back and reclaim them.
The perfect time to do this is from April 7-13, when tens of thousands of people worldwide will speak out against street harassment during the second annual International Anti-Street Harassment Week.
More than 140 groups in at least 20 countries, including Argentina, Egypt, Germany, India, Nepal, Peru, the United Kingdom, and Yemen, will host community activities ranging from multi-day conferences to discussion groups, from self defense classes to rallies.
And there are our streets to take back!
You can do this in whatever way works best for you, but if you need an idea, one suggestion I have – and a suggestion that many groups are undertaking, from Poland to Ireland to the USA – is to take back public spaces with sidewalk chalk messaging. Here are two ways of doing this:
1. Go to a place where you were harassed and reclaim that space by telling your story and writing a message.
Last year during International Anti-Street Harassment Week, four women from Hollaback Brussels held a chalk walk to visit the places where they were harassed. At each site of harassment, they shared their story. Then they used sidewalk chalk to write, “I was harassed here. I hollaback! I reclaim the street.”
“AWESOME is not even a strong enough word to describe it! EMPOWERING comes close!" they wrote. "What we discovered was that writing with chalk on the sidewalk, on the street, on the bridge, telling Brussels, 'I was harassed here, I reclaim the street,’ is a powerful, liberating ritual." They were also able to generate conversations with passersby who were curious about what they were doing.
Last week, when I told my mom, author Beckie Weinheimer, about this idea, she went to a place where she’d been harassed before in Florida and wrote her own message to take back the space. She said, “It felt great!” and told me how people stopped to ask what she was doing and took materials about street harassment.
2. Use sidewalk chalk to write pro-respect or anti-harassment messages or slogans of support in any public space to generate awareness and conversations.
Last year, ProjectRespect.org, a group that works with Native American youth in Rapid City, South Dakota, spent an afternoon writing pro-respect sidewalk chalk messages in the biggest park in the city. Children, teenagers, and adults of all genders colored the sidewalks together and talked about what respect in public spaces looks like. This year, ProjectRespect.org is organizing another afternoon of sidewalk chalking at Memorial Park, 3 p.m. on April 10.
During the week, many groups worldwide will organize community "chalk walks," while the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Hollaback! London are asking people in London to chalk their streets with messages and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org to be tweeted and shared on social media.
If you do sidewalk chalk messaging, I encourage you to take a photo of it (either with you or without you in the photo) and send it to me. I will post it in the photo album to show that people all over the world are working to stop street harassment.
So join us. These are our streets!
Image: Tedeytan on Flickr
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