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Design By Humans
Published On: Tue, Nov 4th, 2014

We talk with Debjani Roy, Deputy Director of Hollaback!

ihollabackBy now I am sure you have either seen or at least heard of this rather startling video ‘experiment’ from actress Shoshana B. Roberts and her film maker boyfriend Rob Bliss. Rob filmed Shoshana silently walking NYC streets for ten hours where she endured over 100 ‘cat calls’ day and night and even one man actually following silently for a few minutes. The video is being used as a PSA for international organization www.ihollaback.org and has been featured on a recent The View as a ‘hot topic’ and is generally blowing-up across the web. I was lucky enough to speak with Hollaback! Deputy director Debjani Roy about this world-wide occurrence that too many of us know about, while a lot of us don’t.

First and foremost, let’s introduce people to what Hollaback! is for those who don’t know.

Hollaback! is an international organization working to raise the issue of street harassment, or sexual harassment in public spaces. We organize on-line and on the ground and are based in 79 locations in 26 countries.

And your particular personal background in these subjects.

I was a business major in school, but always an active feminist. I have been working in the field of ending gender based violence for 15 years.

Living as we do in the NYC area, we know (or at least sense) street harassment occurs all the time, but I was especially interested to note how this happens far and wide, how your scope is global.

Yes, it is a global problem. I have lived/traveled to quite a few places in the world and harassment-verbal, brushing-up against someone, touching them-happens everywhere.

In Shoshana’s video, I am not sure what is more startling, the amount of men who go further than just saying something-I am thinking of the man who follows her-or that in not responding we certainly ‘read’ so much anxiety on her face.

It’s all pretty astounding, and yes, her facial expressions certainly reveal the anxiety that she feels. It is difficult to watch. What lots of people are responding to also is the frequency; over 100 instances. What’s also striking is the persistence of a couple of the men.

I can’t speak for the filmmaker himself, but I think the idea of not having Shoshana respond was to keep her from enduring a further set of consequences and to keep a focus on the harassment. That’s a better question for him.

Yes, I was thinking, when you respond to these comments sometimes things do indeed escalate. But what’s really at the core of all this? Is it men simply objectifying women and being vocal about (and I’m not excusing that behavior of course) or does this speak to something deeper in society?

It’s about power and entitlement, ownership of our streets due to gender.

While I hate the bilge the Klu Klux Klan spews on T.V., or at their rallies, in a free society we have to allow certain things…’cat calls’ and whistling among them. I’m wondering-and forgive me, I have never been harassed like this of course-but is there, can there ever be an objective definition of what is harassment?

It is more a moment to moment thing, what each person is comfortable with. I’ll give you an example. For quite a few mornings as I’ve walked to work I have passed a man who has said good morning to me. That’s perfectly fine with me and I say good morning back. But then just recently he began making comments about my body when I walked by, he became combative when I didn’t respond then, a simple good morning turned sour.

That’s only one example of course, but I think all women sense, from a very young age, someone’s intention, from speech or body language. And we, each of us, determine for ourselves what we find appropriate, but we shouldn’t be told that it’s something we simply have to put up with.

If you had our druthers, what would you like to see happen about harrassment?

We are working towards a cultural shift to take place in society where we all take responsibility for certain behavior that is just unacceptable. Everyone has the right to walk down the street and feel safe.

I totally agree with you there!

Change is already happening in what is being taught around bullying in schools. I see our work as following the model of how change happened for women being harassed in the workplace. Where certain actions were at one time readily acceptable, and are now not. I think we will see that change happen over time.

For more information on Hollaback! please visit www.ihollaback.org.

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We talk with Debjani Roy, Deputy Director of Hollaback!