Anti-street harassment with Shoreditch Sisters Women’s Institute


Stories are like paintings, giving colour to words’ bare bones. Such stories are in no short supply on the websites Hollaback London and ASH campaign.

These are not happy stories. They are not the soothing stuff of bedtime.

“When I turned away from him, he grabbed me by my ponytail.”

“Waiting to cross the road, two guys are crossing the road and have to pass me. One of them, says “Alright, bitch?” whilst leering.”

“When I confronted him to get off and not to treat women that way, he shoved me and called me a ‘fat f*cking bitch’.”

There are a lot of these stories, more than you know. Most men don’t do this, and most men don’t see it, so they’re not aware of its ubiquity. Women think their experiences are more isolated than they are. Silence equals solitude, and assumptions that these experiences are rare.

At the Shoreditch Sisters Women’s Institute last night, it became clear that they are not. While experiencing physical violence is more unusual, there wasn’t a woman in the room who hadn’t been on the receiving end of unwanted leering or shouting, hissing or spitting.

The possibility of it crosses women’s minds every time they step out of the house. As they wonder what to wear, it is a conversation they have with themselves.


Some women shout back, or ask the man or group of men to stop. Sometimes this works, but sometimes this means that you get chased, assaulted or subjected to even more aggressive/obscene comments.

Not surprisingly, Vicki Simister’s ASH campaign is not focused on telling women to be more assertive. It’s rightfully trying to address the way this behaviour is seen as acceptable or somehow an understandable part of being male, and mobilising the press and the government to take the issue seriously.

After a group of men kerb-crawled Vicky and shouted obscene comments at her on Green Lanes one night, she finally snapped and shouted at them, and smacked the car. When the men chased her and assaulted her, the police (who could prosecute this kind of behaviour as a section 5 public order offence) told her that she’d be liable for prosecution because she hit their car. They laughed off the harassment as a ‘complement’, and she began to realize that there was something very wrong with the system.


As I sat in a room with 40 or so kickass women and heard their stories, I suddenly felt full of contempt for an education system that fails to teach you anything of importance. Is it more important than you can do algebra or that you respect other people?

School isn’t like this. You rarely get the chance to talk and support each other, and hear other people’s stories about how your behaviour affects them. You don’t get to feel like less of a passive victim and more of part of a comforting gang who’ve got your back.

Vicky talked about how this problem is getting worse, as the difference between genders becomes more polarised at school, as girls are pressured to be sexual and boys pressured to be masculine and unthinking (you fucking gay), and rewarded by their peers for humiliating girls. If you’re too sexual it’s wrong (slag). If you’re not sexual it’s wrong (frigid).

Increasing distance and misunderstanding. No wonder people feel so alone. What a miserable fail. If only the ‘gender-neutral’ pre-school in Sweden were the norm.

Her next move is a campaign called “I DO take no for an answer”, and will feature pictures of men holding up this slogan – men who, like the majority of their sex, think it’s wrong to turn the streets into places of insecurity and fear.

Pic of Shoreditch Sisters at the London Slutwalk, from their Facebook page


One Response to “Anti-street harassment with Shoreditch Sisters Women’s Institute”

  1. 1 Trevor Parsons

    Hi. Thought I’d alert you to the unfortunate fact that the ASH Campaign domain you link to twice in the above post has lapsed and been taken over by spammers. You might want to remove the links if you’re able to edit the post, or perhaps link to the last snapshot taken of the genuine site by the wonderful Wayback Machine —

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