Ever walk down the street to an unwelcome comment followed by a wounded response from someone claiming that they’re “just trying to say hi?” Ever get scolded for refusing to take a compliment when the supposed flattery is hurled at you while you’re just trying to get home? That’s street harassment for you, and it’s a problem we all deal with.
But Twitter user Mikki Kendall was tired of accepting it. So when a user chastised her over her complaints about being catcalled—“Ever think that maybe a guy sees a chick he thinks is hot and just wants to try to start up a convo”—she hit back with a hashtag.
“We do understand that it’s #NotJustHello right? That street harassment is never that calm or polite?” Kendall tweeted.
Soon, under the #NotJustHello hashtag, women began sharing their experiences of street harassment. Their accounts are harrowing, honest, and brave:
A survey commissioned by Stop Street Harassment in 2014 found that 65% of women and 25% of men in a 2,000 person survey had experienced some form of street harassment. For women, 57% of the harassment was verbal. Based on this study, if you’re a woman, you have more than a 50% chance of getting harassed in some form just by going outside.
There’s a difference between a warm greeting or a compliment and catcalling, which, like it or not, is a verbal assault. The difference is context. The problem is that the defenders of catcalling—those that would have you believe that you should smile and thank the dude yelling some crude thing about your body—seem oblivious to the setting where these remarks are being hurled your way. If someone came up to me at a party and complimented my necklace, well sure, it would just be saying hello. If I’m walking down the street with my headphones on and someone screams something from a passing vehicle, it feels threatening and dangerous.
Street harassment is an issue that deserves to be taken seriously, and that’s what an organic campaign like #NotJustHello is trying to do—to shed light on what it feels like to be a victim of verbal assault. The first step in fighting harassment is to acknowledge that it’s a real and pervasive problem. It’s not just hello.