Don’t Tell Me to Smile

Cover Front!

 

When we came up with the idea to create a zine about street harassment, we were inspired by our own experiences with sexualization and harassment in public spaces, and the constant invasions of our personal space that we have experienced practically since puberty. We were tired of feeling anxious about walking to the grocery store, tired of driving in a city to avoid unwanted encounters, tired of checking our outfits before we go outside to make sure they’re not too revealing, not too attention-grabbing. But most of all we were tired of the feelings of powerlessness that these encounters constantly left us with. As active feminists, our inability to respond to harassers–to set them straight and defend ourselves–made us constantly feel guilty, on top of feeling unsafe and deeply unsettled by the overtly sexual remarks of strangers. But despite our constant resolve to do something, to say something, we found that in the moment, we always froze, and all we could do was just walk on. Of course, staying silent is a perfectly valid and reasonable reaction. But for us, it was the feeling that this was all that we could do that inspired us to create a strategy guide for victims of street harassment. we wanted to broaden our options (and to share our findings with other people who have been targeted by harassers), so that our staying silent would be an active choice on our parts, and not just the only way we could figure out how to deal with harassment.

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When we first started planning this zine, we originally wanted to gather people’s reactions to street harassment–we wanted to find out the ways that people responded, shut down bad situations, or just generally reclaimed their space, and then to use these submissions to offer up strategies to our readers of how to deal with unwanted reactions.  And while we tried to do just this–putting out a box in the UMBC Women’s Center inviting people to share their stories–we only ever received one submission. While we had just assumed that telling classmates about our submission box and leaving a note in the women’s center asking people for their stories would be more than enough, it quickly became clear that we had grossly over-estimated people’s interest or investment in our project. If we were to do this project over again, we would spend much more time strategizing about how to get people to submit; looking back we think that a more professional looking box and an eye-catching sign might have helped grab people’s attention, and that tabling an event to raise awareness about our project would probably have been the most effective way of getting people involved.

The lack of submissions meant that we had to rethink our project; while originally we intended to split the zine into five sections–definitions and statistics about street harassment, general strategies, people’s stories, safety information, and additional resources–it became clear that we would have to eliminate the personal stories section. However, this turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Once we began our research, we found that larger anti-street harassment organizations like Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment had much more comprehensive collections of stories than we ever could have hoped to create. And once we began compiling the zine, it was also clear that we had overestimated how much information we could fit on a page. So cutting the section on people’s stories, while providing links to these stories in our resources section, proved to be the best possible solution.

Once we had that figured out, all we had to do was finish compiling our information, illustrating our findings, and printing our zine. Figuring out how to lay out our zine was a little difficult, and these tutorials were really useful in figuring out how to make it all work. Once we had our master copy, we printed out 30 copies of our zine to distribute around campus, and we posted a copy of our zine to tumblr and tagged the hell out of it. We were really surprised by its success there; it’s been ten days and it currently has over 12,000 notes, we’ve gained over 100 new followers, and we’ve only had three negative comments. The print copies have also been popular (so far mainly with our friends and family who want copies), and we are down to just nine zines, which we were able to get placed in the Women’s Center at UMBC. Ten copies were also taken to Zine-Feast in New York, and all of them got snatched up. We’re really proud of the success of our project, and we are happy to share tips with future students (and anybody else) interested in creating a zine!

-Arlene and Annie Barrow

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