How to Hack A Heckle: A Story of Harassment
Following the launch of their highly successful campaign at the 2017 Bristol Harbour Festival, I met with up with Hack A Heckle (HAH), a social action movement run by a small collective of young musicians, creatives and activists who use their music to challenge gendered harassment in Bristol and the UK. The campaign, which officially launched in July of this year, seeks to tackle perceptions of sexism as non-political, harmless or humorous to create a dialogue that works to strengthen the community. Through speaking with the team at HAH, I began to reflect on my own experiences of harassment and why the work that they do is so important.
I was eight years old, or thereabouts, when it first happened to me – or rather, the earliest I can recall it happening. I was walking home from school, with a group of friends. We only lived around the corner from school and therefore our parents allowed us to walk back together in a group. My friends continued to walk as I stopped to tie my shoelace. As I stood up, a white van slowed down, and two men shouted out to me and beeped their horn. I saw it in slow motion. I grimaced as I watched them wiggle their tongues and make kissing faces in my direction. They looked so ugly and repulsive. My throat went dry, and my gaze lowered. My heart raced as my breath quickened. I ran to catch up with my friends and never spoke of it. Until now.
I don’t remember the exact moment when my heart stopped racing. It just did. I don’t remember when I became accustomed to men who would beckon, call and bellow out to me in the street, but it happened. By my mid-teens, I’d learnt to cock my head to the side and smile just enough to get rid of them – without encouraging it. I learned to raise my eyebrows aghast with mock surprise. I learned to make them feel like they were the only ones. Because that’s what us girls do, right? We stroke male egos, even when it’s at our own expense. They weren’t the only ones. In fact, it happened so frequently that I’d forgotten the fear and confusion I felt the first time it happened. I had become numb to it – and that bothered me.
‘…it happened so frequently that I’d forgotten the fear and confusion I felt the first time it happened. I had become numb to it – and that bothered me.’
As I’m sure the guys from HAH will testify, harassment is a funny thing but it’s no laughing matter as it serves to keep vulnerable persons in a constant state of fear and intimidation. Not many people know that it is a form of violence – a means of silencing or subordinating another through intimidation, threats of physical violence or sinister jokes. Throughout my adolescence, I felt an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt because it never seemed to happen to my friends, or so I thought. I must have been doing something wrong. Did I draw attention to myself by holding my head too high, or did I swish my hips too much when I walked? What was so different about me that made these men feel like they were entitled to my body?
I realise now that that was part of the problem; I was made to feel like I was alone. It took me over a decade to realise this wasn’t the case. It happened to every single girl I knew and it happened to men too. It’s shocking to think that in the UK, 90% of British women report their first experience with harassment before the age of 17. I am comforted that campaigns such as HAH are using their influence to add to existing research by encouraging their listeners and supporters to help by sharing their stories or filling out a small survey to show that we are not alone and the issue more serious than we think. We often don’t consider the scale, frequency and consequences of gender-based violence. We often don’t think of the ways that harassment disproportionately affects marginalised groups such as women, members of the queer community and people of colour. Their music serves as another means to raise awareness of these issues, and give those who have been affected an outlet and a resource to speak up and to cope. The campaign’s debut single, Hide was released last week, and so far, has created a buzz on and offline – encouraging people to speak out against harassment in all it’s ugly forms. We’re taught that harassment is harmless. It’s not.
‘#thatonetime I made out with a girl at a club and a guy grabbed my shoulder with his phone out to ‘thank’ me and showed me he’d been filming us’
– Anonymous, Female.
‘…I was at a bus stop … just waiting for the bus, and a middle-aged-to-old man was pretty much the only other person there. I was wary but I had to get the bus and it wasn’t super late, so I felt alright about it. Long story short, he came up to me pretty soon after I got there and started talking about how pretty I was. I was like, ok dude. He then started on about how his son would be so proud if he brought me home as his girlfriend, then he forced me to hug him and wouldn’t let me go, so I was just standing there, terrified, trying not to piss him off, hoping the bus would come soon. When the bus did come, the guy tried with all his strength to kiss me as I pulled away to get on the bus, and I literally had to wrench myself away. The bus driver asked if I was okay and refused to let him on, absolute hero. I cried all the way home’
– Anonymous Female,
‘In the summer holidays, I took a job as a barman, in a popular bar in the city centre. Rowdy groups of drunk girls would come into the bar and make inappropriate jokes and comments to me. When on glass-collecting duty, some of them would even go as far as to pinch my bum and grope me. I would normally laugh it off, but it made me very uncomfortable and I left the job fairly soon after’
– Anonymous, male.
In the metaphorical hierarchy of abuse, harassment is sadly at the bottom of the pile. It took me over a decade to learn that harassment is not harmless and can have lasting effects on victims – male, female and everything in between. It doesn’t just happen in the street, it can happen in the work place, education, even in the home. But if that’s the case, why don’t we take it seriously enough? Because stories like these aren’t shared, we are lured into believing these are isolated incidents and that there is not a systematic pattern of abuse. Through building relationships with other reputable campaigns and community services, such as Zero Tolerance and Hollaback LDN, HAH seeks to help by signposting and ensuring people get the support they need – putting the responsibility back into the community as opposed to the victims themselves. Through their surveying, music and the sharing of stories on digital media, they hope to equip people with the means to safely challenge harassing behaviour. Their slogan, ‘See it. Hear it. Stop it’ – does just that. Through encouraging others to be active bystanders, they create a collective call-to-action to us all to well and truly hack a heckle.
We’re taught that harassment is harmless. It’s not.’
For more information on the work that Hack A Heckle do, click here.