What If Your Superpower Was Ending Street Harassment?
In a medium where street harassment only occurs if Clark Kent is around to swoop in and save the day, three Philadelphia activists are making room for a new perspective.
As part of a project for Hollaback! Philly, a branch of an international anti-street harassment organization, the three are working on a crowd-funded comic book that stars Red and Yellow, two women dealing with street harassment, and Blue, a man learning to engage with his responsibilities as a bystander.
Philadelphia artist Erin Filson currently publishes a webcomic called Ranger Elf, but after an experience with street harassment, she reached out to Rochelle Keyhan and Anna Kegler at Hollaback! to use her experience to do something proactive.
For Filson, the comic is a call to action, intended to get people to rethink their own power to address street harassment.
“You can be a hero in mundane and pedestrian ways," she said. "You don’t have to have superpowers to stand up for people.”
Depictions of street harassment in pop culture often reproduce a problematic narrative where harassment is seen as a form of validation.
“The message is that if you’re not being harassed, you should feel bad about it,” Kegler said, who’s seen these kinds of narratives featured in "30 Rock" and "Ugly Betty."
The comic is part of Hollaback!’s efforts to model a new reality—a world in which public spaces are more accessible to women, queer people and people of color. And since it’s a comic book, it’s also part of growing efforts to challenge sexism, homophobia and racism in geek culture at large.
“I would love if you could help us create that reality, instead of the one we have now,” Keyhan said in a video they produced for their crowd-sourcing page.
Fiction is particularly relevant to anti-street harassment activism. It allows readers an access point for experiences and anxieties different than their own. That’s even truer when it comes to speculative fiction and comic books, which imagine new futures governed by new rules.
“I think it really reflects back to the whole mission of Hollback!,” Keyhan told Campus Progress. “Until we write that reality from our own perspective, it doesn’t exist.”
Hollaback! is also planning an online version with a choose-your-own-adventure component. Readers will be able to witness different street harassment scenarios and choose between a variety of responses.
Hollaback! Philly will ship the completed comic to branches of the organization in 62 different cities and 25 countries as well as distribute it at conventions and comic book stores.
Pauline Holdsworth is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter at @holdswo.