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Creatively addressing street harassment in Italy: a “me” that became an active “we”

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.

12 thoughts on “Creatively addressing street harassment in Italy: a “me” that became an active “we””

  1. Andrea Alessandro says:

    I appreciate the idea, because I think everyone has to care about this problem, male and female. I hope to hear more about this topic in the future!

  2. Lello Cioffi says:

    Very Very important idea.
    I agree

  3. Maja Bjelos says:

    I would like to praise these two young women for having courage to share their personal story to all of us and bringing this issue into public discourse. I strongly believe this creative initiative will mobilize people to act against street harassment not only in Italy, but worldwide.

  4. Kitprasert Nopparat says:

    Great initiative! More awareness raising on this matter would be very much fruitful. Perhaps a conference or public seminar could be a nice shot?

  5. Antonello says:

    Grazie Alma, sono assolutamente d’accordo con le motivazioni di questa ricerca, ne condivido le istanze e le urgenze.
    Da persona assolutamente libera di pensare e scegliere, seppur consapevole dei limiti imposti dalla nostra società, considero negativo ogni comportamento che minimamente possa ledere quelli che sono gli altrui spazi di pensiero, di comportamento, di atteggiamento, di credo religioso, politico, di modalità di agire, vestire, amare, lavorare, respirare, camminare e tutto ciò che è consentito ad una donna o uomo che sia, fino al confine molto ampio dell’altro da sé.
    Buon lavoro!

  6. Jane says:

    Really interesting to read I really like stickers’ wording!

  7. Cori Abdol says:

    This is a truly pertinent issue that needs more attention. The embedded sexism that perpetuates a culture of rape, harassment, and silence needs to addressed. I love the idea of creating the opportunity for the conversation to be furthered through the stickers. Keep up the activism!

  8. Ema S says:

    Sounds like a good idea and a promising initiative. Street harassment is often neglected problem.

  9. Maria Dolores says:

    Very interesting! Congratulation!! Never give up!

  10. Jasmine Kosovic says:

    I love what you are up to! I love this badass truth-telling!

    I remember being a student (I’m American) and visiting Italy in the 80s, and encountering this aggressive catcalling when I walked around… But it only happened when I was alone or with girlfriends… I had gotten NO such hassle when I had walked around those same places with my boyfriend! I remember being told that it’s no big deal, hey, it’s a compliment, and it confused me.

    For me, it was, on one hand, an ego boost, that I was found to be attractive, but it was also an attack.

    Why did I feel so crappy when it happened? Indeed, as you so clearly state, it’s an aggressive affront, an invasion, and I felt it was aimed at putting me in my place, as an object, not a person.

    What’s interesting to me is that when I have encountered this – and I’ve since been to Cuba where this kind of harassment is about 100 times worse (and makes the Italian men on the street seem SHY!) – I have instantly looked down at the men who addressed me in this way. His behavior demeans himself as well. An interesting paradox.

    I’m inspired by the worldwide awareness and discussion that is happening around this. This is just another of the many small slights that can chip away at a girl’s sense of self, a girl’s sense of safety, self esteem and personal power. I am the mother of a one-year-old girl, and it’s movements like these that give me huge hope for her generation’s future!

  11. Mi piace molto questa iniziativa, credo possa aiutare tante donne a riprendersi la propria dignità.
    Anche se sono un uomo mi accorgo ogni giorno di tante piccole molestie che a prima vista sembrano un gioco, un modo di scherzare, ma non è sempre così.
    Le molestie piccole o grandi sono sempre molestie.

    Spero che questa iniziativa abbia un buon seguito e un buon svilupo, sensibilizzare l’opinione pubblica è un nostro dovere.

    In bocca al lupo.

    Francesco Paglino

  12. Marta says:

    Bravo for the iniciative! I totally support it as, yes, you are not the only one detesting street harrassment. Raise awareness is a must and this Ppoject is a big step for it. Keep it up girls! Best of luck!

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