It was a bright, sunny morning; the kind Ottawa residents welcome with open arms, knowing the seemingly endless, bitterly cold winter was ending soon. We woke up early, ready to get to work and put our camera to good use.
Julie Lalonde, director of Hollaback Ottawa (an international organization dedicated to ending street harassment) had asked us to put our journalistic skills to use and film a short video. The video was to be composed of short clips of people voicing their concerns about how street harassment and sexual assault is dealt with in the capital. The aim was to pressure local Ottawa politicians to take these concerns seriously and at least try to come up with solutions, especially in terms of assault on public transit.
We met Lalonde in a central location, along with a few other badass witches who were eager to be part of this project. When it comes to speaking in front of the camera, everyone gets a little nervous trying to remember the most concise and powerful way of articulating their feelings. It’s also not easy to shout concerns at a camera with a hundred tourists bumping into each other and a thousand business-humans rushing around trying to find coffee. There was a lot going on but we were determined to produce the best short vid that might, perhaps, possibly convince councilors to actually do something about a problem that affects half the population of the goddamn city.
Here comes the irony. While filming a video about street harassment, the last thing you need is to be harassed. But it happened to us. TWICE.
The first time, we were in the middle of shooting a fine young woman’s short rant (side note: her sweater read “Feminist as Fuck.”) A cab driver, who was also in a rush to the nearest café, stopped at our side. We were filming, trying to concentrate on keeping the camera steady and the speaker focused. However, we were aware of his presence, his glaring eyes. Then, like a complete and utter dipshit, he walked straight past the camera, ruining the clip.
We stopped filming immediately and turned towards the man to ask him wtf his problem was. He didn’t listen, try to apologize, explain his reasoning or show any kind of remorse. He just called us all “bitches” over and over. And then, “fat fucks.”
It took a minute or two to process what had happened. This man had consciously ruined our clip (clearly, he didn’t think we were working towards anything important) and we were the ones dubbed bitches and fat fucks.
We followed him into the café to defend and stand up for ourselves, but soon left having understood there was no getting through to this bigoted, inconsiderate arsehole and also not wanting to ruin the solitude coffee-hour holds for these stressed business-humans (because, you know, we’re mindful of other people’s feelings.)
Pissed off and frustrated, we finished the shot and wandered to the next location, a park by the shopping mall. Here, we got down on our hands and knees and started chalking phrases with the hope that they might make people think differently about harassment.
“Cat calls are for cats.”
“Don’t be a bystander.”
“Men of quality don’t fear gender equality.”
We said goodbye to the other witches and stayed to get some better shots. As we refined some of our best chalk-work, two men, who were passing through the park, stopped to read what we had written. We both hoped the universe had blessed us with some kind souls who would agree with these messages. Unfortunately, this was not the case (still love you, universe.)
Through slurred words, these middle-aged men, who had clearly just been to one of Ottawa’s many pubs, tried to tell us that men have it worse than women in terms of harassment. We attempted to intercept but again, it was useless. So, we listened. They said something along the lines of:
“You’re making it way worse by doing this because you’re giving bullies attention. It’s so much worse for men because we get beaten up. You’ve never had your head smashed on a sidewalk.”
Evidently, they hadn’t considered that women deal with harassment on a daily basis, whether it’s words, whistles, groping or assault. And women do get beaten up. Getting your head smashed in by a boyfriend or husband hurts just as much as the pavement. We tried to get through to them, but they just wanted to get to the next pub. But not before talking at us for ten minutes, refusing to let us get even a word in, dampening our spirits in the process.
We had been yelled at by men twice while trying to film a video about Ottawa’s street harassment problem. Feeling miffed and angry, we got a coffee and a panini from a kind gentleman at a cafe. We ate and drank by the canal – appreciating that sunshine we hadn’t felt for months.
At least, we thought to ourselves, we are trying to help the city become a safer place. We’d rather have morals, goals, and a heart and if that makes us bitches, it’s still better than being inconsiderate, soulless muggles.
Check out the results of our day below, and help put street harassment on the agenda for the upcoming Ottawa election!