On Saturday, May 6, an informal group of community activists staged a community “speak-out” at the corner of 14th and Clifton Streets NW to put a stop to street harassment of girls and women. Flyers advertising the event gave not only the specifics of the rally, but a formal definition of sexist street harassment and, just in case the reader still doesn’t quite get it, a few examples of harassing behavior that a woman walking through the city might experience:
Making hissing sounds at women ? “pssst, pssst.”
Yelling or otherwise spitting out insults as, ‘Hey baby,’ ‘Hey mama” “can I go wid you?”
Aisha Finch, one of the event organizers, says the examples were included so that people would know concretely the sort of street harassment the rally will draw attention to. “The formal definition may not mean much, but the examples resonate with their own personal experience,” she says.
The specific taunts were worked up in a skull session between women of the community coalition. [CORRECTION, 5/11: The use of the term “skull session” is incorrect. There was not a formal meeting to decide on the verbiage of the rally flyer.] Finch says it wouldn’t take more than “putting two women together and giving them two seconds,” to come up with a whole string of lewd comments. “It would be impossible to prescribe a list of things men are supposed to say to women in public spaces. We’re not trying to police behavior like that,” she says. “But very often, nine times out of 10, those kinds of comments—‘Hey baby,’ ‘What’s up mama?’ ‘Can I walk with you?’ ‘Give me a smile’—are relatively harmless on the surface, but they throw you off; they jar you.”
The remarks chosen for use on the flyer were also vetted for realism. Those chosen had to sound plucked straight from the mouths of your average Miller High Life–swigging block hugger, hence the choice of “wid” rather than “with.” “It really speaks to the folks we’re trying to speak to, in our neighborhood,” says Finch. “We wanted to plug into the local vernacular, the way people speak; it’s reflected on the flyer because the idea is that it’s a community action.”