For the modern American woman, there are few phenomenons as consistently divisive and habitually baffling as that of random strangers on the street actively calling attention to your appearance and/or general demeanor. Many, many articles have been written on the subject, more or less reiterating the illuminating fact that women are humans who, like many men, have places to go and shit to do and aren’t altogether thrilled by randos hooting “DAMN girl! I could make cheese with those titties!” (something that someone actually said to me one time). While such instances seem innocuous, catcalls can veer all too quickly into abusive and dangerous territory, making the recent release of the smartphone app Hollaback! all the more relevant to collegiate women and LGBTQ individuals in particular.
Conceived and developed by former political consultant Emily May, Hollaback! aims to fight the intimidation of verbal abuse by allowing users the opportunity to document, map out and submit record of incidents of street harassment, data which is then relayed to “elected officials and policymakers,” according to the app’s website. The program also triangulates submissions onto a map, providing users with up-to-date information regarding current “hot spots” of harassment and verbally abusive activity.
“Hollaback! first started as a blog where women were encouraged to talk openly about street harassment, and send in their stories and photos,” said senior Margaret Smiley. NYU’s Feminist Society, of which Smiley is a co-founder, is an official partner of Hollaback! “The app…is essential not only for the political agenda, but also for the long overdue acknowledgement that street harassment is sexual harassment.”
“Men like to group up and cat call at the corner here of 28th and Broadway,” reads one anonymous submission. “One guy told me and another lady walking near me that he has a lot to sit on. Another said damn. Another said look at this mammi. All of this in less than 5 minutes to get underground to the subway.” Other testimonials reported on by The Atlantic detail even more despicable behavior endured by a pre-op transgender man.
Not everyone is sold on mapping out areas of high-density harassment. “I probably wouldn’t use [Hollaback!] just for the same reason that I don’t actively look at the ‘Sex Offenders near me’ app,” said an NYU sophomore who chose to remain anonymous. “That doesn’t mean that it’s not information that could be useful to a lot of people.”
87 percent of American women between the ages of 18 and 64 report having been harassed by a male stranger at some point; over half of these instances were characterized as “extreme.” 84 percent of women have considered changing their routine to avoid harassment.
Though the problem of street harassment is a staggering and ambiguous one, it cannot continue to be met solely with downcast eyes and plugged-in headphones. For women, members of the LGBTQ community, and others everywhere, the time is now to take back the streets.