Listening for the Dissonance of Harassment

Guest post by Hollaback! Baltimore volunteer, Matt

If every person walking down the street could be considered a musician, their existence adding a new melody line to the symphony of a city, then a convention with cosplayers is a unique piece of music to experience. Characters from eastern and western animation, video game heroes, and gender-swapped action movie stars all combine to create a very textured song. All of these unique instrumental lines flowing around each other, with a street vendor through a megaphone chanting the lyrics of “Ice cold water, and it’s just one dollar!”

What should have been a day of enjoying interacting harmonies instead turned into an exercise in listening for the dissonance of harassment. As a person with an orchestra of privilege, it is very easy to tune out these unruly notes, ignoring the sounds that grate on so many unwilling ears. I went to Otakon with the Hollaback! Baltimore group to show support for the right of convention-goers and passersby to go about their activities unharassed and unmolested. Listening to multiple recounts and hearing first-hand the come-ons, ridicule, and shaming, wakes you up to pay attention to those trying to sour the soundscape.

“I support the patriarchy.” One line that was yelled at the Hollaback! team while holding our anti-harrasment signs. My initial thought was he was just a person trying to get a reaction as I doubt most harassers would have that kind of vocabulary. But I also realize he’s probably telling the truth; someone who is capable of saying that would probably be at minimum a silent witness to street harassment. I politely responded with what I thought of his declaration.

I start trying to watch for less obvious signals. I notice a man taking pictures without first asking for permission. With all the activity it’s hard to focus on him, but it seems he may just be taking pictures of women in revealing costumes. Before I’m able to determine a pattern, I lose track of him.

I’m talking with a group of conventioneers when my co-awareness raiser asks me if I just heard a comment. A man walked right by her and said “Grow a pair.” In true Hollaback attitude, she responded without missing a beat “Maybe I would if I wasn’t being groped all the time.”


Otakon attendees on the left and center, our volunteer Matt on the right
Otakon attendees on the left and center, and that’s our volunteer Matt on the right – trying to stay out of the picture.


We talk with another group who tells us that they don’t receive harassment due to traveling with their male companions. We hand out fliers on good ally etiquette and encourage them to stand up to harassment directed at people who may not be in their group. It also makes me wonder how much more harassment the Hollaback! crew would have encountered if I was not standing with them.

I then get approached by a man dressed in regular street clothes inquiring about what we are doing. I describe our purpose here and the larger goals of the group. He informs me that he is part of the military. He seems to start complaining about the new requirements of sitting through anti-harassment training, especially with the new increased opportunities for women in the military. After he describes the hours of videos and lectures he’s had to sit through, he tells me how glad he is that the military is conducting this training. He knows how difficult his job is and wants to support anyone who would want to be in the same vocation, regardless of gender. It is the best moment of my day.

Overall I notice the pattern of women who eagerly share stories of harassment and support for our mission, and men who come up and ask about the group and our purpose here. They seem to express doubt as to the necessity of the group. They need to start opening their ears and hearing the dissonance. Listening to the lyrics of women and LGBTQ people is a good place to start.

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