How two Philly feminist groups are combatting street harassment - Generocity Philly

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May 17, 2017 12:14 pm

How two Philly feminist groups are combatting street harassment

Feminist art group Pussy Division and advocacy group Feminist Public Works discuss their work.

"CATCALL CRIME SCENE" tape in West Philadelphia.

(Photo by Danielle Corcione)

In early April, yellow crime scene tape reading “CATCALL CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS” popped up on sidewalks in West Philly, Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Center City, Old City and South Philly.

This public art installation was curated by local feminist activist group Pussy Division to bring awareness to International Anti-Street Harassment Week.

Around this time every year, the group organizes public art projects to raise awareness around street harassment. Last year, it placed flower installations reading “end street harassment” throughout town. Additionally, in 2015, it teamed up with clothing company Feminist Apparel to post “NO CATCALLING ZONE” street signs all over Philadelphia as well as NYC.

“We want people to realize that street harassment isn’t just inconvenient, but frightening and degrading,” explained Lara Witt, the media relations spokesperson for Pussy Division, in an email. (Witt also co-organized March’s Electric Lady event series.)

(Image via twitter.com/PussyDivision)

This year’s installation felt more in-your-face compared to the collective’s previous public art: vibrant flower arrangements and street signs you could almost miss. The tape engaged with everyday pedestrians by getting in their way — which was exactly its intent.

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And even though it’s been over a month since the project was set up, the tape still remains in some neighborhoods.

According to data collected by the anti-street harassment organization Hollaback!, 86 percent of American women report street harassment before the age of 17, making incidents commonplace wherever women (and their harassers) are. The same report says 72 percent of American women take different transportation because of harassment. Think calling an Uber rather than waiting around for the next trolley to come by.

“[Street harassment] is technically a crime scene,” said Rochelle Keyhan, the director of advocacy group Feminist Public Works (formerly known as HollabackPHILLY). “Let’s stop minimizing what’s actually happening.”

The nonprofit Stop Street Harassment explains that a variety of harassment behaviors are deemed as illegal and punishable by law in the state of Pennsylvania, including verbal harassment, up-skirt photos, indecent exposure, stalking and groping.

(Image via twitter.com/FemPubWorks)

Gender-based violence take an emotional toll on its victims, especially when common occurrences such as catcalling are normalized. So, what can Philadelphians do to curb it?

Keyhan urged local leaders, particularly those with power in workplaces, to go beyond anti-harassment training and workshops to better address harassment employees may face on their ways to and from work.

“Investing more in the well-being of your staff would be great step,” Keyhan said. “Not every industry is going to go out there and tackle street harassment head on, but they can be doing stronger support on the back end while it’s still happening and is still a problem.”

Stop Street Harassment also warns of engaging in victim-blaming, which occurs when victims of street harassment are “held accountable for their victimization and are taught ways to prevent the harassment” rather than their harassers being held accountable and taught to stop harassing.

And don’t be concerned about being polite when you see harassment happening. Those behind Pussy Division aren’t.

“If our tape is inconvenient or annoying, then think of how inconvenient it is being chased by men and too scared to say no because we could get hurt or even killed,” Witt said. “Our hope is that when people see the tape, they’ll relate the idea of caution with safety for those who are targeted by street harassment but also use it as a warning to not harass people in the street.”

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Danielle Corcione

Danielle Corcione is a freelance writer with bylines in Teen Vogue, Esquire, Vice and more. They also run a blog, the Millennial Freelancer, alongside a newsletter called Rejected Pitches.

  • Vince Clancy

    The sky is falling! The sky is falling! – C. Little

    • pschearer

      I once heard a lecture by a beautiful blonde sculptress on ancient Greek statues. The Greeks had a low opinion of women in general but were very appreciative of female beauty, hence the many surviving masterpieces of nude or barely draped women. The lecturer used a phrase that stuck with me: women as the objects of desire. I have thought about this for many years and have come to appreciate that this is a fundamental part of being a woman, as much as giving birth. But (at least in modern times and civilized places) giving birth is an option; being desired by men, is not. And there are many ways and for many purposes that women can be desired, some ecstatic, some vile, with all points in between.

      Now try to imagine yourself (this may be hard to do; it was for me the first time I tried it) as a woman (start easy: imagine yourself with breasts) who is constantly noticed, observed, stared at — maybe followed, stalked, chased. . . . just read a newspaper to see the ways this could end. I suspect that all women, at some level of consciousness, are aware of the potentials, and it is not paranoia or PTSD for a woman to take offense at men who don’t show her the respect she deserves both as a human being and as a member of the half of mankind that has been so wonderful to us men throughout history.

      So could you try for a little sympathy for these women? They deserve it.

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