Wednesday, April 8, 2009

HollabackTO featured in McClungs magazine

Here is an article about HollabackTO from the Spring issue of McClungs magazine, available in bookstores and on campuses across the city.

Ain't no hollaback girl
HollabackTO provides a forum for victims of sexual harassment to express their feelings
by Lisa Rahman

He eyed me up and down as I headed for the transfer box at Warden subway station in Toronto. In an instant, I knew that despite wearing my white iPod earbuds-a classic symbol of not wanting to be disturbed-the old man ambling towards me was going to make some sort of perverted comment just because I'm a young woman travelling solo on a Friday night.

After countless rants, some anger and tears about my many encounters with harassment in public, I decided to do something about it. I enlisted the help of my boyfriend and together, we created a website designed to combat street harassment in Toronto: HollabackTO. The website ( encourages women to share their stories of being harassed in public. This not only creates more awareness about the problem, which leaves so many women feeling helpless and ashamed, but also to create awareness that, in some cases, cat-calling, leering, groping, indecent exposure and following women around, can lead to even more serious forms of assault.

"Rape doesn't occur in a vacuum," says Kiera Chion, education and campaigns co-ordinator at the Ryerson Women's Centre. "It happens because we're in a culture that condones this behaviour on the street. So prior to the penis falling into the vagina "accidentally", there's a whole context of assault verbally and emotionally."

Ashley Mathew, education and outreach co-ordinator at the centre says, "Hollaback actually reaches out to all women and all women can relate to it, so it's kind of like no barriers; let's talk about sexual harassment."

What about men who think that women just need to grow a thicker skin? "I'd say those are the guys that HollabackTO is trying to fight back against. It's people versus pervs, and I think any reasonable guy with female friends who checks out our website can sympathize," says HollabackTO co-creator William MacMillan.

Karen Lam, a HollabackTO contributor, says, "A lot of the time we blame the victim for dressing inappropriately and calling attention to themselves, or walking down the wrong street at the wrong hour of the night, and basically backing themselves into a corner. I think by not taking street harassment seriously, we actually end up giving the perpetrators more power, and in effect make women feel like they don't have a right to say anything."

Amanda Jesso, who submitted her story to HollabackTO after experiencing unwanted touching by a man during a late-night bus ride, says it was important to share her encounter with other women. "It was a bit of a healing process for me, with a memory that still gave me the shivers. I wanted to tell other women that they are not alone."

Being harassed is not something women should have to fear when heading out alone, but it is something that plagues most women regardless of age, race or appearance. On the HollabackTO website, Toronto women can put an end to fear and begin to reclaim their city.

No comments: