Guest blog post by our volunteer, Corrine:
So I’m hanging out in a bar with some friends. It’s happy hour. People are drinking. We’re talking, we’re laughing, we’re having a good old time. Everything is great. Then out of nowhere this guy comes over to my friends, grabs my crotch, tries to kiss me, and licks my face. Licks…my…face!
Not only was it gross and humiliating, it made me think I did something wrong. Maybe I accidentally made eye contact, maybe I smiled at him (I smile at everyone, I think someone told me once that it was being polite. I don’t smile so much anymore), maybe my pinstriped button down starched collared shirt and jeans and flip flops was too provocative of an outfit. Who knows?
The point is, he felt that something warranted him putting his hands on me. We weren’t in the workplace, I didn’t know him, we weren’t friends. Unfortunately, this was not my first time being harassed on the street by a complete stranger.
What exactly is street harassment?
At Hollaback Baltimore, we define street harassment as a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life.
In a nutshell: it’s when you say or do something to someone that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and those actions are motivated by a person’s gender.
Get to the point…
The point? Street harassment takes away an individual’s ability to be comfortable in their skin. It says, because you have these physical features and/or because you are of this specific sexual orientation, I can do and say anything I want to you, any time I want to. Street harassment can be sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, sizeist and/or classist. – See more at: http://www.ihollaback.org/about/
It says “Because you’re a woman, because you’re gay, because you’re a transgender person, you can’t just go anywhere and do anything without a consequence. You are not free to come and go as you please. You have to think about the places you go, you have to decide if its worth it. Otherwise, stay your ass at home.”
A step forward…
On Tuesday, May 21st, Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (FAMA) of 2014 . Essentially, this law bans discrimination of any person based on sexual orientation and sexual identity. Further, this past week President Obama signed an executive order, also banning discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors and the federal government.
The Presidential Executive Order (Cliff Note’s Version)
- It is now illegal for government agencies and federal contractors to discriminate against anyone who identifies (publically or privately) as LBGT
- Effects 28 million people (one fifth of the American workforce)
- Effective immediately for federal employees, contractors have until early next year to get their ducks in a row
- Adapted from a previous executive order signed by President George Bush in 2002 that adds sexual orientation and gender identity as additional categories protected under the order
Pretty cool, right? This legislation is most certainly is a step in the right direction with regards to making the workplace safer for all people. Despite this, the order still makes it perfectly legal for non-government employees and contractors to continue discriminating against a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person in the workplace. And don’t even get me started about what happens outside of the workplace. What about on the street? How can we make public spaces safer? What constitutes safe or unsafe? When does behavior become threatening?
Why can’t you just take it as a compliment?
I guess I could, couldn’t I? But tell me this, is it a compliment when someone follows you off the subway when you’re alone at night? Is it a compliment when someone stalks you? What about when someone decides to beat you bloody and leave you for dead on the street, is that a compliment too? Where do we draw the line between harmless fun vs. criminal act? Its legislation like FAMA and the most recent presidential executive order that are allowing us all to more easily navigate these gray areas. The more that we can advocate to specify the illegality of things like discrimination, harassment, rape, etc., in the workplace or at school, the safer the streets and other public spaces will be.
As we recognize the important acknowledgements being made with the passing of this bill and the signing of this executive order, street harassment is still a huge problem, not just in Maryland but internationally. Get involved and tell your story: If you’re a person who has experienced street harassment, Hollaback! While you’re at it, check out some of the other stories and maybe they will inspire you to take action. If you’re a person who has street harassed (knowingly or unknowingly), stop and check out the stories on our website to get a real picture of the message you send when you say and do those things.