Takin’ it to the Streets: Cripping Street Harassment

This photo is of a performer from The Gimp Project who is leaning on crutches in the middle of a dance piece.In February I attended an excellent conference on feminism and disability at Barnard College called Movements: Politics, Performance, and Disability. Organized by the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW), this day-long event brought together artists, academics, and activists to examine the relationship between gender and disability, and consider the ways the two may combine to inform contemporary social justice movements and a future society. During the opening remarks and morning panel discussion—which featured BCRW Director Janet Jakobsen; author/filmmaker Simi Linton (via video); and professors Nirmala Erevelles, Carrie Sandahl, Susan Schweik, and Alice Sheppard—I was reminded of the potential disability theory and activism have to revolutionize the way we conceptualize and work toward social change. When it comes to intersectionality, the folks who prioritize disability are setting a great example of what a multidimensional, inclusive movement could look like.

In considering the interplay of street harassment and disability, I was reminded of this conference because of a phrase I wrote boldly in my notes that day with the intention of firmly cementing it in my brain: architecture of aggression. When Simi Linton used the word "architecture" in reference to disability, she used it both literally and metaphorically to describe the tangible physical structures that people encounter, as well as the manner in which social dynamics have been (consciously and unconsciously) designed. In thinking about the former, Linton points out the ways the construction of buildings have made public space both implicitly and explicitly hostile for people with certain types of physical disabilities (for example, buildings with accessibility ramps hidden on the side), and how many are hostile to the point of complete impediment and exclusion (e.g., buildings with no ramps at all or public schools that aren't resourced to educate children with mental health diagnoses). To encounter these structures is to face the aggression of an ableist society that views you as a subject of domination. It is a reminder that public space is neither equipped for, appreciative of, nor welcoming of your presence.

The kind of street harassment encountered by people with disabilities goes beyond individual interactions with men who shove their crotch into the faces of girls and women in wheelchairs or who target people who are (or appear to them to be) more vulnerable. It extends to an architecture of aggression that is implicit in the actual structures and strategies ableist thinkers and builders have brought (and still bring) into being.

In the process of creating a "movement" to end street harassment, we must interrogate the full scope of the problem that ableism brings to the issue itself, the way the issue is shaped by ableist anti-street harassment activists, and the holistic effectiveness of solutions. If who might be left out of an anti-street harassment movement's framing and tactics fails to be a central concern to activists who say that all people deserve equal access to the streets, then it ain't gonna be a true revolution.

* The title of this post leans on Carrie Sandahl's definition of "to crip," which can be found here.

The GIMP Project (Excerpt) from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

Photo & Video: The Gimp Project

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Comments

23 comments have been made. Post a comment.

This reminds me of the

This reminds me of the construct of institutional oppression. How there can be many, many people who are oppressed, but not one clear person/group of people that are doing the oppressing. Street harassment is not a fight between the harassed and those harassing them, but a fight against an outmoded way of living and interacting built into our culture that we can change without needing to expend any of our energy towards fighting individual people! Great article!

:-)

Thank you for teasing out the larger point, Anon! And for your kind words!

An important subject - and,

An important subject - and, having been harrassed in public just yesterday, one that's very dear to my heart.

Would you mind please looking at the very first principles for web accessibility, and using alt tags for images and descriptions for videos? This isn't new information, crips have been saying this here for literally years now, and have received assurances over and over that the site is supposedly planning to pay more attention to accessibility. At this point, after so long, I'm finding it hard to interpret the continued inaccesibility, even on the bloody crip posts, as anything other than just plain rudeness.

will do!

Thanks lauredhel. Excellent point! I just changed the alt text on this photo (I don't know what to do the video?) and I'll email Kelsey your comment/request to be sure she sees it.

For folks who are unawares and might want to make changes to their own blogs, is there a link (or links) you can suggest that details these types of changes and how to make them?

Those people could do ok by

Those people could do ok by starting with the first hit they get after typing "web accessibility" into the Search box at the top of this page, and the second hit they get after doing the same in Google.

Thanks Michelle!

Here's a bit of my reading list for the day kindly emailed to me by a Bitch reader so that I don't have to bumblingly sort the wheat from the chaff that is the world wide interwebs and can instead get straight to the business of increasing accessibility in my blogging. I hope others will take this opportunity to add this to their reading list as well.

http://www.audiodescribe.com/
http://www.soundassociates.com/services/
http://www.cidny.org/cidnyweb/npo.jsp?pg=detail14
http://www.youtube.com/user/DISLABELEDtv

I'm not sure what these links have to do with web accessibility

The videos demonstrate ways to make videos accessible (since they have captions, etc.) but none of the above links actually tell web designers how to increase accessibility. What lauredhel told you to do was the best way to start learning about web accessibility, actually.

Accessibility

Thanks lauredhel and Mandy for bringing this up. We do strive to include alt tags with our blog images on the Bitch site and to transcribe/describe audio and video, but you're right that it doesn't happen every time, especially since we have a variety of guest bloggers. As the web editor here, I take full responsibility for the lack of consistency—it's my job to make sure that we're all on the same page and adhering to the same guidelines. I apologize and will work to make sure it doesn't happen again.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Look, my first impulse is to

Look, my first impulse is to produce a submissive smile and a thankyou, but Kelsey, the reality is I was part of a group who, what, two years ago? _donated_ a substantial amount of our consulting time developing accessibility suggestion and guidelines for this site at your request. It has been brought up repeatedly since then, and over and over and over you just say mea culpa and move on and nothing changes.

So this is not remotely the first time, and I'm sick of not just being ignored but having these ongoing requests for basic accessibility met with rudeness, tone arguments, and accusations of "bullying".

This mirrors exactly what's happening out there, and exactly what this post was _supposed_ to be about.

Bitch's record on this, and reactions to this, are not good enough, and the criticism you are receiving is thoroughly deserved, and, I might say, extremely restrained under the circumstances.

The only "baggage" here is Bitch's extremely poor record on accessibility.

I'll quote from this post:

"To encounter these structures is to face the aggression of an ableist society that views you as a subject of domination. It is a reminder that public space is neither equipped for, appreciative of, nor welcoming of your presence.

The kind of street harassment encountered by people with disabilities goes beyond individual interactions [...] It extends to an architecture of aggression that is implicit in the actual structures and strategies ableist thinkers and builders have brought (and still bring) into being."

That is exactly what's going on here.

Oh hey, there's a link right on Bitch magazine for that!

Thanks again!

If there's stuff you don't see covered by the links above, keep 'em coming, folks.

Kelsey: Maybe Bitch could add this link to your Blogging Guidelines? Is it it there already and I missed it? :-P

Actually, Mandy, can you tell

Actually, Mandy, can you tell me what about the links you have above describe how to make content accessible? Because I've looked at them all and they have nothing to do with web content that I can see. Perhaps you can explain how to use them for web accessibility? Thank you!

You're welcome!

What I did is I followed Lauredhel's advice to put "web accessibility" into the search engine at the top of this page and then linked to the first thing that came up. It was so great of her to provide that instruction, wasn't it?

Snarkasm is Unnecessary

I posted the links Michelle emailed me before I had a chance to read them (which is why I said they were on my reading list for the day). Now that I have read through them, they don't appear to be instructive on web accessibility, but instead, are links regarding various elements of various issues related to accessibility and people with various kinds of disabilities.

However, the Bitch blog post link provided by A Link for You does just what its apt title says: How to make your blog accessible in five not-very-complicated steps. And it's an excellent resource that I will refer back to and use as a jumping off point for self-education.

Since the hostility is pretty glaring in this comment thread, I just want to point out that snarky and patronizing comments fail to conform to Bitch's comment policy regarding standards of respect. While I understand that making mistakes (rightfully) generates feelings of disappointment and perhaps even a certain level of anger, I don't see why I should tolerate these types of barbs for making a mistake -- particularly given that I am stepping up to own, correct, and learn from my mistake -- so I respectfully request that you don't continue to make these types of comments.

Street Harassment & Disability

As a paraplegic and founder of the self-defense non-profit NOT-ME!, I am in complete agreement with the link between street harassment and disability. Both are variations of the same issue. Street harassment is bullying regardless of who is the target of the bullying and what exact form the harassment takes.

Ending street harassment requires a creating a culture in where bullying is all it's forms is not tolerated by targets, bystanders, and society in general. That requires educating everyone on the importance of respecting, communicating, and enforcing behavioral limits.

As for all the negative comments and complaints regarding web accessibility, I think they are out of line. I find it unfortunate that some comments on this article focused not on the content of her post, but on the "accessibility" of her post.

These types of comments simply serve to discourage other authors from writing about the subject of disability for fear of inadvertently offending someone. It would have been better form to privately provide her with the accessibility information.

The "mistake" was compounded

The "mistake" was compounded by the all too familiar response of "I don't know what to do, you must teach me." If there hadn't been that expectation that someone else do the work of finding the information that you should've found for yourself and followed before ever posting on this topic, if there'd been good faith effort made once the problem was pointed out then no one would've resorted to snark.

a day in the life

I understand where you're coming from and your frustration. I also think you're bringing baggage from other battles into this conversation and unfairly lobbing that baggage at me.

RE: good faith. The first thing I did after reading lauredhel's comment was look up how to change the alt text and changed it. Then I tried to figure out the video request, and was unsuccessful. At that point, I responded to lauredhel, which included a report of my mixed success, and a request for resources precisely because I wasn't having luck on my own AND because I know other people aren't going to make the effort (it's f*ed up, but true -- and I prefer to roll with the world how it is instead of how it should be but isn't). Then I emailed Kelsey to report the need/request for accessibility info. All the while I'm at my 'day job', putting off my responsibilities there in order to give time to this issue because I think it is important. But keeping my newly gained job in this sh*t economy w/ a massive unemployment rate is important too. When I got Michelle's email, I posted those links without looking through them because I was working and her email indicated that she'd sent them in response to my request. I indicated in that post that I would read up before the end of the day (and I kept my word on that) -- which meant when I got home from work and after I prepared and ate dinner with my partner. By the time I returned to my computer, a slew of rudeness had been posted in the comments, which is truly a shame for the reasons Erik K. pointed out and also because if you want people to make a substantial good faith effort, then you've got to give them the time and space to do it before you begin a campaign of shaming. Otherwise, someone who's less willing to try to see the rationale for your anger from your POV will write you off and throw in the towel before they even start -- because what's the point in trying to build with someone who's treating you like shit? -- and that's not an effective solution.

I made the good faith effort I was able to make over those few hours yesterday given my work and family constraints. I will continue to make the effort given those constraints and will get better over time. I make this effort not because I'm being bullied by anonymous commenters, but because I believe it's the right thing to do in order to enact my personal ethical sensibilities and vision of social justice.

I think you've either

I think you've either retconned just a little or missed an elephant in the room with this recap, Mandy: what happened was I did give you very specific information, with specific instructions that would have taken ten seconds to follow and would have gotten you exactly what you asked for - and you replied _directly_ to me with a "Thanks, Michelle!" and a remark to me about how you didn't have time to bumble through the entire web. That response was a direct slap in my face, after I'd gone out of my way to educate you at your request.

Maybe you didn't realise you did that at the time, I don't know, but that's what you did, and I believe that's where the responses are probably coming from.

Please listen

Mandy, I hope you can recognize what I'm saying when I say I'm worried because your responses are starting to read like a bingo card.

One thing I do offer to you is in lieu of a full video transcript (if none is available and you aren't able to make one yourself), you could post a summary of what happens in the video in the regular caption spot. I know there have been some good examples of this on Bitch in the past, but I couldn't find one. I could have sworn OuyangDan has done this before.

Much appreciated

Thanks lauredhel and Cakes for the clarification regarding the video descriptions being simple text and not alt embedded. I've read though some of the web accessibility stuff I've found via Google and the link here on the Bitch blog. These strategies will be incorporated into my future posts.

You're welcome and thank you

Thanks for doing that—much appreciated! Looking forward to future posts in this series.

C

Whilst we're on the subject....

...of web accessibility, it would be very much appreciated if you'd remove the hard-coded glaring white background too please, to make the site more accessible for people with visual perceptual difficulties, such as myself.

Leaving the page background to be set by browser will result in a white background anyway on most people's computers, as that's generally the browser default. The background would only appear a different colour for people who have actively changed their browser's default background colour; and if they've done that then they've done it for a reason!

Street harassment

You can find other articles on street harassment, including an interview with Vicky from UK Anti-Street Harassment on OhDearism, in the blog and society sections:

http://www.ohdearism.com/2011/04/08/society-uk-anti-street-harassment/

http://www.ohdearism.com/2011/04/28/blog-tube-crush/

Enjoy!

Rosie, co-editor of OhDearism