20 November 2005

holla back

I find the holla back nyc site linked above very interesting for a variety of reasons. I believe I got there from this article on Salon.com, where they point out some of the benefits and drawbacks to this sort of thing, but it is a nice intersection of community-building, alleviating the isolation of being stared at/heckled/objectified in public spaces, and the use of the cameraphone for panoptic policing in the hands of those who normally don't have much say in what happens when heckling begins.

In India they call this behavior "eve-teasing" and as in the US, it's not just innocent fun or words or even threats with no physical consequences. It's about fear and the inability even to go to a museum without being chased through it "just to talk." It reminds me of a rather cathartic talk session I had once with four other women who study India--we were in a cab sharing our worst "grope stories" from our research days. Not one of us didn't have one, and some were much worse than I had experienced. But of course it doesn't need to cross the line into physical contact directly--it all affects your physical being, your ability to move around, to dress a certain way (although I found that it didn't matter how baggy my trousers were or how potato-sack-like my tunic was, they still stared), your blood pressure, your psychological well-being.

It also reminded me of an afternoon session on protecting oneself from physical assault run by IMPACT that involved teaching women (and they have some courses for men--the gendered nature of self-defense courses is a bit of a problem) what to do and what not to do in situations where you do feel threatened and thus are threatened. One of the women in the group was younger (high school) and so would talk back in situations rather than attempting to extricate herself. It was interesting because I completely get her feeling of wanting to take back the power by talking back, wanting to rise to the heckles, act like a man, but she ended up putting herself in a more vulnerable position by answering, revealing things about herself, her plans for the night, whatever it was, that then the heckler-cum-attacker used against her. So this hollaback site seems to be a good thing to me. shame a few people, perhaps. not give anything away except that you have a cell phone (and could call someone or the police) and you've taken their picture (thus recording their face for any future legal action).

I can recommend IMPACT to anyone in a city where they do courses--even the few hours I spent there gave me a good sense of what instincts to trust and what not to trust in a threatening situation. The main thing I took away from my short course was the ability to speak the word "No" and have it be heard. They teach you how to break through your politeness training into a forceful verbal negative. In other words, they make girls learn how to shout, once and for all. How great is that?

It would be a great world in which hollaback and IMPACT didn't have to exist, and yet. and yet.


dan said...

Sometimes I'm shocked to hear how much my female friends have to put up with this sort of thing on a regular basis. And, of course, gender non-conforming queer peoples get sexually-harassed/heckeled/threatened/cat-called everywhere they go as well. Holla back is a cool thing. And, if your internet connection is down, you can always pop on Le Tigre's "On Guard" and scream along to the lyrics.

Rebecca said...

another song along these lines (although not encompassing the transgender/queer as Le Tigre's does) is (shockingly***) No Doubt's "Just a Girl" which, if you listen to the lyrics and think not "Gwen Stefani" but "woman in Saudi Arabia" one realizes that the scale may be different, the legislation may be different, but in some ways our lives are circumscribed by much the same rules. Okay, so we don't risk capital punishment for these things, but our lives must be curtailed in many ways that create vast asymmetries in living them.

***In other words, what follows should not be taken as support for Gwen's recent antics (or click here) which I find racist, Orientalist, and generally appaling.

sageblue said...

Just to stay on the Gwen tip, is this the kind of "holla back" she refers to in "Hollaback Girl": she ain't no hollaback girl, meaning that she is actually going to throw down with whoever attacks her. The gender of this opponent is up for debate: she tells the person to "put you pom-poms down," indicating she is talking to a woman, but the next verse begins with "that's right dude, meet me at the bleachers." So, either she is feminizing "dude" or feminizing a man who would holla at her by saying he has "pom-poms."

It's an incredibly strange song, in part because of the ending with the cheerleading "B-A-N-A-N-A-S." When she says that "this shit is bananas," she is certainly referring to the song itself (remember, it begins with "This my shit"), but also perhaps to the idea of holla-ing? And what of a double entendre of "shit": both cool and not cool.

Word on Gwen's crazy Japanese fetish, but I have to say I still love her a lot of the time.

dan said...

Man, Gwen's "pacific rim job" (to quote that awesome salon article) was TOTALLY disappointing! (Ew, and, just to reinforce that, the slogan at "HarajukuLovers.com" is: "A fatal attraction to cuteness"...?! Death? Violence? Power? Submission? Gwen, just 'cause you're facing all the pressure of launching your own brand and stepping out in front as a businesswoman doesn't mean you have to turn your platinum blonde hair and whitey eye-shape into a big, boring phallus...). Sageblue's connection got me querying UrbanDictonary.com (the site that makes me feel truly old), which has a really insightful page on the phrase holla back girl. One meaning of the term concerns the degrading perception of the "loose woman": something like a "slut" or "ho" who “comes when called”; but then there is also the connection to a cheerleader being a sort of blind follower (shouting whatever the lead cheerleader yells/instructs). So, in the song, Gwen is neither the slut nor the follower (and this explains the references to pom-poms and spelling out banannas, like in a cheer...), but I think that the "dude" is another woman -- I think that Gwen is responding to the notion that she's not just another pop princess, but more the leader of the pack, so to speak.

But so this all makes me think that "HollabackNYC" is a great name, because it is sort of re-appropriating the various meanings of that term in a supportive, reaffirming, and empowering way: while a "holla back girl" is supposed to be a sexually promiscuous woman who jumps when called by any man seeking sexual gratification, it is this assumption and the lack of respect it represents that makes these men feel justified "calling out" to random strangers on the street and making inappropriate or even threatening comments and actions; to Holla Back is to respond to these men in a way that makes them look like fools for their misogynist assumptions about the women they approach. Also, a "holla back girl" in the setting of a homosocial "troupe" calls out -- yes, shouts, with her voice -- in a choreographed way that represents unity and camaraderie among her sisters. Despite the representations in male-dominated industries, cheerleading is a sport, rather than a show for the boys/in support of the boys. Gwen's song is awesome...but her so-called "harajuku" dolls are confounding and disappointing.