Tired of hearing catcalls? Hollaback!

HollabackPhilly, a local branch of an international organization pushing for an end to the street harassment of women, is educating the city's men with ads on SEPTA trains.
HollabackPhilly, a local branch of an international organization pushing for an end to the street harassment of women, is educating the city's men with ads on SEPTA trains.
Posted: April 18, 2013

WOMEN, AREN'T you tired of having men holler at you out of car windows as you walk down the street?

Or maybe you find yourself frightened by male passengers on SEPTA who compliment you on your appearance and then proceed to follow you off of your bus when you get off. My own personal pet peeve is when passers-by notice that you're deep in thought and then walk up to you and say, "smile." Most of us fume over this type of unwanted attention.

But a group called HollabackPhilly has taken to calling it what it is - street harasssment. It also is fighting back with a new ad campaign on SEPTA that debuted this month. SEPTA trains on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines now carry posters explaining how calling out "Hey sexy" or "Hey baby" can constitute street harassment. The signs have various messages, such as this one:

"In a perfect world, what would your sister/daughter/girlfriend hear as she walks to the subway? (Check one)  

Hey sexy

Can I have a smile?

What, you gay?

Good morning!

Too bad we don't live in a perfect world."

The ad goes on to point out that yelling catcalls, staring, whistling and following are considered street harassment.

The women from Hollaback deserve a high five for what they're trying to do.

This tiny grass-roots organization doesn't even have an office, yet it's attempting to address a huge problem that's been going on forever. There's no better time than spring to kick off a campaign like this. What makes it even better is that it's geared toward educating people who may be clueless that what they're doing is wrong.

"We're not having enough conversations with youth about this," said Rochelle Keyhan, 28, who heads up HollabackPhilly, which is the local branch of the larger international movement. "The main mission of Hollaback is to give voice to a reality that many people experience every single day. When people tend to talk about street harassment, quite often the response that they get is that it's just 'boys being boys' . . . instead of their saying, 'Oh, I'm so sorry that happened.' "

Keyhan, a lawyer who moved to Philly five years ago from California, was inspired to come up with the ads after spotting a billboard by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. that she considered offensive. It said, "Dear walking this way, I like the way you move it, move it. With love, Philadelphia xoxo." Keyhan was taken aback that the sign appeared to mimick the type of unwanted sexual advances that many women have to deal with on a daily basis, and asked GPTMC to take it down. Tourism officials said that the wording came from the Dreamworks kiddie flick "Madagascar 2." The banner, which was on the side of a Center City hotel parking lot, has since come down.

Confronting that sign is what inspired Keyhan to organize the current SEPTA campaign, which continues through May 26.

On Saturday, she and other members of Hollaback took what they're doing further, when they boarded SEPTA trains and talked with passengers about street harasment.

"We're trying to make street harassment taboo," said Nuala Cabral, who has organized youth workshops for Hollaback. "It's so normalized. It's such a normal part of our day that we don't even see it as a problem. We just accept it. We're trying to say, 'No, this is not OK. This is not normal."

These women deserve high fives, not catcalls and whistles.


On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

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