In honor of 16 Days of Activism, Chalk Back and Cheer Up Luv are teaming up to highlight what accountability means to six activists around the world in a photo and interview series. The series will highlight the topic of accountability from the perspective of young activists in different contexts. We hope these interviews will help engage people of all genders in the conversation on gender-based harassment. This interview features Maya, co-founder of @CatcallsofOttawa and Natasha, co-founder of @CatcallsofOttawa and co-lead of Chalk Back.
1) What is the role(s) of men and boys in the movement against gender based street harassment?
Learn, unlearn and relearn. Get educated and educate. Listen. Speak up. We understand it is hard work to undo the norms that society has ingrained in you. We cannot begin to understand the complexities of hyper masculinity but you have to dismantle bias within yourself and within society. Whether that be having a conversation with a friend or taking a hard, deep look at yourself. Self-examination and self-awareness are vital in order to leap forward and work as a collective.
2) What has your experience been with men and boys during your time running Catcalls of Ottawa? What are their reactions? Have you gotten negative or positive feedback? Share some examples.
Men and boys are not a homogenous group. Each person is different. Thus, we’ve had different experiences with men and boys during our activism journey with Catcalls of Ottawa. We’ve been harassed by men while chalking: we’ve been verbally harassed, videoed and slapped. We get the most DMs from men, asking us why we write such vulgar words on the streets and telling us we are creating an awful environment for children.
At the same time, we’ve gone chalking with boys and men. They’ve come up to us while chalking and thanked us for our work. They’ve asked us how they can be better allies. Some of the biggest fans of Catcalls of Ottawa’s work are men.
3) What does accountability mean to you? Who needs to be accountable when it comes to gender-based street harassment? How do we hold harassers and abusers accountable?
To us, accountability is a step-system. Owning up to your actions. Acknowledging what you’ve done. Staying in it, despite the discomfort. Educating yourself. Progressing and moving forward. Not just saying you’re going to be better but actually being better. Accountability is not a “sorry”- it is action. It is deep self reflection and change of behaviour.
4) In your context, what are realistic next steps towards accountability?
It all starts with education. School curriculum needs to include lessons on gender norms, consent, accountability. Children, especially boys, need to learn these concepts at a young age and see examples of boys and mean being accountable in the content they consume.
Boys and men in Ottawa need to take a pause, reflect on their bias and actions and change their behaviours. Be conscious of the language they use, be okay with speaking up to their friends and holding them accountable. Authentic friendship is being able to tell your friends when they are being harmful. Truth Telling is the mark of a good friend, ally and member of society. Allyship is not simply being an ally in public, but in private as well. Holding and promoting the same values, regardless of where we are, or who we are with. Yes, it can result in discomfort, and yes, you must accept that because that very feeling is a stepping stone in change being made.
5) Anything else you want to add?
We need to collectively work together to end gender based street harassment. The responsibility cannot fall on marginalized genders. Boys and men need to understand it is their responsibility. We’d love it if your New Year’s resolution was becoming a better ally. In the meantime, we’ll be out on the streets, chalking back.
Photo Credit: Eliza Hatch/ @CheerUpLuv