Social activists and supporters gathered at Love Park on Saturday to artistically raise awareness of and protest street harassment as part of “Meet Us On The Street: International Anti-Street Harassment Week!”
Organized by media literacy and activist project FAAN Mail (Fostering Activism and Alternatives Now) and Hollaback Philly, a non-profit dedicated to ending street harassment, the rally served as a platform for people of all backgrounds to share their stories of street harassment and urge an end to it.
“Gender-based street harassment of any kind of unwanted attention you get due to your gender, gender expression or sexuality,” said Nuala Cabral, founder of FAAN Mail. “We’re here today because a lot of us experience it so often that it’s [become] normalized, so we are quiet about it. The truth is that it is not normal. It’s not ok, and we don’t have to accept it.”
At the rally, organizers set up several media and arts stations at which attendees could share their stories of street harassment and advocate change.
The “Soapbox” station let attendees share their street harassment experiences on camera; in the “Photo booth,” station, subjects wrote — on a dry eraser board — some of the explicit “street harassment” pick-up lines or insults they’ve encountered, and then were photographed with those lines. The images and videos will be shared on social media in efforts to raise awareness.
A group mural was created with encouraging messages and signatures from supporters; and double dutch was available throughout the rally because, according to Black Youth Project organizer Mary Morales-Williams, it is “historically one way girls have reclaimed their space, and it’s also been a point of community building.”
Those who shared their stories said they wanted to be a part of the effort to build more awareness around the issue, hoping it would bring about a change.
“It’s positive to share with others,” said Akilah Abdul-Rahman, an attendee from West Philadelphia. Rahman explained she has had to endure street harassment since childhood.
“I remember being really young and aware of my body because of how men were responding — stopping their cars, saying ‘hey girl, what’s your name’ [and] being followed.”
She said that by “building awareness,” she is hopeful a “cultural shift” can take place. But another important factor in being able to change the culture of street harassment, she said, entailed receiving more support from men. “We need male allies to start embracing this cause, and communicating to their peers that street harassment is never ok.”
Transgender activist Jordan Gwendolyn Davis shared her story with “Photo Booth” and on video, explaining that her story needed to be heard, and that more attention was needed for street harassment of transgender women.
“I’ve been getting street-harassed because of my gender identification and my sexuality ever since I moved to Philly in 2011,” said Davis. “It became an everyday occurrence. I get called words like tranny, f----t, ratchet and hoe.”
She added, “But this takes on a new dimension when you’re transgender, because there’s some people that will recognize you as female and then harass you because of it. But then of course, when they recognize you as male, that harassment turns especially violent.”
Davis said she hopes her story will impact “social attitudes” in a positive way, but recognizes there is a long way to go to fight the mistreatment.
“Despite all of the progress we’ve made over the past few years we are still very maligned,” she said.
Cabral said more advocacy is needed, especially on the educational levels, for the fight against street harassment to be successful. She is hopeful, however.
“We want to tell Mayor Nutter that we want the city to fund a public awareness campaign where they [tell] the community, this is a problem and that it’s not ok, and we can change it,” Cabral said.
“[And] we want the city to fund an awareness campaign in schools because we have to reach our youth and talk to them about this,” she said. “We can create a better world and safer community so women and girls and LGBT folks can walk through the world and not feel like they’re under a microscope and being gender-policed.”