On Wednesday at the Women’s Resource Center, students of all stripes—male and female, gay and straight, black and white—congregated to speak out against street harassment. The WRC was packed for the “Hollaback!” open mic event that gave students a chance to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings, all in the spirit of showing a united front against the shadow of harassment that hangs over many people on and off campus.
On Wednesday at the Women’s Resource Center, students of all stripes—male and female, gay and straight, black and white—congregated to speak out against street harassment.
The WRC was packed for the “Hollaback!” open mic event that gave students a chance to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings, all in the spirit of showing a united front against the shadow of harassment that hangs over many people on and off campus.
Street harassment, as all these people experienced it, is a conglomeration of acts ranging from physical and sexual assault to catcalling and leers. Ultimately, it is any action taken that takes away whatever sense of safety or comfort a person might have in a public place.
Christina Armstrong, one of the event’s presenters, explained the importance of the evening.
“The only way we’re going to solve a problem is by talking about it. Nothing has ever been solved by sweeping it under the rug,” Armstrong said.
The event opened with a brief meet-and-greet where the crowd mingled, ate cupcakes and read zines about street harassment that had been made for the evening.
After the mixer, the presentations kicked off with a puppet show starring some hilariously bad-looking sock puppets made to look like Harry Potter characters. The first sketch showed Ron Weasley trying to cast a love charm on a Loony Luna, only to be foiled in the obviously disturbing misuse of his magical abilities by Hermione. Ultimately, Ron learns his lesson and asks Luna out for some butterbeer.
The night continued with presentations from speakers and more puppet shows in between. Presentations included one girl’s experience with leers and comments on her way to Portland’s Slutwalk, a guitar duo singing TLC’s “No Scrubs,” a presentation on the unique experiences and violence black women face and spoken-word poems by women
All of the speakers shared performances or tales, but some were particularly moving—the more so for the difficult emotions that were clearly provoked in the presenter and the audience.
At one point, a gay male student presented a spoken-word poem about the hurtfulness of words. The street harassment he had endured brought with it fear and shame—fear of words spoken in ignorance and anger and shame at being a victim. These words came from a pack of “bros” with backwards baseball caps yelling slurs and threats in upscale places—like Northwest 23rd Avenue or the Pearl District—where one might assume one was safe
Two powerful moments of the evening came when two speakers read poems that were representations of their experiences with sexual assault. After speaking each walked into the waiting arms of friends, to hugged and be comforted.
“There were a lot of really courageous people coming out and sharing their experience[s], sharing themselves creatively with the crowd. I think we had a really loving and supporting environment,” said Amanda Mercier, one of the event’s organizers.
Mercier added that the one thing she hoped people left the event with was the knowledge that they are not alone.
Jane Gerber, a speaker at the event, said that she came because the event sounded really cool—but explained its importance by saying, “It is a huge form of catharsis for people to gather and just have a shared experience, however negative that is. Because not only are you not alone…you have a whole group of people who want to stop the bad thing that has happened to you.”
The crowd and the presenters shared their feelings throughout the evening. Many presenters shared their pain openly during the event.
It was a roller coaster of emotions with speakers that left the audience alternately laughing, thoughtful, uncomfortable and sad.