Shannon and Chai on Holla Back DC! (By Danny Harris)

Chai and Shannon

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

Shannon – “When I moved here from Atlanta and started taking public transportation and walking around the city, I faced gender based public sexual harassment at least once a day. It was really scary. Last fall, I decided to do something about it and I took the advocacy training program at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. That’s where I met Chai. We started talking about street harassment and realized that there was no venue in D.C. for people to talk about these issues. A lot of people don’t know that D.C. has one of the highest rates of gender based violence in the country. We wanted to bring people together to think about community solutions to the problem of harassment.

“We were really inspired by Emily May who started Holla Back in New York. Her blog’s aim was to create a forum for women to share stories about harassment. We contacted her and she shared her model and the name with us. We set up Holla Back DC! as a place for people to share their stories about harassment in D.C. We also offer workshops and training on street harassment for women and those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. We believe in addressing the roots of this problem so we are doing youth outreach, too. Now, we are working to bring RightRides to D.C., which provides free rides to women and those in the LGBTQ communities on Friday and Saturday nights. We are also working with businesses to develop safe streets and safe stores where the staff are trained in dealing with street harassment and it is just a safe place for one to get away from a harasser.”

Chai – “We recognize that the medium that we use is not accessible to all individuals who are victims to this kind of harassment. Now, a lot of the stories that people share are from Northwest, but that does not mean that it is confined to that quadrant. We know it happens everywhere. We are trying to engage the victims, harassers and bystanders all around the city to better understand the problem in D.C. and work together towards a solution. Still today, a lot of folks don’t know that it’s not cool to catcall a woman. We get a lot of people telling us that harassment is the cost of living in the city. But, we see it happen in rural areas, too. Regardless of where someone lives or her socioeconomic status, a woman can feel disempowered when somebody says to her, ‘Hey baby, I want to have sex with you tonight!’ People change their walking routes and talk about how they feel differently about themselves when they are harassed.

“Look, we’re not trying to say that if it is consensual and both parties are cool with it, it is wrong. For example, a highlighted wedding story in one of the Washington newspapers this summer talked about a man who met his wife by hollering at her on the street. He said, ‘Keep doing that catwalk!’ She said, ‘Oh, you like it?’ That is literally the way it was written. It was street harassment that turned into dating then marriage. Again, we are not here to judge, but a lot of people may have been offended or scared by comments like that. While few individuals end up in loving relationships due to street harassment beginnings, the vast majority are unsuccessful and offensive to women. Some men write into our blog and say that street harassment is just a natural part of the male evolution and they can’t help themselves. My response is that given how unsuccessful of a practice it is, it should have died out through the basic laws of evolution long ago!”

Learn more about Holla Back DC! here.

51 Comment

  • The Peoples History Site is not active.

  • I was perplexed by this part: I faced gender based public sexual harassment at least once a day. Well- not perplexed
    Just trying to think of what non-gender based private sexual harrassment would be like.

  • Wuss.
    Sorry if that was mean but some things you just ignore.
    If you let stupid city sh*t like that get to you, you are going to need anxiety pills much sooner than most people

    • lol, oh, you mean stupid city sh*it like what you just said?

      • No, I meant mean (to call her a wuss) as in being a mean girl – I didn’t want to be too harsh. Clearly I have failed miserably. And I need counseling because I’m a pragmatist. I worry too much about meaningless stuff like not being mean instead of being worried about stuff I ignore (in deferance to my mental health) like sexual harassment from boyz on the street.

  • News flash: this city is full of ignorant fools who are just trying to get attention. If you’re not a female, you’re harassed for other reasons, such as skin color, age, walking with a limp, or roughly anything else. Hell, I’ve had young boys indicate they’d rape me (I’m male) in prison, as they “banter” about which among them would be ass raped and by who. Its all part of the local “culture”. Carry a weapon and be prepared to defend yourself (three inch knives are still legal), or learn to ignore it and think of better days when you might live among better people. By making such a big deal of it, you are just fueling the fire as you are giving these idiots attention, which is what they are after.

    I would say advocate to DC government to enforce its various harassment and intimidation laws, but I think that’s moot.

  • It’s weird, until you’ve lived in a city where a woman can basically walk down the street in any piece of clothing at any hour of the day and be safe, you don’t realize how completely messed up this town is sometimes. Good for you.

    • +1. Not that assaults never happen in western Europe (or most of east Europe these days), but you can basically walk down the street of any section of town naked 24/7. This is not just DC’s problem though. America is incredibly unfriendly to women.

  • Who in the hell would ever harass Chai?

    • Age, attractiveness level, clothing, ethnicity, ect. seem to have no bearing on when men “holler” at women. I’ve seen a group of twenty somethings on a stoop “holler” at grandmothers, teenage girls and middle age women just because they can.

    • What is wrong with you? Seriously, why would you feel the need to say such a stupid and innaporiate thing? Worse still is how you do so anonymously. I pity your ignorance and stupidity on such an important matter.

  • I’m proud to call Chai a friend and am grateful someone is taking efforts to point out this issue. I often walk to work and can’t get five blocks from my house without being yelled at from cars or eyed like meat from some piece of trash passerby. When it happens once or twice it’s annoying; when it happens multiple times a day for years and years and years…

    And people wonder why we wear ipods and refuse to look anyone in the eye when we walk down the street. This is why.

    • “eyed like meat” is sexual harrassment?

      i think there is a legitimate issue of sexual harrassment on the street but I also think people diminish the effectiveness of their outrage when they include people being legitimately friendly and people just looking at them into the group of sexual harrassers. in ledroit park we are constantly harrassing each other by greeting each other with a “good morning” or “how you doing?” However sometimes we just end up eyeing a newcomer (perhaps even “like meat”) because they are not friendly back.

      • If you’ve ever been there you KNOW the difference between polite greeting and harassment. Or the difference between being looked at and “eyed.”

  • 11:38 –> People harass others to make them uncomfortable, ruin their day, and see fear in their eyes. In essence, its to exert control over another. Harassment isn’t about beauty.

    Also, I think Chai is pretty.

  • You anonymous commenters are really something.

    I know the two ladies and what they are doing is a great service to DC. Unless you’ve walked in our shoes, you don’t really know what harassment’s like. The sarcasm, comments about their physical appearance, and blatant rudeness are really uncalled for. The things people say while hiding behind the guise of Internet anonymity.

    To bring up an old cliché, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

  • Why are there so many people here who are complacent with the way things are. “Get over it” and “It’s part of living in the city” are the most cowardly and ridiculous arguments I can imagine. I commend these women for having the courage to see something they don’t like about their enviroment and taking steps to change them.

  • I moved to DC when I was a 17 year old female college student more than 25 years ago, I was pretty cute and got cat-called all the time (the World Bank was going up across from my dorm).
    I’ve walked more than 25 years in your shoes. Get the F over it already.
    Shannon is cute and Chai is cute too but they have one serious problem…
    Their skin is too thin.

    • saf

      Huh. I wonder if we went to school together. I was also a 17 year old freshman at GW, 26 years ago.

      But I have to say, no their skin is not too thin. Our generation was stupid to believe the “if you ignore them, they’ll stop.” We should never have put up with the street crap that women put up with for so long. They don’t stop when you ignore them, and it creates a horrible, hostile climate out there.

      Good for Shannon and Chai.

  • @Rhane,
    What are they doing about it besides providing a forum for other “harassed individuals to bitch and moan?
    Oh wait, I mean “share stories.” Way to change their environment.

    • If you keep reading, Shannon explains:

      “We believe in addressing the roots of this problem so we are doing youth outreach, too. Now, we are working to bring RightRides to D.C., which provides free rides to women and those in the LGBTQ communities on Friday and Saturday nights. We are also working with businesses to develop safe streets and safe stores where the staff are trained in dealing with street harassment and it is just a safe place for one to get away from a harasser.”

    • If you read the article you would see that they also provide workshops and are working on RightRides. If you enjoy being harrassed then that’s good for you, but they don’t and that’s their right. It’s not really anyones place to tell them what the should have to endure.

      • I did read the entire piece prior to posting.
        Workshops are just an opportunity to bitch and moan face to face.
        I will give you the RightRides. That’s a good idea because it’s not safe for virtually anyone to walk alone late ate night. But that’s not just a “harrasment” thing. It’s public safety.
        I don’t enjoy being harassed (duh – offensive much?), I ignore it. Big difference.
        The people doing the cat-calling/harrassing/hollaring or whatever you wish to call it are not worth any sort of recognition whatsoever. Sort of like trolls on websites.
        They get off on being acknowledged. Just don’t. It’s bad for your mental health. There’s more to work on – like RightRides maybe?

    • Honestly, schweeney, after reading all these comments, no one seems to be “bitching and moaning” as much as you. Glad to know you are “outta here” after numerous comments with an attitude that is both hostile and dated. Much like street harassment itself, so good job with that. Shannon and Chai are friends of mine and I think that they are making the steps for big change in standing up to street harassment, which is really about sick control issues. Ignoring this problem only makes it grow stronger, so we must confront the issue to see any real change. Good job ladies! You make us proud!

      • Hostile and dated? Dated for sure but hostile? I hope not. If so I apologize. You are much younger than I (and perhaps older than my 16 year old daughter) I am not deaf to your words and in fact appreciate them). Please understand that I have been branded with many phrases over the course of this thread. I just think that some are simply sexual harrasment – it’s stupid guy stuff?

        Oh and control issues? That starts in the home. And I agree with everythig B said. ” , so we must confront the issue to see any real change. “Good job ladies! You make us proud!”
        I’m not hostile, I’m over it, stop being a victim even if you or one of your family members is.
        Don’t complain, make a change. Family motto should be suck it up. Not give it to me.

  • What would happen if you catcall back the guys who bother you… rob them of some dignity

    • it wouldn’t rob them of their dignity at all.
      it would give them encouragement and validation.
      and make it worse for the next woman that walks by.

  • schweney – I agree that there could be an egg-shell issue (e.g., skin too thin), and there can also be reasonable disagreement about the point at which “hitting on” someone becomes harassment.

    However, as a male, I was schocked to read some of the “stories” at Hollerback DC: instances where personal space is violated; hateful, venemonous, and threatening language which places someone in immediate fear of bodily harm; and generally aggressive behavior.

    This behavior can only have one purpose, to exert control over another person, and must be identified and stigmatized.

    Hollerback is an important part of the DC community and I’m proud of the work done by Shannon and Chai.

    • “This behavior can only have one purpose, to exert control over another person”
      I couldn’t agree more, that’s why it must be ignored at the time of occurence. Certainly you don’t recommend identifying and stigmatizing the moron cat-caller?

      Getting the greater community to stigmatize it will be just as effective as trying to completely eradicate graffiti which, if I’m not mistaken, has been the bane of city living since ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

      I do support HB’s efforts in theory because I really don’t enjoy being harassed (duh) but I just think it’s a bit of windmill tilting. And the harrasment you describe above rises above the average crap most women have to deal with and should be reported to the police.
      If someone were to “say I want to [sodomize] you baby” I think you just ignore it for pete’s sake. If they say it while they move in your direction or touch you in any way you call the cops as soon as you can (but without saying anything to the morons). They mostly don’t move – they really are for the most part cowards.

  • I applaud their efforts. If you’re looking for causes, you might want to check out a few of the hip hop videos these kids are watching – all about bitches and rims. Doesn’t look like too much respectin’ is happening.

  • I am not a black woman but I would like to add that black women, hispanic women, and women of color, in general are sexually harassed in the street more than caucasian women. Cat-calling is not about beauty or attractiveness. Black, hispanic, multiethnic, and women of color are hypersexualized on tv, in music videos, and in the mainstream media. This contributes to a misconception about their sexuality. Unfortunately, until these images are replaced with ones of strong, intellectual, articulate women of color, the problem will continue. I implore all those who see this happening to a woman–any woman–to stand up for her against the person who is harassing her.

    • GiantSquid

      As a Caucasian woman who just yesterday was whistled at and then had my ass touched by a man (who happened to be black) outside the Eastern Market Metro stop, I think it’s safe to say that many men have misconceptions about women’s sexuality, regardless of color.

  • In a nod to Stephen Colbert…

    Tip o’ the Hat to Shannon and Chai for shining a light on an overlooked issue in the community. As other commenters have mentioned, the type of harassment that occurs is not only about being catcalled and made to feel uncomfortable on the street. Real violence stems from the simple discrimination of women through everyday encounters. They realize this and are working to change DC for the better through the vehicle of community activism.

    Wag of the Finger to Schweeney — “I moved to DC when I was a 17 year old female college student more than 25 years ago, I was pretty cute and got cat-called all the time (the World Bank was going up across from my dorm). I’ve walked more than 25 years in your shoes. Get the F over it already.”

    Lame story – thanks for not empathizing. I can tell 25 years of feeling disempowered has served you well.

    • Christine,
      How was I disempowered? And how can you tell?

      • because you lay blame to the victim.
        you think you’re being pragmatic, but you’re just coming across an ass.

        if you are accurately portraying your real views, then you should seek counseling. but i’d wager its just that the issue riles you up and you’re not painting a complete picture.

        • +1 (even though this made feed the troll)

          I had a guy go on a tangent about my ass from a block away. K Street, Sunday afternoon, I was wearing track pants.

        • I’m not “blaming the victim” because I don’t believe that a woman walking down the street getting cat called is a “victim.” I think she is a pedestrian.
          I think she’s a thin skinned wuss if a little trash talk gets to her(barring previous physical sexual assault experiences res ipsa loquitur). I guess I AM being “pragmatic” in your book and I guess that also makes me an ass and since I really think I am accurately portraying my views I am also in need of counseling. But I’m not sure what good that would do because I’m pretty darn happy.
          If you read further down you will also note that I take issue when trash talk gets out of hand – that is not acceptable – it is also not always a forgone conclusion.

          • Schweeney is a total f*cking idiot.

            My wife often walks in Chinatown to get to metro. One day guys start catcalling her. She lets it happen. Eventually they get a bit more aggressive and touch her. She turns to them to ask them to knock it off. They shout at her: \F*ck you bitch I’m gonna f*cking rape you!\ and other such vileness.

            Schweeney would have let them get away with it? She would have said my wife is too thin skinned? Maybe my wife should have just let them grab her ass? Maybe she asked for it? Maybe she really was asking to be raped?

            F*ck you Schweeney. F*ck you for encouraging this sort of behavior.

            Harassment is harassment, and although some of it is in the eye of the beholder, by calling any woman ‘thin-skinned’ you increase the odds of a rape occurring.

            So, again, f*ck you Schweeney.

            Note: I apologize if this is a double-post. Website went south. And…what is CAPTCHA?

          • clearly ignoring it hasn’t worked, as people are still getting catcalled. so, given that you don’t think a cat-calling world is ideal, your lack of sympathy for these women is a bit astonishing. and shouldn’t we then be trying something different, such as going out into the community to educate these catcallers as why their behavior is bad, and sharing stories about it so those catcalled wont feel alone?

          • Can I start calling out the cat callers in Italy?

      • I don’t understand how you could just shrug it off and say “have tougher skin?” Just because these incidents happen, does not mean it is justified. Do you really think calling the cops while being harassed will stop them from raping you? It takes less than one minute to take advantage of someone.

        “If someone were to “say I want to [sodomize] you baby” I think you just ignore it for pete’s sake.”

        This is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard.

        • Do you believe just because they trash talk they are going to rape you?
          I don’t like it but you can’t take all this crap so seriously, there are much worse things then trash talk happening in the city.

          • So, what, you want to encourage this behavior because you THINK that they won’t RAPE someone?

            Why don’t you let other people do their own thinking.

            Jebus, you are a piece of fscking work.

          • F-ck you if you think anything that I have said is meant to encourage this behavior. Or to encourage rape. Ask me about that in person some day. You have no idea. And if you do I am so very sorry. Women are degraded in so many ways a bit of male assholiness on the street is just the beginning. Yeah, I know let’s stop it here. Good luck.

            Sorry to bring everybody down so much PoP.
            Outta here. Be safe and ignore the assh*les (including me).

  • Thanks, PoPville & Danny for the coverage to HBDC! and street harassment. Although we have been and continue to be harassed, HBDC! is not about us; it is about the women and LGBTQ individuals who are harassed and assaulted daily by strangers and non-strangers.

    As we discuss in our workshops and with Danny, HBDC! is community-fed, community-driven, with the focus of creating a a safe space for people to address these issues. It’s not about having a tough skin, looking beautiful, wearing certain clothes; it’s about the power dynamics we have created (and accepted) in our communities.

    We are looking for community-based solutions to these issues that impact the daily lives of Washingtonians. Take action and bring one of these solutions to DC–

  • Whoa. If anyone’s got issues here, it’s schweeney. Deep rooted issues, in my estimation.

  • Oh, yes. God forbid that someone should question a fashionable effort at “empowerment” by suggesting that it’s just another feel-good cluster-f*ck or — and this is actually something useful — a good place to vent. Or that there’s something “empowering” in not letting a couple of jerks bring you down.

    Kudos to the ride program.

    On the other hand, any website that isn’t dedicated to real real education and economic opportunities for the street trash that are at the heart of this problem really isn’t doing anything to solve it.

    And anyone who lets the street comments get to them is probably not ready for the city.

    I’m not a woman, but I’ve been mugged, threatened, harassed and ripped off. It sucks. But I’m in control, they’re not, and wallowing in victimhood means they win.

Comments are closed.