With temperatures boiling, everything in this city seems to be slowing to a halt. We are too hot to work, too hot to think. But is it too hot to harass?
Apparently not. If you’re a woman on a packed subway train, you know that the heat of the summer is high time for men to be at their lewdest.
If you’re like me, you’ve heard the crude words. You’ve felt the hands grabbing at you. You’ve experienced men on the sidewalk undressing you with their eyes – and proudly, explicitly letting you know exactly what they’re up to.
We don’t have to take it anymore. Imagine if for each one of these instances, we could whip out our cell phones and report the location, the type of harassment – and even snap a photo of the creep. Imagine that the combined reports from thousands of women would together document the volume of harassment we experience, generating data about a phenomenon we know exists but have no official research to support.
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That is the revolution Emily May is starting with her group Hollaback! – which is launching a free iPhone app in New York City as soon as today (when Apple approves it for distribution via the App Store), with plans to expand internationally soon.
May started Hollaback! as a blog back in 2005 in response to getting harassed three or four times a day. I was an early reader – and it was only after seeing the stories of other women that I realized how much I had resigned myself to experiencing daily street abuse.
Street harassment puts women in an impossible position. When we do nothing or say nothing, it continues. When we yell at the guys, it escalates. We are often blamed by the culture for what we are wearing. Some even call those offensive comments “compliments.”
In the most egregious instances, allegations can make their way to the cops. The NYPD recently told the City Council there’s been a 4% increase in the number of official subway harassment complaints filed over the past year. About two-thirds of the 587 complaints registered were for sexual abuse; about a third were for public lewdness.
Unfortunately, the cops don’t yet release regular public line-by-line and route-by-route data on groping, lewdness and harassment. They should. Assemblyman James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) has written a bill that would force the NYPD to do that. It should pass.
But we don’t have to wait for government to lead the charge against street harassment. As women, we see it. We experience it. And now, we’re going to report it.
The Hollaback! iPhone app will serve as a critical tool in this struggle for equality, giving women the power to tell their stories and make men who right now feel no consequences for their actions think twice. Non-iPhone users shouldn’t feel left out — as the group has SMS texting and a Droid app in the works.
Think about it: If a smartphone can help you order your dinner, buy a movie ticket or connect with your friends, why can’t it be used as a 21st century tool to shame and stop the worst kind of behavior?
Just knowing about the Hollaback! iPhone app has empowered me. I mentally report on the harassment I experience, mapping the predictable spots and swearing that one day I will find out who’s the manager of that building three doors down and complain about the workers outside.
Street harassment should not be the price women pay for living in the city – and now we have a brand-new way to stand up for ourselves.