A younger female colleague of mine tagged me in a Facebook post with this video in it. The video is about catcalling in New York City. It was disseminated last week by a group called Hollaback!. Hollaback! is a photoblog and grassroots initiative to raise awareness about and combat street harassment by posting photographs and narrative accounts of individuals’ encounters with offenders. The video shows an actress walking the streets of New York and experiencing sustained catcalls and harassment, including being followed by one man for over five minutes. The video racked up 32 million views, but came under quick scrutiny for featuring mostly men of color. This too was my initial observation and objection to the video as well. My thought was how can you raise awareness about a form of discrimination with a tool that discriminates? Consequently, Hollaback! apologized last week for the suspicious lack of white men shown in the video ( read an article here). Nonetheless, as most social media centered advocacy, the message about combat catcalling definitely started a buzz and lots of dialogue.
I was that girl!
I immediately shared the video with two of the programming coordinators on my staff, and told them that I thought a dialogue about this video was definitely something that I wanted included in our upcoming curriculum with my mentoring program Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program. The video really resonated with me, because in previous years when I worked directly with girls in our after school programs, I held conversations with girls about this very topic. We discussed strategizing safe passage to and from school, and managing the different types of attention that they may get in public from men, desirable or undesirable. I think it’s important conversation to have also tailored with a recognition of appropriate cultural context. I am big on having conversations that address understanding the root, and the reaction, of certain behaviors based on the communities that we serve, that I also happen to be a product of.
The topic of teaching girls to manage this is near and dear to my heart, because it was something I grapled with in my earlier adolescence. I was like many high school students in Chicago, and used public transportation to get to school, but I masterminded different routes to avoid unwanted attention from men, of all ages, on the streets I needed to walk down to get home. Quite frankly, I was just wasn’t mature enough, or experienced as a young woman to really know how to manage the attention and propositions made by some of the men, and distinguish hidden, and obvious, intentions. So, instead of getting off the bus at my street, I tried to avoid as much potential foot traffic as possible, and rode the bus a couple of blocks longer to the final bus terminal. Walking home that way helped me avoid some of the older “dudes” that were constantly outside, and was a much quieter path. However, it was also potentially even more dangerous because it was less traveled by most. And, I was kind of isolating myself, and potentially setting myself up to be more accessible for actual crimes like kidnap, rape, etc. But, as I grew I adapted. I learned to ignore some of the comments, and play like I was hard of hearing, or listening to headphones. I also started using the strategy of looking so intently focused, and a little mean, with my face that it actually turned a lot of them off! LOL! And, then I learned how to be polite, thank them for the complement, and tell them that I already had a boyfriend, and didn’t need any more friends.
My mature shift in perspective.
As I have grown and matured, I’m much more experienced in life and confident in my identity as a woman in my community, and how that may be viewed by others. Part of what helped me get here was being taught long time ago by a mentor of mine on how to view some of those approaches from men, and how to respond to them as well. Linda told me that for many of those men that they may never have encountered a woman like me, and some of their comments were the only methods they knew to attempt to complement me. And, this shift in perspective totally changed the way I approached and reacted to some of those encounters. It took me time and experience to master it, but I now approach and manage those interactions with a spirit of universal love, and you’d be amazed at the kind o reactions that I get. In turn I receive words and acts of kindness, respect, generosity, and genuine well-wishes for my day, my well-being, and my current work with girls. I now see part of my responsibility as a woman, of my stature, is demonstrate love and respect to others no matter what neighborhood, city, or country that I’m traveling through. And, as a strong believer in the “golden rule”, and the “law of attraction, expression of love and respect dominates the majority of my dealings with others.
Despite my shift in perspective, I want to be clear that I’m not condoning disrespect or disregard for others in any form. But, I wanted to present a different viewpoint. Although videos like this one from Hollaback! are effective in getting attention, I want to make sure that as a responsible mentoring community that we always follow-up on “hashtag activisim” with conversations centered on devising practical ways to help address the needs of help girls combat cat-calling and ensure their safety. Below are some tips that I recommend.
What you can do to help your girls!
- Create opportunities for girls to have open dialogue on the topic. So, often we don’t have enough forums for adolescent girls to have open discussions on a variety of topics, but especially one’s of this nature. So, if you have a mentoring or youth program, or a teacher, consider making this a news topic to review. Show the students the video and get their reaction. And, even if you are not directly involved in working with youth as a profession, talk about it with your daughters and the girls in your family or daily network. As we develop girls to become advocates we must help them develop their voice by providing opportunities to see expressing their opinion is okay
- Create strategies for safe passage to and from school, etc. Talk with your daughters/girls about how they get to and from school, jobs, or other activities. Ask them what buses are they taking. What routes do they take to get home? What streets or alleys are they walking down? Work with them to identify if there is a way for them to organize walking home in groups with responsible friends to increase safety and collective vigilance.
- Ask them how their day was. Your girl/daughter may have had an encounter or experience that she needs to discuss or receive some guidance on. But, if we don’t work to create consistent lines of communication with our girls that they know they can trust, they may not share and keep it to themselves.
- Create opportunities for authentic dialogue for girls with positive male role models: Far too many of the girls that we serve don’t have consistent relationships with positive role models. So, we work to include male volunteers/mentors within our network as well as women, because having opportunities to connect with positive men who can provide insight and advice on dealing with the men that they encounter is priceless. We hold open forums between our girls and our male volunteers regularly to provide opportunities for girls to hear from men and pose questions and ask for advice.
- Let them shadow you for a day at work or running mundane errands: So many of us learn most effectively when we are given visual examples. Letting your girl/daughter/mentee shadow you gives you the opportunity, if youre a woman, to show girls how you carry yourself in professional settings and in about your community as well. She ‘ll see how you talk to people, present yourself, react to others worlds and actions. And, in the car you can share with her you problem solved those situations, analyzed them, and identified any definite threats of danger. Men, it’s important that girls get a chance to spend a day with you as well, because they get to see how you treat other women you encounter. And, they learn from watching you what positive and real caring male interaction looks and feels like.
So, what are some tips or strategies that you use with girls in ensuring safe passage, and dealing with unwanted attention?