Taking a Stand against Street Harassment
“Why don’t you show us what’s underneath that towel, baby?”
I heard this shouted from a car of four young men, no older than 19, hanging out the window, being obnoxious. I had been walking home alone one summer afternoon after swim practice in my suburban neighborhood and immediately looked around to see if anyone else was walking near me when I realized I was alone, ashamed, and powerless. I’d like to think if I had been older, I would have been less afraid or maybe even shouted something back. But I was 13, relatively quiet, and awkwardly uncomfortable in most settings, let alone one I had just been harassed in. Back then, I never realized there was a term for what I had experienced (street harassment) nor that there was an impending movement to educate about it and eradicate it.
Meet Us on the Street, an annual week of anti-street-harassment activism, is this week, April 7–13. The campaign serves as a platform for activism, discussions, and demonstrations around the world. From Afghanistan to Germany, Nepal, the United States, and many other places, women and men are taking a stand in their communities and on their campuses against street harassment and advocating for safer spaces that are free of catcalling, groping, lewd gestures, and more. My campus leadership group WILL (Women Involved in Learning and Leadership) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has hosted multiple events during this amazing week of activism.
We have hosted multiple Chalk Outs in which students speak out against street harassment by writing their stories in chalk on the main campus walkway that thousands of students cross daily. Simple yet powerful demonstrations like these are needed to promote dialogue about why the issue is important and what it means for women and those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community to feel safe in public spaces.
In addition to the Chalk Outs, we conducted a survey that gauges how safe students feel on campus and the prevalence of street harassment. UMBC administration and the Human Relations Office have already asked for the results, as they have a vested interest and are committed to making campus spaces safe for everyone. Concluding the week of action, on Wednesday, April 10, Hollaback! Bmore hosted a discussion at the Women’s Center to foster further dialogue about creating safer spaces, creative solutions to bring more awareness, and encouraging the involvement of more allies.
Fourteen years later, I unfortunately still experience street harassment on a weekly basis; with the weather getting warmer, it will most likely increase to a daily occurrence. However, the difference between how I felt when harassed at 13 versus now is that I can calmly and confidently flip the power balance and confront my harassers. Taking a stand is the first step to educating and influencing the behavior of street-harassment perpetrators.
Meet Us on the Street Chalk Outs in Photos
Photos by Maureen Evans Arthurs.