so, yeah, this is about hollaback

last night jared & i watched a couple more episode of “treme”. it just seems like the thing to watch when it’s 93 degrees out & wicked humid. i read a TV review of something recently that said something like, “why do we watch TV that we feel is good for us, like ‘treme,’ instead of TV we actually like?” it made me laugh. “treme” is by the same dude who did “the wire” & i loved “the wire”. i guess it would count as both TV that is good for me & TV i sincerely liked. but “treme” (thus far–we are three episodes in) lacks some of the characters i found so compelling on “the wire”. everyone who has watched “the wire” loves omar, but i also found stringer bell super fascinating. i loved it when he started taking economics classes so as to better run his drug business, & when he made the baltimore druglords attend meetings run according to “robert’s rules of order”. i was legit sad when (SPOILER) he died. there were also plenty of characters that i disliked or found boring (ziggy was at the top of both those lists), but so far, pretty much every character on “treme” is kind of boring. maybe it gets better?

today was not my best day ever. i was feeling pretty strong because i hadn’t had a cigarette in almost a week. i have been speculating that part of my current struggle with depression is because i have a finite amount of willpower, & i usually use a lot of mental tricks to keep my tendency toward depression in check, but right now all my willpower is being devoted to giving up smoking. it doesn’t help that the whole reason i started smoking in the first place was because it served as a dysfunctional self-destructive coping mechanism to sublimate my depression. when i started smoking in 2006, i was going through a really severe depression with shit tons of suicidal ideation. i think most people would agree that cigarettes are the lesser of two evils when the other option is suicide. cigarettes evolved into another mental health trick for me. it’s always obvious that i am having a lot of anxiety because i tend to chainsmoke like crazy.

anyway, i have been feeling less of an urge to smoke with every passing day, which has freed up some mental space to do a little more caretaking around depression issues. but i submitted to temptation like an hour ago & bought a pack of smokes. i only had about five drags before i snuffed out the first cigarette. that’s good–i guess i really don’t have much interest in smoking anymore. i think that shows that i really do want to quit. maybe i had to stumble in order to show myself what i really wanted. preach it!

my friend jaimie has been talking about starting a hollaback group in lawrence for a few months. when she first brought it up, i was like, “oh, another feminist activist thing? yeah, dude, sign me up!” but then i looked into what it really was & started to feel conflicted. hollaback is indeed a feminist activist thing, with an emphasis on fighting back against street harassment in a variety of ways. local groups structure their groups in their own ways & organize their own activities to achieve various goals, but the main goal is ending street harassment. i have to admit, i am not that interested in making street harassment my number one activist goal. plus, the language on the main hollaback website makes it pretty obvious that a big hollaback value is to conceive of street harassment as a manifestation of system patriarchal violence against women. i totally am on board with that. but obviously that is the same problem that also causes sexual assault, domestic violence, etc etc. & there is also the fact that not all things that i would consider street harassment are just dudes yelling sexual things at ladies. i think any street level verbal abuse is street harassment, & it might be sexual, homophobic, fatphobic, transphobic, racist, etc. the victims can be of any gender, as can the perpetrators. (though i agree with the hollaback values statement indicating that because of patriarchal power dynamics, most sexual street harassment is directed against people perceived as female & usually comes from cisgendered dudes.)

but i was like, well, maybe street harassment is not, like, THE issue i am the most passionate about, but it’s not like i’m okay with it, so…sure. i can do this hollaback thing & see what happens. so jaimie was like, “awesome! okay. we have to do these mandatory webinars. someone will have to take notes & report back to the rest of the group & then we can be part of the next website launch cycle,” etc etc etc. & i was like, “…what?” i mean, pretty much the one upside to being disabled & not being able to work is that i was pretty confident that i would never have to attend a webinar. so i talked to jaimie about & read through the literature about the process of starting a local hollaback group. there are mandatory webinars which “give you access to hollaback’s international resources”. sounds pretty awesome until you realize that there is little concrete info about what those “international resources” actually are. i finally talked to someone who was actually involved in starting a hollaback group from the ground up & she explained that the mandatory webinars function to let new groups know that having a hollaback group is a significant output of time & energy. apparently a lot of people were getting pumped about the idea, starting groups, & then running out of steam. anyone who has done activism is familiar with this dynamic. keeping a collective group going definitely takes some effort. so now the main group makes new groups do webinars to get a sense of their commitment.

so…basically they are protecting their brand? i mean, i understand that they don’t want people using their name all willy nilly & being irresponsible & making hollaback look flaky. i think the fact that i was a hardcore anarchist activist for so many years has affected me more than i thought it had, in that i chafe big time at anything that smacks of centralized decision-making or hoop-jumping. i just kind of take it for granted that a lot of people are flaky & aren’t gonna do the shit they say they’re gonna do. it bothers me, for sure, but i can’t pretend to be totally pumped about the idea of pledging my allegiance to the hollaback name before i am even allowed to start a local group. there’s also a conceit to this, like people couldn’t work just as effectively against street harassment (& possibly MORE effectively around other issues) without the hollaback name?

i don’t know. in an attempt to gather more opinions on the issue & try to make a decision about how much to commit to the local group, i wound up having a weird argument with some hollaback supporters. i don’t even know how it happened. it seemed to boil down to them not liking the fact that i am sarcastic. hey dudes? i am wicked sarcastic. if i can’t be sarcastic, it’s not my revolution! i talked to jaimie again afterward & she was like, “basically, i just want to do awesome feminist activism with women in lawrence. i am passionate about street harassment so hollaback seemed like a good fit. but i just want to do feminist activism & i don’t care if we use the hollaback name or not. also, we are way snarkier than people can really handle & that is why i’m glad we’re friends.” & since that sums up my feelings on the issue pretty much exactly, i am happy. & still totally willing to check out this hollaback thing firsthand & see if it interests me or not. i am just disturbed on a certain level that other feminist activists seem to be seeing this group as above critique. NOTHING IS ABOVE CRITIQUE, GUYS. also: CRITIQUE IS NOT A BAD THING. critique is not criticism, critique is not an act of tearing something down. critique doesn’t even mean you have to change. i am totally willing to accept that many of the things i am critiquing about hollaback are what makes it work for the people for whom it works. my critiques could be evidence that i am in fact not the right fit for hollaback. i think the only way to create real, lasting change is through a diversity of approaches, tactics, & personalities. but that means we have to dialogue with one another & talk about what’s working for different people & why & what’s not working & why, & then refine & retool. that’s what critique is, dude.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

One thought on “so, yeah, this is about hollaback

  1. Hey, this is Cara. I know of your blog through Leah’s livejournal, and I also stayed at your place in Boston once for a skillshare.
    Anyway: Hollaback just started a chapter in Baltimore, where I live, and it makes me full of feelings. Sometimes, I think it is dorky and ineffectual at best, and really self-congratulatory at worst. Yet so many times when it’s come up in conversation recently, women I know have been like, “Actually, street harrassment is fun, LOL, still got it!” or “But I like compliments!” or whatever. Based on that, I think I’m a Hollaback supporter out of spite. I still don’t want to go to any webinars, though.

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