On Sexual HarassmentDecember 10, 2010
Looking back, I cannot think of a single event in my life during which I was sexually harassed. I don’t want to delve too much into definitions; I’m operating on the notion that if it would make me feel uncomfortable the way that I’d expect sexual harassment to do, it is sexual harassment. And I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way.
Now, perhaps it’s significant to point out that I’m a guy, but perhaps it isn’t. My lack of experience with harassment could be as much an effect of my upbringing, my friends, or my various hometowns as my gender.
Whatever the cause, I spent several hours on Monday night looking through an amazing online project called Hollaback!, reading others’ stories about being sexually harassed. Hollaback! provides a space for people to talk about their run-ins with sexual harassment in public — whether it’s verbal harassment, sexual assault, stalking, or threats. More often than not, it is women or LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) individuals voicing their stories, and usually the stories leave me feeling angry and disgusted. Despite some media-types and academics claiming that sexism is dead, it appears that a significant number of people believe it is perfectly acceptable to direct abuse against women as long as it is sexual in nature.
The reason that reading these stories is a powerful experience is because as a man, one who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment and hasn’t felt that abuse directed at him, Hollaback! is my way of “getting it.” I wonder if the perpetrators of the harassment discussed would “get it” if they read about these experiences, or if members of the 111th Congress would have done more for gender equity if they read these stories and could “get it.”
Musings aside, Hollaback! absorbed me, moved me, and was yet another learning experience for a guy working at a women’s rights organization — one which, I’m proud to say, supports the D.C. outlet of this organization with an AAUW Community Action Grant.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit www.ihollaback.org. And if you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, join AAUW staff and friends next Tuesday, December 14 at our monthly Cocktails and Convos happy hour, where we’ll be talking with AAUW’s own Holly Kearl, author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women.