Hollaback! Apps to the Rescue

pictures of iphone with hollaback app

If you have been looking for a way to document and combat street harassment in your community, Hollaback’s new iPhone app has come to your rescue. Released today for the going rate of 99 cents, this app will allow for the harassment you have been experiencing to be automatically mapped and then Hollaback will respond to you soliciting more information about the incident. Presumably the Intel will be used to help law enforcement identify better ways of handling this harassment, but these maps will also be made public so that women can plan safer commutes. The Droid application is also on its way, allowing Hollaback to broaden it’s campaign against street harassment to this accessible, tech savvy strategy by way of the smart phone.

While reviewing the New York Times coverage of this awesome new app, I was reminded about how terrible street harassment was for me as a girl growing up in the Bronx, New York. It was especially hard because I was one of those girls who developed early and was comfortably wearing a D-cup at the age of 11. It was difficult dealing with puberty but that was nothing compared to being constantly sexualized by grown-ass men in my community. As a teenager I kept struggling to define myself for myself  despite the fact that many men were insistent on labeling me within the context of their sexual fantasies or their vision of what was sexually attractive.

The harassment was worsened by limited sexual education which meant that a lot of what I was hearing about my sexuality as an adolescent was through catcalls from men on the street, in cars or from apartment windows. While occasionally this led to unwanted touching, it remained largely at the level of speech. So this wasn’t covered as wrong under what little I learned about good touch, bad touch.  As an adult, I am encouraged that Hollaback is promoting harassment-free zones around schools, but I wonder if girls today are coding these unwanted sexual advances as harassment, as unacceptable and hopefully soon, as illegal.

Emily May and the whole Hollaback crew deserve many props. While feminist elders often recall stories about how different things are now from what things were like in the 60s or 70s, the release of this new app marked that moment for me. Fifteen years ago the degradation and humiliation I experienced commuting to school didn’t have a name. Today “street harassment,” is the subject of  a hearing by the New York City Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues and fodder for a New York Times news story. But most of all, I have a network of women who will come to my aid and recognize that harassment of this variety is unacceptable. These new apps and  Hollaback’s organizing efforts over the past month, especially their role in that recent hearing, are making a great case for why ending street harassment needs to be taken head on by authorities. At a time where there are tons of political setbacks, this is a gain that feminists everywhere should be celebrating.

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