I realized I was not alone in experiencing and in detesting street harassment through a tweet I read back in 2013. I tried many times to trace back the young women who shared:
“Nothing is ‘wrong’ with me if I don’t want to talk to you, charming man on the side of the road; I owe you nothing!” – Anyway, whoever you are, thank you! This message wrapped in less than 140 characters, made the difference to me; it triggered something that inspired me to dig deeper, search for dedicated NGOs, read books and share my experience with friends. I decided shift my position from target to researcher and I focused my master’s degree dissertation project on the roots and transmission of street harassing behaviours in Italy, my own context.
Although street harassment has a rather odd transposition in my language, “Molestie di Strada”, I soon understood the importance of directly naming this unspoken form of violence against women that is generally referred as a typical and cultural form of “galanteria” (gallantry) or “complimenti pesanti” (heavy compliments), completely ignoring women’s desires and the patriarchal culture we live in. In Italian, the harasser is generally termed as “pappagallo” (parrot). This not only vividly gives the idea of a sterile repetition of words, but it also suggests the animalization of human behaviours, operating a dangerous shift from the sociological (learned behaviour) level to the biological one (inescapable nature).
The personal strong motivation behind my research brought me closer to activism and to mark the fifth edition of the International Anti-Street Harassment Week (April 2015), the “me” became an active “we”. Together with my best friend Shari Borghese*, we started discussing how to give meaningful contribution to the initiative. We had many ideas and little resources but we were committed to start somewhere. We decided to design thought-provoking stickers to be placed in highly visited locations of our hometowns and in any place we would go. Our messages are clear and meant to open-up the discussion. Some Stickers say “My body is not a public space” , “Why don’t you intervene when you witness harassment?” or “NO doesn’t mean convince me”.
After placing the stickers, we took pictures and posted them on the Facebook page and Twitter page we created both in Italian and English. We are a very small initiative, and receiving 330 likes in couple of weeks felt like a big success! We were incredibly surprised to spot labels placed by anonymous supporters in cafes, universities and train stations. This motivated us to keep working on our initiative on a daily basis. We are now looking at creative ideas to fundraising by organizing events like a second-hand small market called “My Outfit is Not an Invitation”, and we are welcoming suggestions and contributions by friends and followers!
*Alma Rondanini is a young feminist and co-founder of the initiative NO Molestie Di Strada (NO Street harassment); she is graduate student in Gender and Peacebuilding at the UN-mandated University for Peace, Costa Rica. She is currently working as research intern at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy assisting the Gender and Security Program, focusing on women’s and men’s security in public spaces in Serbia.
*Shari Borghese is a young feminist and co-founder of the initiative NO Molestie Di Strada (NO Street harassment); she is a student in New Technologies of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, Italy. She is an artist and co-founder of CriShArt. Her creative work is requested for live performances, indoor, private design and decoration. She also organized workshops in hospitals to engage child patients with arts.