Street Harassment Website HollaBack Creates App for iPhone

BlogHer Original Post

Recently, HollaBackNYC Executive Director Emily May announced via The American Prospect that the grassroots organization has developed an iPhone application and a mobile text application to make it easier for women to take pictures and have faster access to information they might need if in trouble. But what for?

In "Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women," published by the Harvard Review, Cynthia Grant Bowman explains street harassment as:

Street harassment occurs when one or more strange men accost one or more women ... in a public place which is not the woman's/women's worksite. Through looks, words, or gestures the man asserts his right to intrude on the woman’s attention, defining her as a sexual object, and forcing her to interact with him.

subway harassment
Image by Annie Mole via Flickr

For many women, these interactions are not only physically intimidating, but emotionally scarring. Many years ago, while walking with a friend of mine down a busy Toronto street, a group of men grabbed my friend’s breasts as we walked by. Another time, a group of men -- one was wearing women’s clothes and sucking on a baby bottle (I kid you not) -- called another friend a "bow-legged bitch" on the streets of New York City. My first instinct was not to haul off and punch the attacker in his nether regions; it was to stand there in shock and humiliation. This reaction happens to many women -- especially because, more often than not, the men usually walk away laughing.

So what to do (without walking around with a rusty butcher knife)? Well, thanks to social networking sites, there are safe online spaces where women can fight back. HollaBack DC is one of the newest websites providing not only a forum for women to post their stories and pictures, but also information on women's social issues.

The HollaBack phenomenon did not start with the women in DC. While some state that they were not directly affiliated with the original New York City-based site, there are several regional HollaBack groups dedicated to street harassment. Active HollaBack blogs include:

One of the most interesting things about the HollaBack sites is that talking about male street harassment is way more complicated than you would think. Since camera cell phones have become more affordable and accessible, taking photos of harassers can be a great tool to have if the confrontation is severe enough to warrant a trip to the police station to file a complaint. But how safe is it? You could be struggling with your cell phone camera while your harasser realizes what you are attempting to do, and tries to stop you.

According to May, the applications make taking photos and texting faster and easier. "We'll post the harassment online, so people can go and look," she told the American Prospect. "We're also planning on bringing the maps to legislators and to use them for public-service announcements and community education." The now-inactive HollaBack Seattle site contains a caution to be careful when taking photos:

We ask women, as well as men, to use their better judgment when encountering street harassment. Obviously, safety is the number one concern so if the situation seems dangerous, taking a picture or remembering a description is of little importance. However, if a person feels like that can and want to take a picture or take a mental snap-shot, that's great.

The iPhone app debuted on June 26. If you have it and have used it, please let me know how it works in the comments.

Contributing EditorRace, Ethnicity & Culture

Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com

Writer: Hellbound: www.hellbound.ca

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