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Recently, Hollaback! Chennai partnered with Vivanta by Taj – Connemara for five exciting editions of Hollaback! Fridays. These events, which took place on ‘ladies’ night’ at the hotel’s bar, Distil, featured live music by local female-fronted bands, with handouts on street sexual harassment being distributed with every bill. Hollaback! Chennai volunteers also approached patrons at these events and asked them to complete the sentence, ‘I Hollaback! because…’ in their own words; they were then asked to write the sentence on a piece of paper and pose for a photo while holding the paper with their message. Our goal was to start new conversations on street harassment, to end the silence around this issue, and to get people thinking about it. One of our volunteers at these events, Vetrevel Karthekeyan Shivakumar, shares his experiences:
Are our streets safe? No, they aren’t. Can we do something to change it? Yes, we all know nothing is permanent except change! However it isn’t easy and would need a collective effort. I guess this would have been the discussion the founders of Hollaback! had back in 2005 when it all began.
From history, we know words & pictures are the most powerful in bringing about change. Vietnam War pictures immediately comes to mind and there are countless number of stories & experiences that have been instrumental in inspiring change. In today’s world, the effective use of social media can produce astounding results. Through crowdsourcing, Hollaback! encourages people to come out with their stories & messages against street harassment. Is it enough? Maybe not, but it’s a start. When we hear about harassment incidents, it can trigger three possible emotions depending on your personality – a don’t care attitude, or you care but it’s all talk, and the third is you want to stand up, be counted & do something about it. Unfortunately not many people fall under the third category and I don’t blame them.
At Hollaback! Fridays, while approaching people and asking them to pose for photos and come up with a message, I have encountered all types. Some just decline and don’t seem to be interested. Some take time and come up with a message that isn’t particularly effective, but at least they cared enough to try and its a good starting point! The good news is most people we’ve approached do agree and come up with some gems.
However, this isn’t always the case. One particular instance comes to mind: there was this young lady who refused to believe that these messages & their use in social media would make any difference. After some persuasion, even though not totally convinced, the message was ‘Kill them’. That’s too radical anyway and can never be a solution; but as I mentioned earlier, it’s a start and maybe the concept can be extended to cover institutions, schools and colleges for more crowdsourcing.
As a start, what we really want is for people to talk about street harassment; express yourself, as there is a platform. If you are reading this and are someone who wants to do something more, then why wait, contact us and start volunteering now!no comments
This is a guest post by a participant from a Hollaback! Chennai workshop for students.
Most of us have an account on Facebook. We love uploading our pictures, posting comments, and so on. But we have to careful, alert and aware of the privacy settings which are available on Facebook, and use them wisely. I opened my account after my 10th standard board examinations. I realized that being on Facebook was so much fun, but as days went by I started receiving friend requests from unknown people. I also wasted lots of time chatting with strangers, which I later realized was very unproductive. As I didn’t know much about the privacy settings, I could not keep my account protected; but after going through the privacy settings in depth, I understood how I should go about keeping myself safe on Facebook.
There can be instances wherein we don’t want other people to add us. In such cases, we can go to the gear icon in the top-right corner of the page and choose ‘Privacy Settings’. On this page, under ‘Who can look me up?’, we can choose the option ‘Friends’, and remove the tick from the statement, ‘Let other search engines link to your timeline’ under the question ‘Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?’. Under ’Who can contact me?’, we can choose ‘Strict Filtering’ in response to the question, ‘Whose messages do I want filtered into my Inbox?’
For the question, ‘Who can send you friend requests?’, we can choose the option, ‘Friends of Friends’. For the question, ‘Who can see my stuff?’, we can customize our settings to ensure the privacy we desire. If you follow these settings, no stranger can add you, they can only message you, and only you can add people.
Sometimes when we are on Facebook, we might not want to chat with someone. In that case, we can go to ‘Chat’ at the bottom right of the screen, click the ‘Options’ icon, and go to ‘Advanced Settings’, where we can choose the option, ‘Turn on chat for all friends except…’ For example, if you do not want to appear online when Rahul Gandhi is online, you can choose the option, ‘Turn on chat for all friends except Rahul Gandhi’.
Facebook can be very productive, if we know how to use it safely. Please do not accept friend requests from strangers. I encourage each one of you to spend some time getting to know the privacy settings on Facebook in detail, and applying it accordingly if you face any kind of harassment.one comment
Following the success of the first edition of Hollaback! Fridays, we partnered with Vivanta by Taj – Connemara for four more amazing editions! The events, which took place at Distil, featured some great local musical talent, including ‘Kavita Thomas and Friends’, ‘Pyjama Conspiracy’, ‘Pitch Four’ and ‘Nadisha Thomas and Friends’. Once again, we had the opportunity to engage in some interesting conversations on street harassment, and asked patrons to tell us why they Hollaback! – here’s what they said:
Well, it isn’t the first time it’s happened – I’d be standing on the side of the road, tired after a late evening at work (once, even mid-afternoon actually) and suddenly a man would slow down his car, roll down his window and peep out expectantly, or another would drive by and ask how much. It takes me a minute to respond somehow and I’ve actually responded with a very unseemly “what?” every time, before realising that the men who stopped by thought I was soliciting sex, simply because I was standing on the curb, apparently doing nothing other than waiting.
So anyway, just last week, I had parked my car and was walking to a café nearby to meet someone, when I noticed this slightly middle aged man staring. I noticed him walk into the café too and sit quietly staring at his cup of coffee, during the 20 minutes I was there, but I am a bit slow with these things – and presumed ah well, I can’t connect dots here, the man was just heading the same direction, who’s to say or care? Then suddenly, as I was walking back to the car, I realised he was following me – when he finally caught up, he wanted to know if I’d like to “make some money?”
Thankfully, I am a lot quicker to understand this situation but I am just as slow at thinking on my feet when I am put in a situation like this. I blank out. I say no and walk away. But every time, as much as I know I should avoid the question, I ask myself whether it was something in my manner or clothes that attracted the attention. Why me? What would make a man simply watch me walking on the street or waiting and presume that I was out to have sex for money? Just as a disclaimer, I don’t mean sex for money is a degrading thing, it’s a subjective matter or personal opinion, but the fact that a man can look at me and presume anything of me as a woman, is disturbing.
Because of course, I’ve never known what else to do. A friend says I should have called the police, I know another who actually got two middle-aged men who asked her this question (in mid-day, in a busy main road) in trouble with a cop, who happened to be standing nearby. But me, each time this has happened, I always belatedly wish that I had said or done something smarter than just walk away.2 comments
By Krithika Sukumar
We had the opportunity to interact with students at the Alliance Française de Madras last week and in the process, to speak about street sexual harassment to a large cross-section of people, of varying ages and backgrounds, who are very much in public spaces. We met about a dozen classes, some packed, some with just a handful of students, and spoke to them about what street sexual harassment actually means – that it can affect women and sometimes men, of all ages, and can range from catcalls to sexual assault in any public space at any time of the day.
Although in most classrooms, we were initially met with attentive silence, sometimes voices would volunteer stories of street harassment – a man who spoke of a time when several female friends were groped in a crowded theatre, a woman who recounted how she had called out a man who had been taking pictures of her on his mobile phone, caught him red-handed and deleted the pictures. We also had to clarify a couple of times, that no, provocative dressing, if we consider the many real accounts from women who have been dressed in traditional Indian attire and still been groped, has little to do with it.
More than once, we were asked the question, ‘why talk about street harassment? Why share my story on your website, what would come of it?’ Of course, anyone who has ever written on their personal blogs about being harassed in a public space will tell you it was a cathartic experience. And then of course, speaking about harassment in a forum where you know you are not the only one who has experienced it also contributes to the healing process. And maybe, a forum with documented stories of street harassment from across the city will eventually encourage more concrete action, from policy-makers and law enforcement – there’s hope still. But most of all, we have no reason to remain silent, to accept being harassed in public spaces and ‘deal with it’. Instead of wondering who the faceless stranger was that groped you in a crowded store and feeling helpless, you can call out the act and acknowledge that it’s not okay and that it makes you angry.
When conversing with our audience we found again that everyone has their own immediate response to being harassed in a public space – some shout and embarrass the harasser, some others use pins or high heels to wordlessly tell them to back off, others simply walk away. But whatever you choose to do, even if you choose to physically or verbally retaliate to the harasser, the feeling of being wronged and a bitter aftertaste remain long after the day has ended, and that is why we must speak out – because street harassment cannot and must not be accepted. And because public spaces are just that – they are meant for everyone. And as equals, men and women must have access to it, without any discomfort or fear of being harassed.
On 14 June, we teamed up with Vivanta by Taj – Connemara to bring you the first edition of Hollaback! Fridays. The event, which took place at Distil, featured great music by local band Pitch Four, and gave us a chance to start new conversations on street harassment. We asked patrons that night to tell us why they Hollaback! – here’s what they said:
We’re delighted to announce Hollaback! Fridays in partnership with Vivanta by Taj – Connemara, Chennai. We officially launched last Friday (14 June) with a performance by Pitch Four at Distil. A wonderful evening, great music and an opportunity to tell people all about Hollaback! Watch this space for updates on future editions of Hollaback! Fridays in Chennai.
Below: Pitch Four performs!
In January, I met with a group of non-privileged teens who, after having suffered the misfortune of being abandoned by their parents, live at Aarti Home in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh. As part of the New York based Women’s Education Project, I was leading a series of classes on women’s rights, human rights and children’s rights (although actually this was my 6th visit to the Home as I am a frequent visitor and year-round volunteer fundraiser). I turned to ihollaback.org for a set of helpful exercises to think about the problem of street harassment. The students particularly liked the exercise of “pretending to make a film about harassment” and drawing a world without street harassment (see sample drawing).
Although nearly everyone understood the learning objective, one student drew a picture of a few ants, clustering around sugar. Underneath it said “when beauty is there, the ants are drawn to it.” The older students, called me over. They said scoldingly, “This is not right.” I let it go. Later when we discussed some of the most compelling drawings, I brought it to their attention and asked them why it was not fitting. They said, “What do ants have to do with it?” The artist said, giggling apologetically, Men can’t stay away from beauty. It’s in their nature.” I said, “Beauty is not the issue. Maybe some people get more harassment than others, but it is not a compliment. It is not a sign of your beauty. And men don’t have to do this biologically.” Ants may like sugar and men may like women, but verbal harassment is not an ok way to show liking someone. I think the majority understood what I was saying.
I remember an awkward – and illuminating – moment near the end. When discussing street harassment, an older volunteer called out, “You see, women don’t get harassed on the streets in the West. So it is a problem that can be solved. Why must our men do this? Women are beautiful there too, no? But they don’t get harassed.” I felt weird because I immediately had to correct her. Me: “Oh, they do. I was harassed and called all sorts of names when I was younger. Mainly in major cities…. Perhaps it is not as frequent as in India but it occurs.” Both she and the teachers looked a little shocked and a few people basically said that they did not believe me. I said,”I got these exercises from a US group called hollaback.org (as I had already told them). Why do you think the US group formed in the first place? Because they were experiencing harassment and wanted to make people aware of the size of the problem.”
Altogether it was a satisfying session of awareness-raising, and I am very grateful to hollaback for their extensive website and helpful suggestions.one comment