If there is one thing a female pedestrian enjoys more than unsolicited sexual attention by a sleazy male stranger, it’s likely un-anesthetized dental surgery or something of the sort. That’s right fellas, believe it or not, the ladies of Baltimore do not often appreciate being publicly objectified by strange men with no other romantic plan of action.
This long standing male tradition for idiots is no longer categorized with the condescendingly cute “cat calling” moniker; it’s been appropriately rechristened “street harassment”. The term is employed by citizens throughout Baltimore and the world, to cover verbal assaults as well as all other forms of open-air misogyny, from old fashioned nasty comments and creepy touching, to nauseating acts of violence. And yes gentlemen “street harassment” even covers that classic flirtatious device of publicly exposing one’s self to a woman.
Now listen North Baltimore, you know I love living in this city. You also know I’ve got nothing against construction workers. And as your average, insecure, lonely male city dweller, I can appreciate the pathetic desire for the flimsiest glimpses of female attention. But the fact that women (or anyone) cannot comfortably walk down the streets of our city in broad daylight, is downright embarrassing.
Since moving to the city as a young adult I’ve continued to be shocked by how much of a problem street harassment is for women in Baltimore. Melanie Keller, host of local feminist podcast The Fap Cast told me that since moving to Baltimore she’s experiences harassment approximately every “one in five times” she ventures out into the city, “ about 100 times more often” then she did in the suburbs.
I couldn’t imagine having to endure regular disrespect from strangers. Geez, someone leaves me a bad comment card at work and I can’t get out of bed for a month.
Women like Keller, who also explained to me that street harassment is a difficult topic to bring up “because of the stigma of women playing the victims in (harassment issues)”, are banning together and using mobile technology in the fight against sidewalk slime balls.
At the forefront of the local initiative is Hollaback! Baltimore, a chapter of a now international movement, designed to combat verbal and physical degradation and assault in community areas.
Like so many great grassroots movements, Hollaback! began with a quaint and modest act by a New York City restaurant owner, masturbating on the subway. A woman named Thao Nguyen snapped a photo of the exposed (and not all that impressive) Dan Hoyt. When the cops shrugged their shoulders at the evidence, Nguyen than put the photo on Flickr, and later had it published in the New York Daily News. The resulting public scrutiny and ultimate court case got fed up women talking and organizing.
Using mobile technology to photograph and geotrack harassers to the Hollaback site is not the only objective of the initiative. Hollaback also organizes events, demonstrations and community meetings as well as providing an online support group where harassment stories can be shared.
The existence of Hollaback is a great example of what citizens are capable of changing in their own community. However, the fact that it needs to exist in our city is depressing. We’re better than this, men of Baltimore! Besides, when has screaming at a woman in public ever resulted in a romantic interaction? You’ll have more luck on OK cupid.
For more information click here to see more information about Hollaback Baltimore!