In honor of Sexual Violence Awareness Month, we want to spotlight activists who are working to end gender based public sexual harassment. Every Friday in April, we will introduce you to their work, their motivation for bringing attention to this form of sexual harassment, and what we should do if we are victims of or bystanders to street harassment.
This week is D. Howard, the founder and writer for Don’t Be Silent DC, one of CASS’s predecessors. [Editor’s note: Don’t Be Silent DC is defunct as of February 2008] D has been a huge support to CASS, and we are thankful for her many insights, continued strength, and creative measures to address gender based public sexual harassment. Although she is too humble to consider herself an activista, we think she is! We sat down with D a couple of weeks back to talk about her blog, the harassment she has faced, and her inspirations.
What’s your bio?
Well, I moved here from Buffalo close to four years ago. I’m just an average every day person, trying to get through the day. The activist thing just happened. I’m really not an activist by any stretch of the imagination.
Tell us what prompted you to start Don’t Be Silent DC, a blog addressing street harassment in DC.
I started the blog because a comment some man made to me in ’07 was the catalyst. I was walking to the local cafe and some old man getting into his SUV says, “Girl, you too [sic] pretty to be walking.” I told him I didn’t need his assistance, and his response was to call me a “dyke.” These men refuse to think that women aren’t on this planet for their viewing pleasure. I hopped on the Internet at the café after that exchange and started the blog.
Was that the first time you were street harassed?
No, not my first. I’ve been harassed for too long for me to recall. It happened when I lived in Buffalo. The men on the street were bothering me through out. However, it wasn’t until I moved to DC that I put a name to it. I saw a sheet for a rally on street harassment, held in Columbia Heights.
Oh cool. How was the rally?
It was well attended. It was put on by a group—“Don’t call me baby.” They have a listserve, but they haven’t been active lately.
Why do you think street harassment is so rampant in DC?
I think it is out here because no one gets any penalty for their behavior. If the police don’t do anything, the perps’ behavior is allowed to go unchecked. And specifically, the men who do it…they do it for so many reasons.
Dare to clarify?
Well, most of my harassers are black men, and I am black. Since black men are low on the totem pole, and we [black women] are lower, since they can’t stick it to the man, they stick it to us.
We know you closed your blog because of online harassment. What contributed to the online harassment?
Well, I don’t sugar coat anything, and I knew I was going to be called a liberal. I was calling out my harassers as “ghetto ass teenagers”–I called them “hoodrats” and I refused to change that label. People were saying I was classist and how dare I. They said that I hated black men and my own people. They weren’t in my shoes, and being judged on a daily basis on my walk to work.
It is so easy for people to sit with Internet anonymity and say these things. It is so easy to criticize and attack than see the other side of the story.
How did you handle the online harassment?
I thought I was spending too much time on the blog. I felt like Atlas with the world on my shoulder. I was writing the stories and reading the comments saying, “Fuck you bitch.” So, I started moderating comments. I can’t remember if I did it that from the get go, but I did it at the end. I didn’t want trolls leaving hateful comments freely.
Any tips you want to share on handling street harassers?
Don’t argue with them. I don’t take being called a bitch idly, so I do say something back. It is definitely not the safest thing, but it is what has worked. It really depends on the situation and how you personally feel handling it. Ignoring them sometimes works. Cursing them sometimes works. Being assertive sometimes works. Different situations call for different measures.
How about those that are being harassed online?
Speak out, and speak up. Don’t take it. Don’t internalize it, just like you wouldn’t if it was street harassment. If you can, track their IP addresses and report them. Contact their contact internet service provider and let them know. I did that with the earlier harassment comments. I even posted the person’s comment, IP address, and email on the blog to do public humiliation.
Are you still being street harassed?
During my layoff, I didn’t leave the house much. But now that I am employed again, it usually happens. These men don’t know how to keep people alone.
Who are your activist role models?
Lauren Taylor and Martha “Marty” Langelan. I went to Lauren’s workshop in ‘07 and she taught me many great things. And with Marty, I went to her workshop in ’08. She was cool, calm, and collected. I consider them as activists and not me.
Last words you want to share with HBDC! readers?
If you get harassed, report it, don’t be quiet about or internalize. Don’t think it is your fault. The men who harass women are cowards, low lives. They are the men who know they have nothing going themselves. So women, don’t feel like it is your fault and don’t let these cowardly men take your glory.