An open letter from Hollaback Victoria

We received this submission a little while ago and, to be honest, struggled with a response that would not attack this individual, but open up a dialogue on the topic of who gets to decide what street harassment looks like. We live in a society that is built upon systemic oppressions that teach people to not hold harassers accountable, instead perpetuating victim-blaming and other sexist beliefs, such as that women need to ‘lighten up’, not be so ‘sensitive’, and take street harassment as a ‘compliment’. We thought we would give our opinion, and then open up this discussion for you wonderful supporters of Hollaback Victoria to participate and tell us how YOU define street harassment and, more to the point, where the privilege lies when defining harassment in public spaces.

“I am not reporting harassment. I am seeing this site for the first time and wanting to comment about someone else’s complaint that they were whistled at. Everyone is, of course, entitled to their feelings, opinions and boundaries, but I wonder if perhaps we, as women don’t sometimes become more sensitive than is really necessary. Are there situations where a wolf whistle is not harassment but an uninhibited expression of admiration and appreciation? Have we no sense of fun to appreciate a compliment? When my son was barely able to talk (about 18 months, I think) a pretty young woman passed us on the sidewalk. His head swiveled and when she was about 20 feet past he said “Wow” loudly enough for her to jump in surprise and look back. He is only around men who are very respectful of women, and I honestly think he was just expressing a very natural love of beautiful things. Just MY opinion, I still like compliments from men if they seem to be offered in a friendly, good-natured way.”

Here’s what Hollaback Victoria has to say:

We, at Hollaback Victoria, respect the views and opinions of others on the topic of street harassment. We think that women and other marginalized groups of people should have the right to decide what street harassment is to them, as well as what actions (if any at all) should be taken when encountering harassment in public spaces. Because we believe that people are entitled to their opinions, whether they consider whistling a compliment or not, is up to an individual – they can decide how they wish to be treated by others. Therefore, by no means should any one person be able to discredit another’s feelings or make value judgements on what someone’s tolerance should or shouldn’t be.  By using the term “uninhibited” as an excuse for disrespectful behavior, it allows people to bypass ownership or take responsibility for their actions and how they affect the people around them. We live within a culture of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and sexism that creates a context where women are continuously policing each other, using words such as ‘too sensitive’ to describe when a woman is insulted or feels unsafe by unsolicited and non consensual actions of others. We by no means want to attack the views or beliefs of the person who wrote what is posted above, but we do want to make it clear that Hollaback Victoria is a space that has been created to respect people’s individual experiences with street harassment and not tolerate the perpetuation of sexist or any other oppressive beliefs that belittle or invalidate the stories that are shared on our site.

Now, let’s open this up for discussion: what are YOUR thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.

 

4 responses to “An open letter from Hollaback Victoria

  1. If it feels icky, it’s icky. If I feel uncomfortable with a stranger or even someone not a stranger commenting on my appearance, or making me feel threatened, anxious, or unsafe in any way, I’m not being insensitive; those are my feelings. I don’t need to attack another person to defend those feelings, but I will absolutely negate the other person’s assertion that I’m being too sensitive.

    Also, “beautiful *things*”? Since when are women “things”?

    As Diana Freeland said,

    “You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.”

    Do I sound defensive about this? Perhaps, but that’s because I’ve spent almost fourty-four years on this planet having to fend off feeling unsafe, having to defend myself from unwanted attention, and having to watch my daughter fend off the same from strangers who think that as women we owe them something—and if we get upset when they demand it, we’re being “too sensitive.”

  2. I do not want to be sexually objectified, dehumanized, degraded, patronized, or whistled at, ever. It makes me feel self conscience, not complimented. It makes me feel less like a human being with an entire world beneath my skin, and more like an ornament walking around. I feel complimented when a man that I know, and have known for a while tells me something that he finds beautiful about my personality, ambitions, or talents. There is a way to tell a woman that you think she is beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside in a respectful way, with a respectful intention. This does not involve hollering, whistling, or leering at random strangers.

  3. I wonder if perhaps we, as women don’t sometimes become more sensitive than is really necessary.

    Nope. Let me correct that for you: “I wonder if perhaps we, as women don’t sometimes become more sensitive than is convenient for me.”

    Also, you don’t get to decide what’s “too sensitive”. Let’s try a simile. I’m one of those people who is always cold. If a room feels chilly to me, it feels chilly to me. You can complain about how hot you are until you’re blue in the face, and I’ll still keep my sweater on.

    Have we no sense of fun to appreciate a compliment?

    A boorish enough “compliment” is not a compliment at all. Would you smile sweetly if someone sincerely said you had bangin’ tits?

    I honestly think he was just expressing a very natural love of beautiful things.

    Things? THINGS?! I AM NOT A THING. I am not a decoration. My body is not here for other people’s pleasure and I am not interested in their opinions of it, good or bad.

    I still like compliments from men if they seem to be offered in a friendly, good-natured way.

    That’s nice. I don’t like having my body commented on. It’s almost like we’re DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

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