When we (the Service Committee, R.A.N.E., and Feminists at Friends) began our work, I think some people in our community didn’t understand why street harassment was something that we were even talking about. Why spend time raising awareness of street harassment when the world has bigger problems?
For the answer to that question, we turned to the men, women, and gender non-conforming members of our community who have experienced street harassment. We looked within ourselves and gave voices to experiences that, for some of us, were once an enormous source of shame.
Growing up in New York City, I (and most or all of the girls and women I know) experienced street harassment at a very young age– around eleven years old. And it’s not only uncomfortable, it’s scary. It’s scary when someone exploits your vulnerability and forces their image of you upon you. You may see yourself as a kid, but what happens when someone stares, howls, hisses, or says sexually explicit things to you when you’re walking to school? What happens as a result of the rape culture you’ve grown up in? Most of us blame ourselves. We think abut what we were wearing or how we were walking, when in reality we are not to blame at all.
The Chalk Walk and the Art Installation were both successful in many ways. The Chalk Walk brought together a group of students to spread a message of respect across the neighborhood. We wrote phrases of our own making and phrases suggested by Hollaback! (an international anti-street harassment organization). Some included: “MY DRESS IS NOT A YES” and “MY NAME IS NOT HEY BABY.” The Art Installation in the Quaker Library provided an important physical space to safely meditate on an issue that, by nature, is rooted in discomfort and an absence of a sense of safety in public spaces. The photographs, text messages, poetry and audio recordings of personal stories from the community were all very moving. I felt extremely lucky to be part of both of these projects.