Shout It From a Billboard: Street Harassment NOT Cool

LancasterBillboard2CROP

When was the last time you saw a billboard flashing messages about consent, respecting women or street harassment? I’d guess never.

I had never seen one either, until a few days ago when I drove to Lancaster, Penn., and stood in front of a digital billboard along Dillerville Rd. displaying these three messages. As an anti-street harassment activist, I was especially excited by one reading, “Street harassment? Not cool. Women are NOT prey. Respect women. Respect Yourself. hu-manup.org”

The billboard messages were made possible by the new nonprofit the planet project and their initiative hu-MAN Up. I met with co-directors Adele Taylor Ulrich and Ray Manlove, both theater professionals and social-justice activists, whose work has included addressing sexism and sexual violence. They believe in using unconventional methods to reach as many people as possible; other tactics they’ve used include sidewalk chalk messages and flyers placed by urinals in men’s bathrooms.

Earlier this year, they launched a call for image and spoken-word submissions focused on rape culture. All image submissions were exhibited in the spring at Lancaster’s Zoetropolis Art House and Theater, and community members performed a play devised from the entries. While the event was very successful, like so many anti-violence events that take place nationwide their audience was comprised of people who were already informed about sexual violence and sexism. So they decided to take their messages to the general public through the billboard campaign. Said Manlove,

We have to raise public awareness. We have to stop having this issue in the closet. We need to get it out in the open. Now that I’m in my 60s, I really feel a sense of urgency to push to change our culture in as many ways as I can, as quickly as I can.

The placement of their billboard is strategic: It’s near Franklin and Marshall College (F&M), which is under a federal Title IX investigation for its handling of sexual assault reports. The campus is supportive of the billboards. Said Mikaela Luttrell-Rowland, Ph.D, director of the campus’s Alice Drum Women’s Center,

In this age of constant advertising and visuals that objectify women’s bodies, the messages on these billboard seem like they could serve a key function. These are important reminders that we need to hear and see more of: Street harassment is not okay. Rape is not okay. Respect for women matters.

LancasterBillboardCROPThe Alice Drum Women’s Center, according to Luttrell-Rowland, is “doing work around gendered violence. We run a public speaker series and ongoing leadership trainings and discussions that align with similar messages as these billboards.” The center also addresses “interlocking systems of oppression” and teaches and talks about “racism, classism, ethnocentrism, homophobia and transphobia, as well as about sexism.”

College spokeswoman Cass Cliatt talked to me too, saying, “We feel there is value in initiatives that seek to build constructive partnerships.” They are currently exploring ways to collaborate with hu-MAN Up on educational programs and outreach around campus sexual assault prevention.

hu-MAN Up hopes to bring their messages to billboards near other Lancaster college campuses and to build partnerships with them, too. So far, says Taylor Ulrich, the billboards have received nothing but positive responses from the Lancaster and F&M campus communities. “I believe they will help F&M step up their game when it comes to dealing with sexual assault,”says F&M senior Mackenzie Oettel, who has experienced street harassment many times and sees it as “a major issue that needs to end.”

Adds Lancaster resident Ky Harris, who has many friends attending F&M, “I think the billboards are a great idea for fighting back.” He notes that to change the culture, “it takes a lot of ‘calling someone out’”—something he does with friends and teammates.

The billboard messages will be on display through September 6. hu-MAN Up has an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to expand the billboard campaign and launch a bus ad campaign in Lancaster as well. If they raise enough funds, they plan to buy ad space on billboards in other cities next year.

Taylor Ulrich and Manlove especially hope to mobilize men with their campaign. “Until men become engaged and involved in the work, change will come slowly,” Manlove says. Adds Taylor Ulrich,

We need to ask good guys out there to speak up safely. They need to know that when they witness sexism, harassment and violence and are silent, it makes them complicit.

Photos of Ray Manlove and Adele Taylor Ulrich in front of two of the three Lancaster billboard messages. Photo credit: Mark Hutchens.

Holly_Kearl

Holly Kearl is the founder of the nonprofit organization Stop Street Harassment and author of two books about street harassment, including the just-released  50 Stories about Stopping Street Harassers. She also works as an international consultant for the United Nations’ Global Safe Cities Initiative.

 

Comments

  1. Well said! The billboards are wild! What a difference from the usual mass media dogvomit. Brava, Adele, bravo Ray. Street harassment is directly connected with campus sexual assault (which I experienced as a frosh at Millersville University) which is directly connected with workplace harassment which is directly connected with the absence of women as tenured professors. To have only TWO female professors in four years of college is just wrong — but that was Millersville & Penn State circa 1980. The situation has not improved much since then. The Franklin & Marshall College Women’s Center is in the BASEMENT of the student center along with the MALE… er.. MAILROOM. Way to show PRIORITIES, F&M.

  2. Claudzilla says:

    Excellent article! Ray and Adele have so much focused passion about this issue of gender equality and bringing an end to the culture of sexism that pervades our world, and Holly really highlighted that. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to be a part of their effort, and seeing the billboards gives me such a thrill, a sense of fruition.

  3. Marty Langelan says:

    Love this!

    Let’s start asking every billboard company in the country to run this message.

    40 years ago, with no money, we’d spray-paint big bed sheets with the words “Stop Harassing Women!” and hang the sheets from our dorm and apartment windows. That was the best we could do, back then — but we can do a heck of a lot more now.

    • Marty, we are working on exactly that! The thing is, getting PSA billboards pro bono often means that one is at the mercy of the advertising company, in terms of placement (as in, if it’s free, they throw it up in a more obscure location, or, say facing the wrong way on a one way street). Funding will help make this a national, and eventually a global campaign, with high visibility locations. Though the Indiegogo window is closed, the campaign is ongoing. All donations we receive, via the PayPal link on hu-manup.org will go directly to hanging more signs. The time to change the landscape in which we socialize boys is long past due.

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