by Katie Toth
Hollaback! had its first international speakers’ series on Friday, July 25, at New York University. Women from five Canadian cities and provinces—Ottawa, Halifax, Alberta, Winnipeg and Hamilton—were there to represent.
The feminist group, which is dedicated to ending street harassment, began with the hope to take concrete action against a sexist culture. “We’d taken all the women’s studies classes and critical theory classes, and nobody was telling us that sexism was (happening) on the street,” said executive director Emily May as she introduced the speakers’ series.
The idea sprung up in 2005 when May was hanging out with six friends. “The girls would tell these disgusting, sort-of funny-sometimes but really-creepy-always, stories about walking on the street,” said co-founder Samuel Carter. Carter was confused and almost shocked: “It made me feel like I was living in a different city than they were.”
So the friends started a blog for women to put up their stories about harassment. Today, it’s become a movement. Hollaback! includes two phone apps, and over 60 independent websites. The sites are run by local Hollaback delegates, each with their own unique approach to harassment in cities all over the globe.
That’s why the group had to connect, May says. The speakers’ series also launched a three-day retreat for site leaders to make a plan for Hollaback’s future.
But the public speakers’ series was way more fun than a planning meeting. Feminists like Jamia Wilson spoke on the role of storytelling in feminism. Rochelle Keyhan recounted the history of street harassment—starting with the “street mashers” of the 1800s who received fines for calling women “little cutie.” (Victorian women would deal with “street mashers” by pulling their hat pins out of their hair and giving the jerk a hard prick in the side, Keyhan said.)
And speaker Julie Lalonde, from Hollaback! Ottawa, had no qualms about taking the stage to rip the haters a new one. “Feminism is a crab bucket,” she said.
Feminism suffers from two cultural myths, charged Lalonde: that there can only be one winner, and that it’s always too early to celebrate. “I’ve been told that Hollaback … telling women’s stories isn’t radical enough.” As Lalonde put it, we’re not going to end street harassment—or any other sexist BS—if we spend all that energy fighting each other.
So, the global feminists did what many a feminist enjoys doing: finished off the series with a sweet happy hour involving falafel and cheese.
They came. They saw. They hollered.
Katie Toth is a freelance journalist based in New York City who loves both feminism and shoes. You can follow her at @kat_toth on Twitter, or check out her latest photoblog, iheartnewyorkers.tumblr.com.