The Next Step In Fighting Street Harassment? A Comic Book.

HollabackPHILLY, a branch of the anti-street harassment organization Hollaback!, hasn’t taken many breaks in the last few months. They’ve placed campaign posters on Philly subway trains, have met with companies about removing pro-harassment messages from their advertising and, last Thursday, the group sent their newly finished anti-street harassment comic book to the printer.

Hollaback! started in 2005 and now has chapters in 64 cities and 22 countries. It fights against street harassment by encouraging people to document incidents and not to just “walk on” but to “hollaback!” The group also teaches people to take street harassment seriously, and not dismiss it by saying something like, “Well, boys will be boys.”

The 24-page comic book, called Hollaback: Red, Yellow, Blue, is written and drawn by Erin Filson (one of the current leaders of HollabackPHILLY, along with Rochelle Keyhan and Anna Kegler) and features characters who deal with street harassment. One of the story lines features Blue, Red’s boyfriend, who begins to realize the impact street harassment has on girls and women. He then struggles with how to respond when he overhears harassing behavior. Besides the printed book, the group will offer an e-book option and plans on putting up an interactive (“choose your own adventure”) comic on their website.

The Philadelphia Hollaback! crew has plenty of personal experience with harassment. Keyhan, who’s originally from Southern California, remembers an instance in which men blew kisses and made crude gestures at her when she was just 12 years old and walking home from school. Now 28, she says she still witnesses street harassment all the time, as have her Hollaback! counterparts. “It’s rampant, it’s everywhere. You just expect it, almost, when you’re walking around,” Filson says.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you may have seen examples of Hollaback! in anti-street harassment campaign posters in subway cars. These posters and the comic book point out the difference between a compliment and harassment (as in the poster below):

“We want to get people to recognize [street harassment] as a problem that can actually be solved,” Kegler adds.

The first move is getting people to realize street harassment shouldn’t be inevitable. In an effort to find new ways to increase awareness, the group raised more than $8,000 to create the comic book, and they’re planning to use some of that money to distribute it at national conventions, such as the 2013 Philadelphia Wizard World Convention and the 2014 Comic Con in San Diego. Harassment isn’t a problem limited to the streets: Complaints of harassment at comic conventions are posted online after many events, mostly coming from women who attend in costume. The San Diego Comic Con, one of the world’s largest comic conventions, does not have formal anti-harassment policies or officials who are looking out for harassment, so HollabackPHILLY is pushing to change that. The message, says Filson, is “cosplay [short for costume play] is NOT consent.” She explains:

You’re dressed as these characters that everyone fantasizes about … there’s this idea that, ‘I can talk to or touch this person and photograph them in any way I want and not treat them like they’re still an everyday person.’

One of the main goals of Hollaback! and its Philadelphia branch is to help women, especially, and those in the LGBTQ community to find and amplify their voices when faced with harassing behavior. As Keyhan puts it,

Hollaback! doesn’t necessarily mean in the moment shouting at the harasser. Find your voice and let us help you do that, even [by] just acknowledging, ‘That was harassing behavior that just happened and we’re not going to just ignore it.’

The comic books will be completed in time for Philadelphia’s Comic Con, where Keyhan, Filson and Kegler plan to distribute the Hollaback! message to as many comic-book fans as they can.

Image from comic book and photo of subway campaign courtesy of HollabackPHILLY.


Ponta Abadi, a graduate of the University of Oregon, is a former Ms. intern. Follow her on Twitter.