You're beautiful-- no; this is not the chorus to a James Blunt song, but rather an affirmation, a statement of truth. Maybe taking long soothing baths, applying foundation & powder or regular but painful eyebrow threading techniques are the ways that you upkeep your physical beauty. But I tell you there is a difference between looking beautiful and feeling beautiful. Whatever you do to look beautiful is important, but not as important as knowing that you are beautiful. Keep this in mind when you're getting cat-called, whistled at and harassed as you walk by a construction site on a spring day.
I recently experienced an indecent exposure incident, not near a construction site, but in another popular harassment site -- the subway. While I was sitting down, I encountered by a man who was attempting to pleasure himself while looking at my feet. He said, "Wiggle your foot, I have a foot fetish." I shrieked, ran, called the police, warned females in a two-block radius, walked 10 blocks, took a cab to my boyfriend's house and then back to my house. Yeah, I was shook up, to say the least. My personal space felt so violated. I explained the story to one of my co-workers, who laughed and said "Are you serious? How do you not feel like the hottest girl in the world right now!" Shuddup! I swear, people these days are just so insensitive. But anyways, needless to say, I didn't take any pleasure from my indecent exposure incident, and I hope the guy received no pleasure from me , either. As evidenced by my co-workers comment, indecent exposure incidents can be laughable, but there is always a victim.
The more I talked to my other female friends, the more I found out that they, too, had in fact gone through similar situations. One of my friends had experienced full-frontal indecent exposure two months ago while riding on the train late at night, and two weeks ago she ran into a different man who attempted to pleasure himself through his pants, also on the train. She even caught video of it. Thank you iPhone! Another friend said that while she was walking in Harlem, a man started following her. Scared of course, she looked back, and was horrified to find the man was masturbating and had the audacity to tell her to walk faster as he was watching her hind parts. The reason that many of these perpetrators never get caught is that many of the women who are victims of crimes of this nature do not report the crimes, or don't even know that it is a crime.
A quick history lesson, shall we? In the 1970s, Jim Morrison of the Doors was charged for publicly masturbating on stage at a concert. Over 30,000 Miami teenagers started a 'Rally for Public Decency'. This rally was designed to generate more decency in the entertainment industry. Sadly, those Miami students lost that war. While the Rally for Decency didn't take hold like it was supposed to in the 1970s, the students desire to initiate change was rather noble. In 2012, we have organizations like Hollaback! who are attempting to do something similar.
Websites like www.ihollaback.org are making their attempt to bring back decency and make public space safer all over the world through social media and digital platforms. The iHollaback organization is currently in 44 cities worldwide. Those who are victims of street harassment (cat-calling, hollering, etc.), including indecent exposure can report their case on the www.ihollaback.org website, where others users will have your back. Literally. There is a "Got Your Back" Button underneath every story, so victims can know that they are not alone. Hollaback! then uses the information they have collected and sends it legislators so they can track where these crimes are occurring, and how they can make a change. The organization also has a smartphone application, so people can report incidences as they occur. Hollaback! is also in the process of linking their apps to New York City's 311 information line. "Social change comes about from telling your story," Veronica Pinto, International Movement Coordinator at Hollaback! said. "The key is not holding your head down, the key is not being silent, rather the key is responding," she said. The next move for iHollaback is a partnership with Green Dot, a non-profit organization dedicated to social change in the realm of power-based personal violence, to create a bystander intervention curriculum to implement in the 44 cities that iHollaback is affiliated with.
"We want to make it so that its clear to harassers, that there may be a young woman on the train, and she may seem alone, but she's not alone as she seems to be," Veronica said. GreenDot has created a resource for bystanders to safely get involved in any street harassment situation. "People often say, it's hard to intervene because I'm shy, it's hard because I'm late, it's hard because I'm worried that it's going to escalate," Jennifer Messina-Sayre, Director of Training and Development at GreenDot said. But she assures us that it doesn't have to be hard, helping someone in a street harassment situation could be as simple as distracting the harasser by asking for directions, or directly engaging the victim by offering help or support.
"The only way we're going to change the world is by saying that is 'not ok'," Jennifer said. While indecent exposure is frequently classified as a misdemeanor, Jennifer explains that there are many victims. On the surface, the female who the action is targeted towards may seem like the only victim, but she is not. If a man is sexually harassing a woman in a public place it creates an uncomfortable environment for all, and each witness is a victim of social injustice. "We need men and women to stand shoulder to shoulder on this issue," Jennifer said. "Women may be the target, but it's such a human issue."