By Maggie Freleng
At one time in history a man could be fined up to $25 for the worst "street mashing" offense -- calling a woman or girl "little cutie."
Today, you don't need to be told to know we get much, much worse. Finally, decades after "street mashing," "wolf whistling," "cat calling," and exponentially worse comments, we have a concrete term to define it: street harassment.
In the past month, about 40 news outlets have used the term “street harassment.” The world is starting to realize the problem at hand -- and it is legitimate.
“You’re witnessing the birth of a global movement that will change the way we walk down the street,” said Emily May, founder of Hollaback!, a network of international activists dedicated to ending street harassment across the globe.
Street harassment is not a new thing. It has gone on for centuries.
Rochelle Keyhan, a member of the board of directors of Hollaback! said that as long as we have been street harassed we have demanded the right to equality in public life, including the right to feel safe in public spaces. And now, in our lifetime, there is a mobilized campaign against such harassment, a name and a legitimacy to it -- a word associated to an action we can fight to end.
The possibility of closing “this long lived chapter of our collective history," she said, has never been more possible.
Thursday July 25 was history. It was the first ever international speakers series on ending street harassment.
The campaign, HOLLA:Revolution, hosted by Hollaback!, featured speakers from feminist media critic Jennifer Pozner, to Jimmie Briggs, human rights activist and founder of Man Up Campaign, to the amazing Nicola Briggs who became an icon of the movement when she went viral onYouTube after confronting her violator on a NYC subway in 2010.
With over a dozen speakers and experts on street harassment, one value was an absolute constant throughout the series: in solidarity -- in legitimacy -- we can end street harassment.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay, editor at Feministing.com, discussed the birth of social movements and revolutions via new technology and social media.
With the media coverage, and fed-up empowered women taking to the internet to globally organize, we have started a concrete movement.
Anyone can join the movement right from their computer, tweeting hashtags such as #HOLLArev and #EndSH.
Every effort, no matter how small, is solidarity.
Julie Lalonde, social justice advocate and feminist, reminded us, though, that it is easy to get caught up in the hype of a movement in the race to the top.
Instead of being a crab in a crab bucket, she said, stepping on each other to be the first out, we need to learn to inspire the solidarity that makes movements like this so strong. It is the only way we will not be silenced and collapse. While climbing, we need to lift each other up. Educate, empower, and inspire to build a stronger community.
Briggs said men must be allowed and encouraged to join the conversation, too, in order to build allies and encourage other men to transform their behavior. Solidarity can be found from anyone, anywhere and will always perpetuate a stronger movement.
When speaking about historic conference, Rachel Morillo, a student at Swarthmore College attending the event told VITAMIN W, “It’s definitely really empowering. Especially to see that women are interested in discussing street harassment. Even when I try discussing street harassment with my friends it is sort of brushed off. It is great to see that there is a community of people interested in ending this.”
Pamela Shifman, director of initiatives for girls and women at the NoVo Foundation, said the epidemic of violence against women has made its way into the public consciousness because of the groups and people like this who fight everyday to make the cause known, who search for allies and build a community around the cause -- who have worked tirelessly to create a “legitimate” movement.
“If we combine the true potential of philanthropy, the love of all people, with the transformative power of women and girls organizing for justice, we will see change,” said Shiffman.
"This is not just a conference, the place where many movements go to die,” said May. “This is history.”
Read more from Holla::Revolution about empowerment through solidarity on Stop Street Harassment.
image: Shadfan on Flickr/Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC 2.0)
Photo: TED Conference on Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)