Holla Back D.C.!March 29, 2010
While street harassment is a big issue these days, women have been fighting sexual harassment in Washington, D.C., public spaces for more than 80 years. As we celebrate and acknowledge Women’s History Month, we want to pay homage to the D.C. women who taught us what we know about street harassment and inspired us to organize and create a campaign to end public sexual harassment and assault in our nation’s capital.
Before there was even a name for catcalling or pubic sexual harassment, Alice Reighly established the Anti-Flirt Club in 1923. Composed of young women and girls who had been embarrassed by men in automobiles and on street corners, the club launched an “Anti-Flirt Week” in March 1923 to discourage the behavior.
Zip forward to the 1980s, when D.C. activist Linda Leeks produced anti-street harassment posters and fliers. Also about that time, Marty Langelan, one of our inspirations for starting Holla Back DC!, began doing more work on street harassment. Between 1985 and 1986, Marty and other D.C. women organized the Hassle Free Zone Campaign with the goal of making D.C. free of harassment. The group put a name to the problem and held numerous speak outs, educated perpetrators and police about the issue, and taught women how to verbally confront street harassment. Marty published Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers, one of the premier books on street harassment, in 1993. The book defines street harassment and covers everything from why perpetrators harass, how to confront harassers, and community solutions to end street harassment.
All this brings us to the present. Lauren Taylor, founder of Defend Yourself, has taught countless girls, women, and LGBTQ individuals in the D.C. metro area how to verbally address street harassment and be prepared to confront physical violence through self-defense.
Through collective action can come collective change, and in Washington, D.C., the women of INCITE DC wanted to create change. In 2006, INCITE DC worked to raise awareness about street harassment through community workshops and pamphlets about what street harassment is and how to address it. The group also organized community rallies against street harassment in which they demonstrated martial arts and self-defense techniques and — through art and music — expressed their outrage about public sexual harassment and assault.
Most recently, we celebrate Holly Kearl and her groundbreaking book, Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women. The book examines more than a thousand women’s experiences on street harassment and showcases more than 20 anti-street harassment campaigns and the activists who work on them.
All of these women, and countless others we will never know about, have paved the way for Holla Back DC! and our work. During Women’s History Month, we give them a huge THANK YOU for their countless hours and dedication to making Washington, D.C., safe for all girls, women, and LGBTQ individuals.
Guest post by Shannon & Chai, co-founders of Holla Back DC!, a grassroots organization working to end public sexual harassment and assault in the Washington, D.C., metro area.