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In celebration of International Anti-Street Harassment Week (March 30 – April 5) Hollaback! Dublin are screening the première of the thought-provoking Out on the Streets a short Irish documentary about street harassment and its affects. We caught up with the director Niamh Gaskin to discuss her film and her thoughts on the issue…
What inspired you to make a documentary about street harassment?
What interests me as a topic, is the culture around sexual harassment in our society today. Over and over again, in our nightclubs, in our workplaces, in our schools, on our screens, women’s (and many minorities’) right to say ‘no’ and to be comfortable seems to be demeaned. Women are sometimes objectified to the point that it’s easy for a harasser to forget they have feelings. I could have made three feature length documentaries on sexual harassment and still have things to say on the topic, I felt I narrowed it down and focused on street harassment in particular, as an issue many women face on a daily basis, yet we seem to be conditioned to just accept it.
Have you personally experienced street harassment?
Yeah, it’s happened me a good few times, and mostly I’ve always been surprised at how much it affects me. Usually, it frustrates me, it makes me feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s made me feel afraid, and then the worst part is, I feel stupid for having these varied emotions, like I’m not entitled to be affected by something people deem as ‘harmless fun’. And then some other times, especially when I’m not alone, I can just brush them off. It’s never a particularly fun addition to your day.
From making the documentary, did you come to any conclusion about the perpetrators of harassment?
For the most part, I believe that the perpetrators of street harassment just don’t think about the feelings of the victim. They’re just ignorant to the effect they’re having while trying to make themselves look or feel more powerful through this act. It’s not that they’re evil people, it’s not like the people who dismiss street harassment are cruel, they just need to be reminded that the victims they are harassing are people too, and not just objects. I think if they were taught to empathise with the victim at all, that street harassment wouldn’t be such an issue.
Did you find that participants were open to speaking to you about their experiences?
Yes, most of the people in the documentary were ones who felt very strongly about street harassment. It was difficult to find people who were quite indifferent on the topic to talk to us about their views or experiences. I mean, there are many people who feel that street harassment is not a big issue, but none were willing to go on camera and talk about this.
Do you think that this is an issue that people are dismissive of?
Yeah, I do in a way. I did have several people really question why I was making this documentary, and I appreciate people have different priorities, but some people seemed determined not to accept this as a problem. Other times, after talking with people, they were surprised to think about how little they’d dwelt on the idea of street harassment before or how much it had actually affected them.
Check out Niamh’s “Out on the Streets” as well as 3 other short films about street harassment at Hollaback! Dublin’s free screening in Wall & Keogh, Portobello on April 2 at 6pm.
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