​Last month I attended “Holla::Revolution, Conversations on Street Harassment and International Movement Building in the Digital Age”. The conference took place at New York University and was hosted by Hollaback! an anti-street harassment organization. Hollaback! was initially started in 2005 as an online grassroots initiative in New York City that encouraged women, gay men, trans individuals, and gender non-confirming individuals to share their experiences with street harassment. The organization now has websites in over 60 cities in 22 different countries. The city specific sites offer women forums to vent their frustrations, but they also encourage women to respond to their harassers (if they feel safe doing so) in order to flip the narrative of shame and place culpability firmly with the harasser. The organization is responsible for producing a significant amount of research about street harassment in partnership with other individuals and organizations, and the sites often organize meetups and workshops to discuss how to respond to street harassment. Though all of the twenty speakers were incredibly inspiring and practiced within their fields, I think no speaker held more personal relevance for me than Nicola Briggs. In 2010, Briggs, who is a professional tai chi instructor, garnered significant internet publicity and local New York news coverage when her very vocal response to a street harasser was videotaped and put on YouTube (video contains strong language). During her lecture, Nicola spoke about the experience and shared the lessons that enabled her to respond quickly and aggressively once she realized she was being attacked. Street harassment, at its core, is not about sex or even attraction; it’s about power. When an individual is harassed, the message it sends is that she doesn’t have a right to exist in a public space. Men (and masculine of center individuals) are entitled to leer at, comment on, and even grab at her body. Her body and space do not belong to her, but rather to the heterosexual male gaze and the people who perpetuate it. So how does one go about reclaiming space, as Nicola so bravely did? According to her talk, the key is to abandon embarrassment. Briggs urged women to reclaim their right to space by vocally asserting themselves and drawing attention to their perpetrator’s behavior. It is uncomfortable and contradicts nearly all of the social norms instilled in women from a young age that dictate docility and grace (for a good article on the tyranny of niceness, see Catherine Newman’s article for the New York Times). But Briggs begged the important question: why do you owe someone civility when they have harassed you and so clearly acted without civility themselves? “Don’t let good manners ruin your day,” she told the crowd at Holla::Rev. Responding to street harassment is about asserting one’s right to space, but it’s also about changing the narrative of blame and asserting one’s identity. These lessons have a broad range of applicability. When someone attacks our autonomy, whether it’s street harassment or prejudiced and misinformed criticism, it’s vital to respond. When we respond, we take the narrative back under our control and are able to influence our perception. It may seem unbecoming to respond and violate traditional norms of stoicism, but when uncivil attacks are perpetuated in the first place, responding firmly and asserting ourselves is not rude – it’s a right. By comparison, silence only implies complicity and our failure to respond legitimizes the perpetrator’s attack. It is necessary to respond so we don’t let our identity be shaped by others. We need to reclaim our right to exist in those instances; we need to hollaback. By Katherine O'Brien, SM& Intern