How to be Alone

Nineteen long months ago, my ex-boyfriend was found unresponsive in his room, overdosed on opiates, a week before he turned twenty-six. A year before, we’d had a messy, incomplete breakup that neither had been sure was final; having it so brutally confirmed left me reeling. Complicating matters was an ill-timed relocation from the city we’d lived in to New York, a scant three months later. Concluding my own life there meant I had little time to process the end of his.

Chaotic though it was, I managed to sellotape my belongings into boxes, lug them up a seven story walk-up in Astoria, and stumble through New York’s towering skyscrapers, blinding lights and labyrinthine subway system. By one chance after another, I fell into an amazing team and began work on a scrappy, big-hearted startup in journalism (an industry almost as unforgiving as New York itself.)

The eight months following my ex’s death were an amazing, painful, thrilling and exhausting blur, where my career exploded as fantastically as my personal life had fallen apart. It was a welcome distraction from my ex’s passing, and a solid reminder that I had much more to live for than what had been lost.

At the same time, the question that haunts all single women my age began, once again, to doggedly pursue me.

So, met anyone special?

I could be at a fellowship in New York for half a year, an incubator in Berlin for two months or a conference in Copenhagen for three short working days, and the first question I could be guaranteed to get about each was, “What are the men like?”

I tried dating sporadically in the last year, and had a good time on a few. However, dates were money I didn’t particularly have, working for a startup, and emotional energy I wasn’t particularly ready to expend, still pulling out sutures from a healing heart.

I started fibbing whenever the topic came up. I told people I was busy on a date, when I was home in my pyjamas streaming movies. (One date, I learned, could stave off inquiries for another week.) In retrospect, honesty is the policy which saves you keeping track of multiple invented suitors; but I was weary of fielding the constant well-meaning but misguided, “Maybe it would do you good to see someone new…

It took a while before my embarrassment at my reluctance to date turned to indignation. Society, as it turns out, is so obsessed with partnership that even tragic death gives us a five-month reprieve before we should be firing up Tinder. In the last year and a half, I’ve always been grateful for any show of support, but as time went on, I was surprised at the nature of it, and how fixated it was on one thing.

People were likely to say: “Which dating apps have you tried? There’s this new one I heard about.” “Did you go out with someone? That’s so great!” “Tell me everything about the last date you had.

People were less likely to say: “I heard about that fellowship you got – congratulations!” “I saw the latest article you wrote, here’s what I thought.” “I heard you got a chance to visit your family, that must have been fun!

People were likely to offer: “I can introduce you to my friend!

People were less likely to offer: “I know you’re pulling a lot of late nights, can I buy you a coffee?

People were likely to advise: “Don’t get too caught up in work you forget to make time to find someone.”

People were less likely to advise: “You got really lucky with your job. Run with it.” “You’re fortunate to get the opportunity to be traveling like this – it’s rare and you’re privileged. Enjoy it.” “Your family’s what got you here, and don’t let yourself forget it. Call your mom.

Yet it’s difficult to be annoyed. Every offer to be introduced to a friend, all the enthusiasm to debrief dates: these aren’t shallow displays of affection or a lack of compassion, but acts of genuine concern. My friends and family were doing the best they knew how. This was they way they’d been taught to help a woman rebuild her life.

It remains an unpopular truth that a woman’s life can be full without a man in it. This makes the loss of a potential partner feel like the loss of the potential for happiness itself. For women in the modern world, a paralyzing fear of singledom compounds the pain following the demise of a romantic relationship (however that may happen), or the stresses of a career, both being sufficiently challenging alone.

To make it clear, I didn’t want anyone to pat me on the back for doing my job (I should be doing my job), or need anyone’s help to remember to call my mother (she reminds me well enough herself). And I’m immensely grateful for the friends that have been there for me, even when they’ve been hijacking my phone to Swipe Right on my behalf. They have been sturdy lifeboats in a perfect storm.

At the same time, I wish we lived in a culture that valued a woman who does her job well, or recognized her role as a sister or a daughter or a friend as much as a girlfriend or a wife. I wish our knee-jerk instinct in supporting the women we care about wasn’t to try to remedy them of their singledom.

Eighteen months, a few reluctant dates, innumerable countries later, I’m single. I’m also happy. I’m doing well. But if there was one thing I needed to hear before I reached the point where I didn’t need to convince myself of that, it would be this:

You’re only in your twenties. Happiness is still out there, and you don’t need to change your relationship status before you find it. Your ex-boyfriend may have passed away, but you didn’t. The best thing you can do now is to live life mightily enough for the both of you.

Today, I was called a ****: The Harsh Reality of ‘Cat Calling’

Note to Readers: This blog contains slang for female genitalia often used as a term of abuse.

“Hey, hey sweet lips….HEY SWEET LIPS.”

Head down. Don’t engage. Walk faster.

“Hey sweet lips, come on over here.”

“Man, she ain’t no sweet lips. That’s just a white c**t.”

Jolt of anger. Heightened awareness. Pulse rising. Don’t engage. Walk faster.

While the victim-shamers may ask what I was wearing or how I was walking (because that should matter?!), let the record show that I was walking down a typical busy street to a friend’s house in Brooklyn. An evening to catch up with a friend was very quickly taken over by a complete loss of safe personal space as a woman. Does this happen often? Yes. Does this only happen to me? You’re kidding, right?

As a growing number of advocates are realizing the prevalence of street harassment, women are slowly gaining momentum to and the courage to start what I can only hope will be a movement. Young people like Caroline Tomkins are speaking out in New York City and literally putting a lens on the men who verbally and physically make her feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and vulnerable simply for being a woman. And social media movements like Twitter’s #YesAllWomen campaign continue to showcase the breadth of daily street harassment.

Yet there are still new sources, even women in the media, defending this clear violation of basic human rights – as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it, “the right to live in freedom and safety.” So what now?

WE RAISE OUR VOICES.

Internationally, studies show that between 70-99% of women experience street harassment at some point during their lives. So, basically all women. Every day, a woman is subjected to a disrespectful, unwelcome, and often threatening act motivated by gender or sexual orientation. And it is unacceptable.

Public harassment is typically motivated by racism, homophobia, transphobia, or classism—types of harassment that men have also experienced and women perpetrated—and is recognized as socially unacceptable behavior. However, men’s harassment of women motivated by gender is portrayed as as compliment, a joke, or a trivial annoyance. Women are often asked what they are wearing or what time of day it was, lending itself to a social acceptance of gender-based abuse. It is a commonality that we must end not just for women, but for girls.

According to a study from Holly Kearl, a national street harassment expert, 90% of women have experienced some form of harassment by the age of 19, and 1 in 4 by the age of 12.

This harassment makes most women change their life in some way, like avoiding locations where they had been harassed, no longer going places alone, and even moving neighborhoods or quitting jobs. – Holly Kearl

For some girls, street harassment is their first sexual experience, one rooted in behaviors of dominance, sexism, and violence. It is an action that takes away the sexual and reproductive rights women and girls deserve. In order for girls to be truly empowered to live the lives they choose, they must feel safe in their communities, in their countries, and in the world.

Image c/o Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Image c/o Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

It is time for action. Time for workshops to inform girls and boys ages about the issue. Time to develop health education materials to educate harassers, targets, and allies about street harassment. Time to combat degrading stereotypes about women and girls that contribute to harassment not just on the street, but in any public space. Time to not worry whether girls will be whistled at and viewed as a sexual object on her way to school. Time to discourage boys from partaking in any behavior deemed as a compliment or joke that women and girls explicitly express as inappropriate. It’s time to end street harassment once and for all so women and girls can focus on the lives they want to live.

Lend your voice NOW to ending street harassment:

  • Share your story with the Stop Street Harassment campaign.
  • Start a Meet Us On The Street program in your neighborhood.
  • Use technology, like iHollaback’s mobile apps or Harassmap, to track when and where street harassment occurs.
  • Talk about street harassment openly with friends, family, coworkers, classmates, children, and neighbors.
  • Raise awareness online through social media.
  • Encourage men and boys to be a MALE ALLY and look for organizations like Men Can Stop Rape dedicated to create cultures free from violence.

Cover image c/o Ruth Orkin

In Korea, We “Hollaback” Against Street Harassment

bg-header korea

Last week Korea launched its own Hollaback! website. Hollaback! is an organization and online platform that delivers resources, research, and initiatives aimed at ending street harassment. Most importantly, Hollaback! is a portal for individuals to share personal stories about being harassed or having witnessed someone else being harassed, and for others to show their support for those individuals.

hollaback-flyerAccording to Hollaback!, “Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. It reinforces sexual objectification of these groups.”

A Hollaback! initiative called “I’ve Got Your Back” encourages bystanders to get involved when they witness street harassment, as a way to let harassers know it will not be tolerated. Because it can be dangerous to intervene, find out how you can safely prevent an instance of street harassment.

Hollaback! explains,

The real motive of street harassment is intimidation. To make its target scared or uncomfortable, and to make the harasser feel powerful.

Hollaback! creates a simple way to take that power away by exposing it. Hollaback! utilizes the technology of smart phones to allow individuals to post occurrences and photos of street harassment in real time, and get immediate support. Hollaback! also maps where street harassment occurred (pink dot) and where bystanders have intervened (green dot) as a way to inform individuals, lawmakers, or police, where harassment may be occurring more often.

Hollaback! emphasizes the importance of reassuring those who are harassed that they are supported, not guilty of bringing a situation upon themselves, and to be empowered to stand up to harassment.

Hollaback! began after Thao Nguyen was sexually harassed on a New York subway and did not find support from the police. Her harasser, Dan Hoyt, a well known NYC restaurant owner, locked his eyes on a young woman (Thao), opened his pants and began to masturbate”. Because Thao did not find assistance from the police, she posted a photo of the man masturbating onto her Flickr page. After a social media uproar, she gained the support she deserved, and Hoyt was swiftly charged with public lewdness.

Since Hollaback!’s inception, a new awareness of street harassment in New York has occurred and an international fight against its occurrence is underway. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority joined with the NYPD in a campaign to encourage victims of sexual harassment to report, and Hollaback! websites have been launched in 25 countries and 14 languages.

Hollaback Launch Discussion
Hollaback! Korea Launch Discussion in Gwangju

I found out that there are distinctions among all Hollaback! sites, and each site creates its own goals. Despite the fact that street harassment happens everywhere, the way people respond to it can be influenced by culture and norms. Hollaback! provides resources for individuals regarding how to respond effectively to street harassment. Hollaback! Korea emphasizes the intersectionality of street harassment in Korea. One of their goals is to remain conscious of the fact that anyone can face street harassment regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity, and that their service is responding appropriately to all victims.

One distinction of Hollaback! Korea is that it does not allow photos to be posted to the site because Korean law prevents it. A local police officer participated in the Hollaback! launch Discussion, and provided her insight on effective ways to intervene and report cases of street harassment legally in South Korea. She suggested that it is still important to gather evidence such as taking a photo and contacting the authorities immediately. Her involvement is a sign that there is police support for this issue as well.

A study of street harassment in 143 countries from 2010 found that 43% of people surveyed in one Korean city experienced street harassment, and 79% of those individuals were women. About 72% of the incidents occurred on subway cars, 27.3% on buses, and 1.1% in taxis. Eighteen percent “strongly protested against their assailants” and 6.3% shouted. To see how your country compares, view the data here.

Although Hollaback! Korea was only launched last week, the site has already gathered several stories in both Korean and English, and has hosted four public awareness events around the country!

Hollaback! Korea wants to invite any interested party living in Korea to contact them if they would like to participate in the site’s development, especially those who have experience working on websites, translating from English to Korean, and event planning.

For those of us living in Korea, attend the Hollaback! Launch Party this Saturday in Seoul to show your support!

Hollaback Korea Seoul Launch Party Team 2
The Hollaback! Korea Seoul Launch Party Team

If you live in a country or city that does not yet have a Hollaback! site, you can start one—check out how here!

To easily take part in the fight against street harassment, like the Hollaback! Korea Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @HollabackKorea.

Don’t forget to post when you see street harassment occur wherever you are. You can use the free Hollaback! App to do so in real time, and be a part of helping people everywhere feel safer.

More Than Just a Foot Race

Recently, I wrote a piece about the ability of athletics to empower women and girls. Running a marathon is no exception.

Running, especially marathon running, is more than just a foot race. Finishing a marathon is a state of mind that says anything is possible. 

Last weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to run in the New York City Marathon, a race often described as being second only to the Olympics in terms of excitement and prestige. However, the hype surrounding the race did not push me across the finish line (although it didn’t hurt), but it was the strength, enthusiasm, dedication and fearlessness of other female marathoners from all corners of the world.

So go ahead and ask yourself, “Why do I run?”

Yinka, Sierra Leone & USA

“I run because I can.”

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"I run because I can." – Yinka, Sierra Leone

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Team Takbo, Philippines

“I run because I can.” ~ Ariene

“I run because I am strong.” ~ Mia

“I run for sanity.”

Lina, Dominican Republic

“I run for ice cream…seriously.”

 

Rose, Jill & Cristina, USA

“We run because we are strong and great friends.”

Renee, The Netherlands

“I run because I have the strength to do so.”

Crystal, USA

“I run because I am a busy mom.”

Mette, The Netherlands

“I run because I ROCK! Yeh!”

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#ingnycm "I run because I rock!" Yes you do!!

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Mantza & Andreina, Venezuela

“I run because I can and I will.”

“Yo corro porque soy awesome!”

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Live coverage on MDG progress, success stories and the post-2015 agenda

Check out the Girls’ Globe coverage from Monday, 23rd September 2013 on Storify, featuring interviews, photos, Twitter discussions and more!

Remember to follow the live coverage on Twitter, Instagram (don’t miss our 15 second interviews!), Vine and Facebook!

Remember the hashtag:

 

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Let's Change Our Perspective

Among many undertakings, Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS) periodically trains volunteers to operate a sexual assault crisis hotline that is available 24 hours to victims of sexual assault in Connecticut. Volunteers are trained to understand the historical context of feminism, the intricacies and psychology of sexual assault, and basic counseling skills to assist callers in returning to a “pre-crisis” state. In addition to answering calls made to the hotline, volunteers may be required to meet victims at hospitals or police stations to provide support. The CONNSACS sexual assault crisis volunteers empower victims and provide information regarding short-term and long-term resources. CONNSACS consists of a coalition of various sexual assault crisis agencies located throughout Connecticut, whose mission is to “end sexual violence and ensure high quality, comprehensive, and culturally competent sexual assault victim services”(CONNSACS). Through community education such as primary prevention efforts, workshops and trainings, and victim assistance, and policy advocacy such as research, publications, and lobbying, CONNSACS works to ameliorate and end sexual violence (CONNSACS). CONNSACS’ overarching technique for preventing sexual violence is empowering victims. CONNSACS and its supporting agencies do not make decisions for victims, whose decision making power has been removed by their abusers. CONNSACS agencies validate victims, explore options, create safety plans for victims and their families, and provide counseling, resources, and information to assist in healing.

Photo Credit: GEMS

During my Certified Sexual Assault Crisis Counselor training at Women & Families Center (WFC), a CONNSACS community-based agency located in Meriden, CT, I viewed a documentary entitled, Very Young Girls, that depicts the incredible work of Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of forced prostitution. GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services), located in New York City and founded by Rachel Lloyd, assists girls and women in removing themselves from forced prostitution. Very Young Girls is an account of sexual exploitation in the United States, the work of GEMS, and the stories of multiple girls who were forced into prostitution in New York City. As an individual who is passionate about creating global gender equity, the documentary stood out because it reminded me that, sadly, sexual exploitation and gender inequity still hold a place in the U.S., when many of us chose to believe that it is a thing of the past. Although all of the material from the CONNSACS training is crucial to the success of working the hotline, the information gained from Very Young Girls could be used by anyone to join in the fight for gender equity.Very Young Girls helped myself and the CONNSACS volunteers understand society’s perspective on sexual assault and prostitution, and how we should look at things differently. The news, TV, Facebook, movies, and literature, too often, depict women as vulnerable, acting out for attention, crying rape, and symbolizing lust. It is usually the women’s fault. She asked for it. She’s lying. According to The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, only 2-8% of rape accusations in the U.S. are false. The CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, estimated that 1.3 million women were raped in 2009, and the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found that the average annual number of rapes that were not reported to the police from 2006-2010 was 211,200. Additionally, Very Young Girls tells us that, at-risk young girls (average age 13) in the United States become victims of forced prostitution more than we think. According to the FBI, an estimated 293,000 youths in the United States were at-risk of commercial sexual exploitation in 2011. Let’s change our perspective. Let’s change society’s perspective.

Photo Credit: Joel Rogers Photography-Northwest Worldwide

In Very Young Girls, two young pimps videotape the abductions and abuse of girls in New York City, hoping to air their footage as a reality TV show. As a result of their poor decision-making, viewers get a real depiction of the characteristic procedure for exploiting and pimping young girls. Typically, the men begin by locating at-risk girls and treating them as their girlfriends. In some cases the girls are as young as 11 years old, and many have run away from home often fleeing other types of abuse. After a dominant abusive relationship is established, in which the girls completely rely on the men for food, clothing, and shelter, the men successfully force the girls to become prostitutes as a way to display their love and make money for the “couple”. The pimps control the mind, body, and income of the girls. The emotional abuse and psychological damage in the victims is clear through the documentary’s heart-wrenching interviews. (Eventually, the two men were arrested and the tapes were used as evidence against them in their trial.) On a more positive note, GEMS works to eradicate this abuse in New York City. Employing the underlying value of empowerment, similarly to CONSACCS, GEMS provides resources and opportunity for girls to escape imprisonment from their pimps. Please visit the GEMS website for more information.

Photo Credit: GEMS

The documentary highlights two important and coexisting themes from the CONNSACS training: the importance of empowering women without judgment and the very real tragedy of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the United States. My CONNSACS training and the documentary, Very Young Girls, helped instill within me the following ideas that we should all keep in mind: think twice before judging someone, they might need your help; human trafficking and violence against women is STILL REAL in the United States, not only in far away places; we don’t need to let the status quo of gender inequity remain, not even in our colloquial language and jokes; and resources are readily at our disposal to prevent and curb the effects of sexual violence. CONNSACS and the numerous other sexual assault crisis centers across the United States provide us with signs of hope and social change amidst these tragedies. According to Arte Sana, an internationally recognized sexual assault victim advocacy organization based in Austin Texas, there are active sexual assault crisis centers in all 50 states! Even if we are not CONNSACS employees, hotline volunteers, or Rachel Lloyd, we need to remember that small contributions such as simply changing our perspective and reminding others to do so, too, is a big part of ending gender inequity across the world and in the U.S., where this epidemic still lives.

Please visit the CONNSACS, GEMS, Arte Sana, and Women & Families Center websites for further information and ways to show your support! A schedule of television airings for the documentary Very Young Girls can be found via the GEMS website.