Through spoken word, dance and demonstration, the nonprofit Hollaback hosted its third annual Anti-Street Harassment rally Saturday afternoon on Washington Square Park’s outdoor stage.
The rally included speeches from elected officials, representatives from nonprofit organizations, testimonies from harassment victims and performances. Each speaker or performer took the stage in front of a large, blown up black cat with “Cats Against Catcalls” printed across its side.
Emily May, co-founder and executive director of Hollaback and an NYU alumna, said these rallies are effective in helping the victims of street harassment learn they have a right to fight back and defend themselves.
“So many of us are trained to just walk down the street and ignore the harassment,” May said. “But it’s important to see other people saying ‘this is not OK.’”
Public Advocate for the City of New York Letitia James spoke first, gathering cheers from the audience in response to her calls for women to stand together against street harassment.
“I will stand with you to say we will not be objectified, we will not be sexualized,” James said. “We are here to fight back.”
Below the stage, audience members wrote anti-harassment messages in chalk, creating a “chalk walk” in the park. These messages included notes such as “Street harassment rains on my parade,” “You can compliment me by respecting me and “I really want to date the guy who screamed ‘nice ass’ – No One Ever.”
Artist and Living Theater member Abbey Jasmine Watt performed with only blue paint covering her chest and “I still deserve respect” painted on her back. She encouraged audience members to share their experiences on a posterboard in front of her.
“This rally teaches that people deserve respect no matter what,” Watt said. “It teaches that it’s OK to say no and to own their own bodies. And it teaches cat-callers that there are better ways to connect with people than sexual objectification.”
Katherine Smith, Gallatin junior and intern at Hollaback, became involved with the organization after having several experiences with street harassment of her own.
“A lot of times you feel like you can’t do anything at all,” Smith said. “You can be the perfect feminist and know everything, but still not know how to respond. This organization is all about providing women with options for what to do when they feel threatened besides just standing there silent and being unhappy.”
Speakers and audience members emphasized that men and women need to work together to end street harassment.
Gallatin junior Luc Lewitansk said he wanted to be part of such a critical mass of people against street harassment.
“Feminism is not the purview of women alone,” Lewitanski said. “The way it can become inclusive is by realizing it’s not a victim or aggressor dynamic, but by realizing everyone’s role in the issue. It’s not about individual good or bad actors, but systemic oppression.”
The rally aimed to help women realize street harassment is not their fault, and to seek a response that helps them heal from the traumatic experience.
“While it’s not a victim’s responsibility to reduce street harassment — it’s people’s responsibility not to harass — it can be a very good thing to have a response that feels good to you after you have been harassed.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 13 print edition. Email Larson Binzer at [email protected]