Emily May: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s Badass Activist is Emily May. Emily co-founded Hollaback! in 2005 and is now the executive director of the organization. The aim of Hollaback! is to give women and LGBTQ people the tools to respond to street harassment, and to work towards eventually ending street harassment altogether. Just this year, Emily was named one of 20 women leading the way by the Huffington Post, and one of 12 women to watch in 2012 by the Daily Muse.

So without further ado, here are Emily’s answers to our questions!

Where do you come from? What is your educational background, what inspired you to chose that path and how did it lead you to Hollaback! ?

I moved to New York City (to go to NYU) from Richmond when I was 18 years old — and as I was exiting my dorm some guy said “hey baby” to me. Assuming New York City was like grown-up Sesame Street, I said “hey” back. He responded, “I want to **** the **** out of you.” The harassment continued throughout my college education, and I figured it was my fault. I didn’t look “tough” enough, and if I was really a strong woman than it wouldn’t hurt so much. But it did.

I walked around silenced by the harassment I experienced for six years until I finally got angry enough to do something about it.  Hollaback! was co-founded by three men and four men in 2005, and we’ve been rocking and rolling ever since.

What are some of the challenges and rewards of working internationally? How do you connect with the other site leaders, and how do the programs differ in different countries?

When we started in New York City in 2005, we didn’t where street harassment happened, we just knew it happened to us. Now we’ve got over 150 trained activists in 50 cities, 17 countries, and 9 different languages. Each of our site leaders go through a three month training prior to launch, and then we provide ongoing trainings via webinar.   Without our site leaders, we’re just a bunch of websites.  They bring the movement to life in their communities.  Our philosophy is that they know best how to address and solve harassment in their communities — and so their intervention vary from community to community.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Tell us about the “I’ve got Your Back” campaign. How does it work and what are your goals for impact?

With the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign we want to show people how to intervene, and celebrate when they do.  Too often, people believe that intervening means swooping down in superhero spandex and beating everyone up, but our studies show that actions as little as giving the person who was harassed an understanding look has the capacity to reduce trauma and stop the harassment.

We’re partnering with Green Dot to build a set up a resources on how to intervening, and we just upgraded our iPhone and Droid apps so bystander can document when and where they intervene and be a role model for others.  Our next steps are developing a co-branded workshop on street harassment and bystander intervention with Green Dot, and scaling it to our 50 sites internationally.

Do you have some success stories from the trenches yet? How are people responding to the project?

Everyday is a success story — running Hollaback! is like an activist fairytale.  The New York City Council funded us to connect our free iPhone and Droids apps to their system, making New York City the first city in the world to track and map street harassment. In Isreal, the government invested in a comprehensive study on street harassment in partnership with our site. And in London, street harassment has become a campaign issue in the upcoming mayorial campaign. For more success stories, check out our “State of the Streets” report.

The most common response to our project? “THANK GOD.  Someone is finally addressing that.”  We’re backed by tremendous momentum.  Street harassment is poised to be to this decade what workplace harassment was to the 1980s.

Do you have any exciting new projects coming up that you would like to tell us about?

Yes! We’ve have a new project to address campus harassment.  Over the past seven years I’ve talked to thousands of college students, and they’ve shown me that street harassment happens all over college campuses. It doesn’t matter how big or small the campus is, or if it’s in a rural or urban area. Studies show that 51% of college men admit to harassing their female counterparts,  which of course means the reality is much, much worse.

My sister is going to college next year, and from where I’m sitting enough is enough. In a 2005 study 57% of students said that they wanted an anonymous online reporting platform to address campus harassment. It was by far and away the #1 solution voted for by students. When I called the author of the report, she said that no one ever implemented the recommendation. NO ONE. Luckily, anonymous online reporting is what Hollaback! does best.

This is a long fight — but we’re in it to win it. And with your support, all the baby babies rolling around in strollers today will never have to experience campus harassment the way that we have. Take two minutes to watch our campaign video and donate here.

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