A blog post by iHollaback! Ottawa director Julie Lalonde
Recently I had the pleasure of attending an international conference in Asia. For the record, it was fucking amazing and I left there energized. A revolution is coming, people!
I bring this up here because my experience at this conference solidified my support of iHollaback! and broad, inclusive and radical discussions around street harassment and the objectification of women. This was at a conference that had absolutely nothing to do with any of these issues.
What the what, you ask?
When I was in Asia, I didn’t experience any more street harassment than I would in Ottawa. What I did experience though was the realization that technology and ‘buddies’ are a huge part of my coping with street harassment.
Since I was traveling overseas, I didn’t bring my cell phone with me because I knew it would cost me a fortune and I feared I’d leave it behind. (Probably plugged into the wall. Totally hypothetical of course, this clearly has never happened to me…) I didn’t think much of it, to be honest, until one particular evening where I found myself alone amongst 100 or so other delegates, many of which were men. In a similar situation back home, I’d plug in my headphones or text someone on my phone to look busy and therefore, avoid eye contact. But in this case, I had neither an MP3 player or a phone to occupy me.
It wasn’t until this moment that I realized how much I rely on my phone to alleviate the anxiety and awkwardness of men leering or cat calling.
Similarly, I also realized over the course of my stay how much solidarity amongst women plays a huge role as well.
I attended this conference alone; the only delegate from Canada. I didn’t know a single soul before I went and had never traveled to the country. It didn’t take long before I was told not to travel outside the hotel without a male escort. The reason being that I’m not only a woman, but a white woman with a North American accent and so I’m read as wealthy and a target for petty theft. It’s a sad reality for many places around the world and so as irritated as I am to be told I need an ‘escort’, I obliged. (Side Note: I’m purposely leaving the name of the country out here because it honestly doesn’t matter. I live in a country that says that women who dress like sluts deserve to get raped, so no country can claim the high ground here).
Although I was traveling outside with large groups of people, what I realized is that as women, we often seek each other out to cushion each other from the blow of being hollered at while we’re strolling down the street. This conference didn’t include a women’s caucus or any formal way of bringing women together and yet we always found ways to connect, whether it was to go to a shop or to use the washroom. It was this unspoken understanding that we had to watch each other’s backs, even though we had never met and had major communication issues due to the various languages we all spoke. And yet, in broken English, we’d give each a nod and escort each other to where we needed to go and made up conversation when we saw a group of men coming near us, so that we looked busy and confident and not terrified and wanting to run away. We kept an eye on each other and gave each other the ‘Please fucking save me’ look when one of us was stuck with a grabby or overly friendly male colleague.
The most interesting thing of all is that we never discussed any of this. We never talked about how we were actively seeking each other out for support or having each others’ back. It was just this unspoken understanding that you help a sister out.
These kinds of interventions are incredibly important and reminded me of how critical our “I’ve got your back!” campaign is. To find out more, donate or help us spread the word, check it out.
Lastly, I do want to recognize the stellar dudes who recognized how shitty it was that we needed them to escort us around. Many of them commented on how unfortunate it was and spoke out against street harassment and leering. These dudes get a serious feminist high five from O-Town. HOLLA!