THE BLOG

Take Back the Streets: Shut Down the Harassers

31/10/2014 10:41 GMT | Updated 30/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Hollaback! found a way to bring street sexual harassment to the forefront of the news and the world's women rejoiced!

It started young for me, my first street harassment, although I didn't know at the time that it would become so pervasive.

I'm thirteen. On vacation with my grandparents in Juno Beach, Florida. I'm walking back to their house from Duck Pond. I hear car honks. Turn to see a twenty-something guy leaning out of a pick-up window. "Beautiful, Sweetheart. Beautiful!" he calls.

I turn around. I'm the only person around except for a senior citizen walking a poodle. More car horn honks. My step lightens. A slight sway and swish begins in my hips. Excitement, naughtiness, power. And the tiniest vein of fear. I hurry back to my grandparents' house, close myself in my room, look in the mirror. I spin around, check out my backside.

My body. How it must look to men. I have small breasts, but there is something different about me. I want more of what just happened. And I know what that means even then. To become one of the beautiful women, I'll have to put some of myself aside. I'll have to be willing to be less smart, less demanding, more submissive.

After that trip, I examine my body from every angle. I become aware of myself as an object. A valuable object. Well, at least when I have men telling me so.

And so began my journey to becoming a nude model and stripper, fueled by the recognition I so yearned for that was given to me.

The catcalls, the comments, the whistles, the sounds of men on the streets followed me regardless of how I was dressed. I began to accept that my value was as a body. That I would be constantly judged and the judgment was as changeable as the breeze.

My least favorite comment was "Smile!" said in a way meant to imply that I needed to appear happy to please them. That I had an obligation as a woman to smile when I received their attention.

Yes, I understood I had to do that at work--smile at the men who held out their limp dollar bills as offering, but not on the street.

In strip clubs, sexual harassment escalates to a whole other level: I was grabbed, kissed, fondled, groped, leered at, and name-called. And make no mistake about it--these were unwelcome advances. I was just trying to make a buck. None of us asked to be manhandled (okay, maybe a few...), or did we?

Was my nakedness on stage a license for a man to grab my breasts? Was my bare butt a call for it to be spanked? Was my exotic dancing really a yearning to be asked out for a "date"?

And what about the fact that I said "no" when propositioned, but was asked again and again? I just wanted to be treated like a human being--with a little bit of respect.

It's so easy to see how and why harassment happens in a strip club. In a way, strip clubs have become the last great sanctuaries for ignorant men who still feel the need to judge women to feel better about themselves.

But as we can see from this video, strippers--who some may say are asking for the abuse--have not taken the abuse to any gain for women. We still cannot walk freely down the streets unharassed. Many men still believe they have a right to ownership over our bodies, our facial expressions, our selves.

Shoshan Roberts was not "asking for it" in anyway. She was walking down the street. And now she has been receiving rape threats in response to the video.

I wish I had been braver when I was younger. I wish I had known then that what men were doing to me wasn't right. I wish I had known that I didn't have to accept men trying to take away my power.

Perhaps this is what women need to do. Take back the streets. Shut down the offensive comments as soon as they begin. Instead of being quiet and saying nothing in return, which was how I handled the situations out of fear, women should tell the harassers that what they're doing is wrong. Maybe if these men hear it enough times, they'll get the hint; things will begin to change. And young women won't grow up with a twisted sense of where their value lies.