Awesome Anti-Street Harassment Ads on Philly's Subway

This is Anti-Street Harrassment Week, the perfect time to highlight this great subway campaign the group iHollaback launched in Philadelphia. 

Poster on subway asks what you'd like your daughter to hear on the subway. Nice ass?


Every city could use this! 

Until then, check out our list of ways straight dudes can prevent street harassment


by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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30 Comments Have Been Posted

Yes, but

While I do like this campaign, it frustrates me that we still seem to have to discuss women as someone else's "sisters/daughters/girlfriends" in order to humanize them. Is it so hard to understand why street harassment is wrong without thinking of potential victims solely in their gendered relationship roles? While the goal of these ads is admirable, it's unfortunate that they reinforce the arrogant perception of women as merely "mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and girlfriends." Women deserve to live without harassment because of their inherent value, not because they gave birth to you or grew up with you or date you.

What she said.

Totally agree with Kata. I am no man's mother/sister/daughter/wife/girlfriend. I deserve repect because I am a person.

+1 to what Kata said. If men

+1 to what Kata said. If men can't understand how horrible street harassment feels why would imagining that it was directed at women close to them make any difference? If they CAN understand so easily as saying "Imagine this were directed at someone close to you", then why are we coddling them like infants and giving them helpful reminders?

Totally agree, but I get the

Totally agree, but I get the sense that Hollaback's campaign is trying to reach the type of idiot/loser who harasses women with the types of shitty comments listed on the poster. That type of person is already incapable of seeing women as human and separate from their male relationships, or they wouldn't be harassing women on the street in the first place. So if the only possible way to MAYBE get through to that type of idiot is to make him pause for a second to think about what it feels like to know that his daughter receives such comments on a daily basis, then it seems totally pragmatic to me. Based on the levels of street harassment I and everyone I know has received in DC for more than 10 years now, then yes, I do think it is very hard for many people to understand that women are inherently valuable humans who deserve to live without harassment, sad and frustrating as that is. So we have to meet those jerks/clueless idiots/predators/harassers at their level first, then educate from there. I don't like the ownership message either, but what other ideas do people have for reaching such a person? I am not being snarky; I am curious because i am stumped myself. Given that most of my attempts to interrupt harassment end with being called a bitch as the last word, I don't think a lesson on women as independent humans would do much good.

Just want to make sure there is equal amount of support here for the work Hollaback is doing (rather than just a 100% critical thread), even if people disagree with the way it is being done, although, as I wrote above, I think I see the logic in the approach. It takes a lot of work and funding to get a campaign like this off the ground. I personally have never seen anything like this on any public transportation in any city I've visited. So kudos to them for hopefully starting a trend. I would love to see this in my city and would like to know more about how I could help bring it here. Street harassment is very, very bad in DC and a huge quality of life issue. Unfortunately there are a lot of disrespectful idiots out there and there are days when I have to restrain myself from escalating a situation by punching a harasser in the face.

We hear you!

I'm the Director of HollabackPHILLY, and I 100% hear you on this sentiment. For the longest time, this was my least favorite of the ads, because I so strongly feel that this form of relation should not be validated, that my humanity should not rest in my relation to men. However, after a year of developing these ads, we chose to use this one. If you would like to see our thought process, we wrote up a blog about it:

Thanks again for joining this conversation and sharing your feedback! It is very much appreciated!
-- Rochelle

Totally agree, well said

Totally agree, well said Kata.

I'm from the UK, and involved in the 'No More Page Three' campaign (attempting to get the regular casual mockery of half-dressed women out of the most widely circulated 'news'paper in the UK, in case you're not familiar). And whilst it's encouraging to see many men supporting the campaign too, it's really disheartening to see how many of them begin their reason for supporting with 'Now that I have daughters...' as if before they came into possession of their own mini -women, they weren't all that bothered about empathising with half the population.

Still, a step in the right direction I suppose!

While I can see the point of

While I can see the point of the many posters above, I disagree. It's human nature to care more about the people you know personally than random hypothetical strangers; that's why soldiers are constantly being referred to as sons, husbands, and brothers, Nancy Reagan is pro-stem cell research, and getting to know an LGBT person is the best way of decreasing homophobia. While in theory it's problematic, in practice I see it as realistic.

Staring, whistling, and

Staring, whistling, and cat-calling are not always harassment. What seems like following is sometimes a coincidence. "Be respectful" is a better message.

Not harassment?

The person on the receiving end of those actions gets to decide whether or not they're harassment, I think. It's true that someone could think someone else is following them when in reality they're not, but sometimes it's not that innocent. How is catcalling not harassment, by the way? Maybe if you're doing it to someone you know as a joke, and you know that they will understand it's a joke?

Cat-calling, whistling, and

Cat-calling, whistling, and staring are not always harassment for precisely the reason you mentioned: it's up to the recipient to decide. Not the cat-caller, not strangers on the internet, not a bus advertisement. Some people don't mind some friendly cat-calling. My mom didn't mind 30 years ago and now here i am.

Harassment is serious, but as long as your message is "staring is harassment" I'd argue that that message is, in itself, not serious.

Well then, I guess we

Well then, I guess we shouldn't be blaming cat-callers at all, because it's really the recipients deciding that it's harassment that makes it harassment.

Your argument trivializes the experiences of women who don't feel safe or respected on the street because of men who think that it is alright to comment, loudly and publicly, on the woman's appearance. Just because you know individual women who don't object to cat-calling doesn't mean that cat-calling isn't harassment.

And honestly, that poster is probably directed at people who either cannot tell the difference between harassment and respectful interaction or do not care. Given your argument, I think that you may fall into the first of those categories.


What i said was "cat-calling is not always harassment." Your response to me might have been appropriate if i had said "cat-calling is never harassment."

The poster says cat-calling is always harassment, which is not true. It's not a helpful campaign because the message is unclear.

Harassment clearly exists, and is a serious problem, but we need a better definition of it than whistling. I'm open to receiving anti-harassment messaging, but this isn't clear. If I'm walking in the same direction as any female should i try to find a way to make it clear that I'm not "following?"

I'm just going to stick with the previous messaging i received a long, long time ago, "be respectful."

Although, i do really

Although, i do really appreciate the aspect of this campaign that encourages women to speak up when they have an issue or are feeling harassed. That's actually extremely helpful to me. I'm totally supportive of that policy, so cool. If you don't like the hollering, holler back. Most hollerers will be understanding i think.

Unfortunately a lot of them

Unfortunately a lot of them don't, and it's impossible to tell if responding will make the situation worse or better. I've had it go both ways. It's not fair to put the onus on women to call out their harassers. A large part of the problem is that street harassment happens within a context of rape culture. Women ought to feel safe if they want to respond to cat-callers, but ignoring the fact that it is often not safe isn't helpful. There are a few campaigns directed at men, encouraging them to speak up about street harassment, and those are great. Campaigns directed at men teaching them about harassment are also great. The part of this campaign that tells women to holler back strikes me as incredibly problematic, because it puts the responsibility on the woman being harassed.

I'm actually really curious about what you would define as cat-calls that weren't harassment.

My initial comment was that by saying that it's only harassment if women feel that it's harassment, you are taking the blame off men for harassing, because it's not their fault that I wasn't flattered when they said "nice tits" or even "give me a smile." The problem is that a lot of men think that those are compliments, and act confused or put off when you don't respond positively. Harassment then becomes something that happens to "bitches who can't take compliments" rather than something done by men who are being inappropriate.

The problem with the "be respectful" approach is that the guy who grabbed my arm a few weeks because he just had to stop me to tell me how beautiful I am probably wouldn't understand that he wasn't being respectful. He was put off that I yanked my arm away and walked away. And you know, it still wouldn't have been respectful if he hadn't grabbed me, because acting like the biggest compliment a woman can get is that she is beautiful (or any appearance related comment) if offensive and objectifying.

1 of 3.

Yeah, i get that it's a much more effective strategy to stop harassment before it happens than to insist that every woman in every situation respond verbally and engage with a stranger on the street whose behavior is questionable. I really like the 'stop harassment before it happens' model, and I'm open to it, but I've got two interrelated problems:

1. Despite the fact that I'm not much of a street hollerer, it's clear from what I'm hearing that men need to analyze their personal behavior rather than give themselves a free pass by saying "this campaign is directed at other men with worse behavior."

2. When i hear the definition of harassment and i hear that it is never okay, i have clear memories of times I've made unsolicited contact with women on the street and gotten positive responses.

If it's important to not rob women of their agency and voices, then i can't in good faith ignore the voices of women who have responded positively to unsolicited comments.

2 of 3.

We're talking about something serious, that effects lots of people. We're talking about a positive change we want to see in the world, one that i agree should happen. I think that serious dialogue has only just begun and i am very willing to participate in it.

That said, i genuinely find the messages I'm hearing to be unclear. I feel like this messaging wasn't crafted after productive back and forth dialogue with men. It's a loathsome idea to many that this movement would have to "run it's messaging by men," but it seems like did do some market research that helped a bit.

I get that we're at a critical crossroads with this issue worldwide, i get that it's serious, there are women in my community that have been effected by harassment and assault. I'm on board, but I'm having a real hard time taking some of this seriously.

3 of 3.

On the subject of cat-calls that aren't harassment, 'cat-calling' is a pretty poorly-defined term, and to some people it means "harassing comments." Here's an example of a classic unsolicited contact situation going well:

I'm on the street and a girl walks by. She has clearly dressed up in a way that tells me she wants to participate in the city today, she wants to be seen. I stay where i am, let her walk by and say something not directly sexual, and mostly about me. "You're really brightening up my day today." Nothing about her body, no request for further attention. She smiles. She walks on.

I wanted her to smile, so i made her smile with harmless charm. It works, whereas instructing a woman to smile does not.

There's also something to be said for standing still, not following. Sometimes that woman will walk by again on her way back and pay me some attention back. I've made long-lasting connections this way.

So, i didn't follow, didn't whistle, didn't say anything rude, but i was staring. I was respectful and non-sexual with my unsolicited comment, but i stared at her coming and i stared at her going. She saw me staring and she was okay with it.

Am i supposed to ignore her, label myself a creeper and never do that again because a bus advertisement said staring is never okay? That's not a suggestion i can take seriously.

A positive reaction isn't always a position reaction

Disclosure: I have very high social phobia, take medication for anxiety, etc.

1. I also like to dress nice when I am able to go out in the city (I like to go to bookstores, museums, etc.) I am not looking for comments. I feel uncomfortable showing much skin. But I like to be clean and put-together. Not to "be seen." And what does "participate in the city" mean?

2. Why do you want this woman to smile? Do you feel the same about a man on the street, a child?

3. I was cat-called (whistling, "hey, pretty," etc.) when I was 11 years old. I was tall early on, and was wearing loose, knee-length shorts, and a crew neck t-shirt. It happened twice as I was walking home. I thought the catcalls were because my legs were long, and I was wearing shorts. I never wore shorts again. Never.

4. Guys have said things like you described to me. I smiled at them, thanked them, etc. Not because I was flattered. But because I was nervous, and scared, and didn't want any trouble from them, didn't want them to go on with "why aren't you smiling," or get angry (which has happened when I ignored it), etc. I just wanted them to move on. So I quickly smile, says thanks, and walk quickly away from them. I don't like to be mean, and I feel the need to please, even if it is a stranger I don't intend to get to know. But even though I smile, I get nervous, and anxious.

5. As to your last question: I'd go with the first option: ignore. You don't have to make a comment. It's not required of you.

If you just want to make a comment, ask yourself why you want to say it. If it's mostly for shits-n-giggles, go with not commenting. If you like this person and want to possibly ask her out, I suggest don't specifically mention her body/appearance. In my case, an instance of a guy saying something like that to me, whom I didn't know previously, was when a guy said, "I like your bag." Obviously it was a way to get into a conversation, but it didn't feel creepy.

But again, I have social anxiety, so there may be women who aren't bothered like I am. This is just my two cents.

I asked for your two cents,

I asked for your two cents, your two cents have value.

I appreciate your advice, and it seems like we're on the same page. When approaching unfamiliar women, don't make sexual comments, even if what you want in the long run is sex. Remember that some people are naturally anxious and afraid. Don't touch people without permission. These all seem like reasonable guidelines. Much more reasonable than "staring is never okay."

When i say participate in the city, i mean "interact with other adult humans, let sun shine on her skin, meet new people, hear new music." Seeing and being seen. Not inviting harassment, but not going anywhere important. Not on a mission with a gameface on.

Why did i want this particular woman to smile? To validate my own existence to myself. To celebrate my ability to connect with other people. To justify getting out of bed that morning. To feel alive. To spread positivity.

Seeing her turned my focus up as sharp as it could go, like adderall. It had an effect on my heartbeat, it effected me sexually. If i could get her to smile it would be a moment i shared in the sunshine with a goddess.

I think we had a minor miscommunication. In my question where i asked "should i ignore her?" what i meant was, she let me know that my unsolicited comment was okay with her. Should i ignore that fact because a bus advertisement tells me that what i did was unacceptable harassment?

I'm fine with the rule "don't be creepy, be respectful." I wish these. hollaback ads said something more like that.

The more i look at these bus

The more i look at these bus ads, the less sense they make. In a perfect world someone would say "good morning" to my mom when she walked to the subway? People do say that to my mother and my girlfriend. It happens all the time. "Too bad we don't live in a perfect world?" I live in a world where people say all kinds of polite stuff to all the females in my life. The problem isn't the absence of politeness, it's the presence of rudeness in addition to any politeness.

I think this conversation is way too big and way too important to be had on a bus advertisement, well-intentioned though it may be.

Thanks for your response.

I can see where I hit a wall with your comments--it's a bit foreign for me to be in the city like you describe (the whole social thing, etc.). I usually am on a mission. Sitting in a cafe for hours, for instance, is not something I can do really, I start to feel anxious. Even your answer about smiling fits into this arena.

But to the topic at hand, you're right, I misread that part about ignoring. I understand your frustration, but for me it would be preferable to be frustrated (in terms of having to think about if what I am about to say to someone is OK), than to not feel safe walking down the street. But yes, the bus advertisement was vague--it seems you just have a problem with the wording, not the content, because it doesn't look like you have any real objection to the content.

I don't think this advertisement is--or means to be--the be-all-end-all of this discussion. But by putting it in a public place, where much of this harassment occurs, it at least gets people talking about it--a lot of the time, women (like me), just learn to "accept" it as a part of being out in the city, rather than thinking that there can be another way. So in that sense, I think it is a good thing to be out there, however imperfect it may be. The point <i>is</i> that the conversation is a big one, and an important one, to have--and hopefully adverts like those will spark them--like the one in this thread right now.

You're making a ton of

You're making a ton of assumptions about a woman based on her physical appearance. I live in a large city, and I am not a slob. That doesn't mean that every time I leave my apartment, I'm looking for attention based on the way I look.

Personally, I would find someone telling me that I brightened their day unpleasant, unless I was specifically doing something day-brightening, like handing out puppies, but I probably would not respond negatively as not to escalate the situation. I would probably smile and say thank you, but it would not brighten my day. Obviously there may be women out there who would not object to that, but if your purpose is to spread positivity, you could very well do the opposite of what you set out to do.

If you feel compelled to compliment a woman on the street, stop and think about what it is that you are complimenting. Is it something about her as a person, or her as an object? Saying "That's a really cute dress" is not a compliment about her beauty so much as her style. Saying "You look good in that dress" is complimenting her body. Saying "You've brightened up my day" is ambivalent, but in a society that values women primarily as decoration, the meaning is generally clear. Unless you are saying, "Seeing your extraordinary kindness toward that homeless man has really brightened up my day," you are probably saying "Seeing you in that low cut top has really brightened up my day."

I'd love to know what other women's opinions are on this, but I always feel like if you are commenting on my body, or things that I don't have control over, it's not going to be appreciated, but if you are commenting on something that was clearly an intentional choice that I made, I'm generally going to be fine with it. It might even brighten my day.

Completely agree. Thanks for

Completely agree. Thanks for putting this much more clearly than I could.

Women don't exist for your pleasure

All I'm hearing is me me me. And yes, she may have smiled back, but don't take that to mean she enjoyed what you said. Women don't exist for you to validate yourself, to make you feel alive, to exist for you period.
You even said she effected you sexually so more likely then not she picked up on that and possibly felt threatened.
You were being creepy, and I am so sick of men pulling this shit. I've seen 11 year old girls harassed by men in their 40s. It's sick. I've been at the receiving end of street harassment since I was around 14! I'm sick of this shit

<I>Why did i want this particular woman to smile? To validate my own existence to myself. To celebrate my ability to connect with other people. To justify getting out of bed that morning. To feel alive. To spread positivity.

Seeing her turned my focus up as sharp as it could go, like adderall. It had an effect on my heartbeat, it effected me sexually. If i could get her to smile it would be a moment i shared in the sunshine with a goddess.</I>

Appreciation, mostly.

Kahini, you're right, i really don't have a problem with the message of those bus ads. I totally acknowledge how important and timely this stuff is. I really appreciate the earnest, open conversation we're having on this big subject. If the bus ads sparked this conversation then they did their job. I wish you the best in dealing with your anxiety issues and I really appreciate that you're willing to talk to an unfamiliar man online, even if it makes you a bit anxious. Thanks a lot.

Katyusha, I totally understand your perspective. You're completely right that when I did what I did in that story I was taking a risk that I might upset the woman. I have made similar comments and gotten the type of icy responses that indicated that I had overestimated the power of my own charms. I have also spread positivity, made friends, entertained and enlightened. I hope overall I've brought more positivity than negativity. I hope you don't think it's such an unbelievable notion that I've had enough awareness of myself and others to never be a threat.

To get a little nit-picky, I don't think that saying "you brighten up my day," is a compliment exactly. And I don't think I was responding just to her body or her clothes. I was responding to her confidence, her swagger, some very hard-to-define aspects of her. I didn't know if she was a PhD or if she had a compassionate heart, but I knew she dressed to get noticed, she walked full of confidence with her head held high, and she was on a very busy street where people go to notice and get noticed. I was a healthy combination of head, heart, and sex drive when I chose to speak to her. I hope you believe that such a balanced combination exists.

Sharon, this was not a hypothetical example. This really happened on the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco where I used to do some street performing a few years ago. This particular woman came back a half hour after my comment and struck up a conversation with me. We dated for a few years and are still friends. I don't believe that all women exist solely to validate me. I believe that individual women exist to make their own choices and live their own lives in their own ways, and sometimes that means making the choice to be sexual and validate strange men on the street.

This particular woman responded positively to the harmless charm I put out to her, came back and talked to me, and over the next couple years we spent a lot of time together validating each other, being sexual with each other, giving and receiving love, and leaving each other better off than when our paths crossed on the street.

You can make up whatever story you want about what was "probably going through her head," but at a certain point the made up story you're telling about myself and this young lady says a lot more about you than it does about me. I will take her actions to mean that she liked what I said because she told me as much using her clear, strong, articulate voice that won me over a long time ago. Your subject line is not accurate. It should say "women don't exist solely for your pleasure." Women do exist for my pleasure when they make a choice to do so. To contradict this concept is to deny individual women their freedom to live their lives how they choose.

My bad then

I am so used to having to explain to men how stuff like this effects our lives only to be shut off, that I'm defensive off the bat. Example: I'll never forget the time I came out of a store and I ran into an acquaintance. What does he do? He fucking put his fingers on my t shirt and pulled it open to peek down my top. I think he even said "peek"
I'm surprised I didn't punch him. I wish I *had* to be honest. I was in shock.
Another time, I was following a school bus and this little punk (maybe 13 years old) made a V with his fingers and put his tongue through them. Disgusting! I should have followed the bus, but iirc, I was in a hurry.

My bad, too.

Yeah, i know. This whole conversation is so loaded with people's individual baggage and experiences. I don't mean to jump down your throat or criticize you for your concerns, nor do i mean to take the tone of an educator.

For every story of a man approaching a woman respectfully on the street there seem to be hundreds of stories of clear harassment. I really do take that seriously and i really did comment on this thread only to express my concern that these bus ads are 90% helpful, 5% confusing, and 5% problematic.

I appreciate your input in this conversation too, Sharon. I think it's a real sign of progress that this thread, albeit sparsely populated, has been an example of coming together to converse online rather than a typical flamewar.

Even though I can understand

Even though I can understand that this advertisement is trying to reach a specific audience, I am irked by the fact that it has to bring to light that women are daughters, sisters, mothers, etc. in order to humanize them. Women do not deserve to be cat-called or harassed simply because we are human beings and human beings do not deserve to be made uncomfortable or fearful, especially in a public place and to benefit someone else's ego. Street harassment is simply a display of power and dominance. I am also extremely frustrated by the alternative to harassing, which is saying "good morning." This is polite and typically not threatening, but almost any unwanted attention does feel threatening and is scary when alone. Gauging the time and place is incredibly important and a lot of the time, people are not as aware of these two factors as they should be. Perhaps I am more paranoid than most women, but even kind remarks make me extremely uncomfortable in certain situations. Lastly, "hollaback?" I see the person harassing me or cat-calling me as a threat, and I have had men get angry at me for not acknowledging their comment before. Retaliating isn't always as simple as this poster makes it seem, and although I would love to defend myself, most of the time it is more of a risk than it is worth.

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