After four years of running Hollaback!, Shawna and co-director Mel are passing the torch, making way for other local feminist leaders to shine. Read the interviews below to learn more about their experiences fighting street harassment, as well as their future endeavors. And then KEEP SCROLLING to meet your new site leaders, Brittany and Leah! Welcome to the team!
1) Why did you become involved with Hollaback?
Shawna – I started the Baltimore chapter of Hollaback! because street harassment was the biggest aspect of sexism that I was dealing with daily. It was the biggest reminder of my inequality as a woman. It really affected me and I felt compelled to do something about it. At first I just shared my story, but then I knew I needed to do more.
Mel – I got involved with Hollaback! through Shawna. I interviewed her for a feminist podcast that I produced and then, at her behest, I started volunteering. Street harassment had always been so frustrating and silencing for me; I really felt like there was nothing I could do about it until I worked with Hollaback! It’s been a healthy outlet for my angry reactions to being harassed on the street all the damn time. It’s helped me cope with feeling not in control of my environment when out in public, not having agency over my body or perceived sexuality. Anti-street harassment activism has been especially therapeutic for me in healing from my history of sexual assault in a healthy and productive way. In that sense, this whole experience has been really invaluable.
2) What are some of your favorite moments being involved in Hollaback?
Shawna – I love our Proclaim No Shame event. It’s the most welcoming and good vibe get-together that I have been a part of. I’m also really proud of the work I’ve done with the Transgender Response Team in helping to create a PSA series and Best Practices documents for working with Transgender clients for various direct services. Of course, working with Mel has been awesome.
Mel – Proclaim No Shame is definitely one of my favorite events ever. I love it because somehow we create this space where people can be comfortable however they are. I don’t feel sexualized; no one is comparing or judging or feeling super self-conscious. We can openly discuss body shaming in a real way: our struggles, triumphs, and the bullshit we’ve been fed by society. I love the Safer Spaces Campaign a lot, too– specifically, conducting the trainings I get to use my professional skills of crisis counseling to teach any and everyone how to make people who’ve experienced street harassment feel safer, supported and validated.
3) What were some of the struggles being involved with Hollaback?
Shawna – Recruiting and maintaining long term volunteers. When we’re a volunteer run chapter it’s hard to use all the time you need to take care of other volunteers. But we have had a lot of amazing people volunteer even if they only volunteered once it was really awesome to have that support. Deconstructing the myths surrounding street harassment is also incredibly difficult. It seems obvious to us, but we forget that it is not obvious to everyone else. I’m always a little surprised that some people think that it’s a compliment that you’re not taking the right way, or they’re minimizing the experience, or they think it’s just a “cultural thing.” While it might play out differently within different cultures, in reality it’s a world-wide issue that needs to be addressed.
Mel – Widening the narrative of street harassment because it still is portrayed as a young, straight, cis, white lady movement and that pisses me off. It’s not for a lack of people of color, queer, and trans folks mobilizing within the international network that is Hollaback!, it’s lack of public recognition of our stories. There are moments when this makes me feel an awful tension between how people see the organization I run versus how they see me. I also know it can make queer folks, trans folks, and women of color not feel supported by Hollaback! or the anti-street harassment movement as a whole, which is untrue and unfair. From where I stand doing this work, I see myself and other marginalized folks sharing our stories, virtually yelling out loud about our realities, but nobody can hear us. Or people choose to talk for us and about us instead of listening. I do think that 2014 was the “tipping point year,” so to speak, for street harassment and with such an increase in media coverage in general, I can see things moving in the right direction.
4) What are your plans for the next year as you transition from directors to advisory board members?
Shawna – I will be concentrating more on my business Big Crunch Amp & Guitar Repair, which will include holding Women and Trans-only workshops on guitar maintenance and other topics. I’ll also hope to be touring a lot with my band War On Women (ed. note: their new album is being released February 10th, 2015 on Bridge Nine Records). I also think I’m going to be pursuing my other business more, which is performing wedding ceremonies as an ordained clergy person.
Mel – I will be an au pair for my cousin’s children in Austria. My Dad’s side of the family is Austrian, so this will be an important ancestral pilgrimage for me. I’m also excited to be somewhere totally different, travel more and take a self-care break from the intense on-the-ground activism I’ve been doing in Baltimore. I look forward to being more of a sounding board for other rad folks while focusing on individual projects, like writing (of course about feminism, being mixed race, and intersectional issues). I hope to return to Baltimore in about a year recharged and ready to dive back into the activist world.
Now Say Hello!
1. What is one facet of street harassment that you think needs more attention and why?
Brittany – The idea that street harassment only happens in urban areas needs more attention because the truth is, it happens everywhere. Also, coping with street harassment needs more attention because there are a lot of women and LGBT individuals who feel powerless on this issue.
Leah – I think we should starting having more conversations about how to respond in the moment. We talk about how street harassment exists and I think it’s awesome that the awareness is growing, but I believe we should also start conversations about how to stay safe in these situations.
2. What’s one thing about Hollaback! that you look forward to taking part in?
Brittany – I’m really looking forward to connecting and working with other grassroots organizations so they can be just as involved in ending street harassment. I would also like to work more with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and bring Stop Telling Women To Smile back to Baltimore.
Leah – I’m looking forward to The Offline Coffee and Chats as well as connecting and networking with other organizations and social justice groups. In the future, I’d love to do a documentary series about different aspects of street harassment and gender-based violence. I’d also love to put together some self-defense courses based on the Home Alive curriculum.
3. How did Hollaback! influence your thoughts on street harassment before you considered getting involved?
Brittany – I’ve always known there was something not right about being street harassed, but Hollaback! provided me with a safe space and it encouraged me to not remain silent about my experiences. Being involved with Hollaback! made me realize how serious of an issue is and motivated me to be a voice for the voiceless.
Leah – It’s done a really great job of legitimizing the issue of street harassment, while creating safer spaces online to talk about street harassment. I think the Baltimore chapter has helped broaden the conversation regarding how it affects all members of our community. Personally, it has made me feel safer. Just to be able to meet other people and talk about our experiences, having other people understand and support each other, working towards a better daily life for everyone has been beneficial.
4. What books are you reading now?
Brittany – I’m currently reading “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment,” by Patricia Hill Collins. In this book, Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals and writers, both within the academy and without.
Leah – The past few books I read that I really liked are Practical Magic, Powers of Two, and Status Anxiety. What I really loved about Practical Magic is the essence of magic in daily life and the history of power in communities of women. Right now I’m reading Candlemass as I gear up for some time in Ireland.