By Rachel Corbett
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
A group of young activists are tired of men who leer at them or make degrading comments. They are fighting back with their own weapons: camera phones, blogs, online protests and forums, plus an action campaign timed for "street harassment season."
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--On a cold day in February, Emily May, a 25-year-old employee for a low-income housing and employment nonprofit in New York, bundled up and left work.
As she turned onto Broadway, the main north-south thoroughfare in Manhattan, two men heading toward her interrupted her thoughts. One tapped his friend and gave May a long look up and down.
"Yo baby, you're gorgeous!" the man said to her.
"I wanna hit that!"
May whipped out her camera phone.
"Sir, can I take your picture?"
"Why do you want to take my picture?"
"Because I'm taking pictures of everyone who thinks I'm pretty today."
What the men did not know was that May is part of a growing movement of women around the country and the globe turning the table on harassers.
May works with a group of women who take pictures of their harassers and post them online in a forum called Holla Back NYC. Tech-savvy women around the world send posts to Holla Back, which averages 1,000 hits per day, including women from Spain, Italy and India. Last week, European women established their own forum as the United Kingdom was the first country to sign on to the official European branch of Holla Back; Switzerland and Germany are expected to follow soon.
The Web site encourages women to post photos and write about men who comment or leer at them on the streets. It was prompted by the 2005 arrest of Dan Hoyt, a subway masturbator who was caught by a passenger who took his photo and had it printed in the New York Daily News. Hoyt was convicted of public lewdness in February.
Holla Back NYC is the latest permutation of an ongoing effort across the country to make the streets safer for women.
In New York this includes the Street Harassment Coalition and the Brooklyn-based Right Rides, a group that offers free nighttime rides home for women.
"It is seen as a micro-inequity, not a big deal," said Maggie Hadleigh-West whose 1998 documentary "War Zone" detailed her personal encounters with street harassers.
But street harassment, because it induces a kind of anxiety in women akin to the fear of rape, is not just an annoyance for Hadleigh-West but a real threat.
"You have to allow yourself to feel what you're feeling," she said. "It is the intent behind words, behavior, gestures that we are responding to."
The impetus behind Hadleigh-West's film and much anti-harassment activism is performance artist Laurie Anderson's 1973 photography project, "Fully Automated Nikon," during which she realized the vengeful joys of taking pictures of street harassers. She also found that it renewed her confidence and sense of s