Breaking the silence

In the fight against street harassment, Hollaback! takes the lead

  • Jodie Layne founded the Winnipeg chapter of Hollaback! “By making the commodification and objectification of women’s bodies in public unacceptable and even shameful, it does more than stop harassment. That is the point where minds will change and attitudes will be re-examined,” she says. – Dylan Hewlett

Street harassment is a pervasive and largely unreported crime, and a form of violence that has become culturally acceptable across the world.

That’s where Hollaback! comes in.

Formed in 2005, first as a blog in New York City, Hollaback! has grown into an international movement to end harassment of women on the streets of major cities.

A chapter in Winnipeg was recently launched.

“(It’s) a global issue that women and LGBTQ individuals face on a daily basis,” said Veronica Pinto, international movement coordinator of Hollaback! “There is a common misconception that street harassment is a ‘city problem.’”

Indeed, such a systemic and ubiquitous force, one so prevalent in many of the world’s largest cities,  is a difficult enemy to face. The fight requires solidarity, communication, and practical action that can mend communities, and transform the behavioural norms that fuel street harassment every day.

In many ways, Hollaback! is the answer to this extensive problem.

Jodie Layne founded the Winnipeg chapter of the movement, which now encompasses 45 cities across six countries.

“By making the commodification and objectification of women’s bodies in public unacceptable and even shameful, it does more than stop harassment. That is the point where minds will change and attitudes will be re-examined,” said Layne.

“Hollaback! empowers women to confront harassers and share their stories of how harassment has affected them - ... (it) seeks to exclude no one in the solution either.”

With its first grant from the Girls Action Foundation, Layne and the Winnipeg chapter of Hollaback! will soon hold a day-long event for teens featuring workshops, discussion periods and plenty of creative action; a testament to the movement’s awareness-raising mandate and will to inspire change.

“It’s been astounding the people who have come up to me or emailed me or shared their story,” she said. “It gives me great hope about what we can do and the eagerness for people to have these conversations.”

To Melanie Leslie, a programmer at the Peer Project for Youth, Hollaback! importantly extends its reach to cyberspace as well.

“Connecting online is essential for engaging young people in these conversations,” she said. “Hollaback! uses both the Internet and in-person discussion to hash out actual strategies for responding to street harassment.”

Whatever the case, Hollaback! has proven to be an invaluable remedy to a sadly common societal event.

It is also an arguably radical activism that openly seeks to unite against gender-oriented abuse while altering global thought in the process.

In a positive and an emancipatory spirit, Layne continues to look ahead to the potential future of Hollaback! as a potent social movement.

“I want us to keep fighting against not only the action of street harassment, but the factors and attitudes that cause it and keep on being badasses for the rights of women.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 25, 2012)

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