When a girl becomes a woman, it is almost absurd if she does not get yelled “Damn baby, look at that a**” when she walks down the street. This rather offensive action has become a usual and frequent experience for modern women, and more aggressive street harassments keep happening yet not taken seriously by authorities.
To advocate for safe spaces for girls and to initiate plans to challenge the catcalling culture, in a session called ‘Safe Streets Initiative: Mapping Our Stories of Catcalling and Street Harassment’ local educator and doctoral student Mayra Lara presented her Girls Build LA project on campus on Tuesday, October 11. She is a doctoral student in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University.
Lara and seven Latina high school students initiated the project by providing a safe space after school for students to share their experiences and empower each other through guided discussions. The project actually discovered sexual harassment committed by a faculty member and made sure the administration take action on him, according to Lara.
“On our campus specifically, there are adults (teachers and other school personnel) who are now more comfortable with having conversations about sexual violence and who now understand that this is a pervasive problem at our school, so they are now more vigilant and are able to address these issues in their classes,” said Lara. “Students speak about their experiences more openly and have started to develop the language to combat sexual violence.”
Besides safe spaces, Lara’s team also made a map of their school campus and the surrounding streets. Students could anonymously write sticky notes and mark them on the map where they previously experienced street harassment. The maps were shown everywhere on campus, as a way of visual protest.
“There is still a lot of work to do, but we’ve started the conversation and have developed a strong presence, so that is the beginning,” Lara added.
As of what girls should do when they encounter catcalling and street harassment, Lara did not have a clear solution.
“As of now, I don’t know that I have a direct answer to that question because there are numerous dangers associated with responding directly and with choosing to pretend to ignore the perpetrator. I do however think that girls must speak about these experiences with an adult whom they trust and have built a positive relationship with,” said Lara. “I don’t think that there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ response to catcalling or any other form of sexual violence, but there are ways to build community and have conversations about solutions that each individual is comfortable with.”
The presentation actively engaged the audience in different discussions regarding street harassment and story sharing. Lara also provided symbolic pins to empower girls to speak up, such as “No Soy Tu Mamacita”, “My Name is Not ‘Hey Baby’”, “Ally”, and more.