Interview Date: 2 March, 2015
Name and Bio:
Julia Gray works fulltime for a charity in Brighton and Hove City providing the region’s domestic abuse service, and for Hollaback! in her spare time. As an art student in her 20s, she came to know Hollaback! when she attended a baseball match with her friend and Hollaback! Executive Director Emily May in New York. She thought Hollaback! was “a very refreshing way of dealing with the problem [of street harassment]”. Prior to Hollaback!, she has volunteered for Rape Crisis, where her Hollaback! partner Bryony also works. After mentioning the Hollaback! project to her they started the blog and set up the London branch.
Their initial media experience was less than positive. When Hollaback! London launched, it got “some really horrible press” and their names were printed in a piece by the Daily Mail. Julia considers their coverage in this paper to be “trolling,” as the paper engaged in personal attacks on them both. In terms of internet trolling, however, their experience doesn’t seem as bad as others and that’s because, Julia thinks, they “are much more careful these days and don’t “tend to say anything controversial these days that really upsets anybody”. Nonetheless, thinking about the way they would handle trolling in the future, she noted her approach would be “to not engage with it” as “we’ve got more important things to be dealing with than stuff like that” she says.
Involvement with Campaigns:
Julia Gray has been involved with Hollaback! London for five years now. Throughout this time, she sees a significant change in the general awareness of what, for example, street harassment is. As she says, the main difference is that “it’s become part of the political agenda, it’s become part of our vocabulary and our conversations as a society”. So, initially, Hollaback! London started off as a blog where people’s stories were submitted. With time they started doing some focus groups and workshops with universities, sharing the workload at busy times with volunteers as essentially the whole branch depends on their spare time and other employment commitments.
Currently, they are running their very own campaign called Good Night Out, which is a unique project for both the UK and Hollaback! in general. The campaign/project involves training and advising sessions with venues, councils, the police, student unions among others and seeks to “prevent harassment on nights out” Good Night Out has “clearly been a success” which means “too much work for two people” and so they are looking to permanently expand the team.
Julia Gray has always been “touchy about the subject” of sexism, and has “felt very strongly about” street harassment since when she was 13 and started experiencing harassment herself. As a result, she is “very passionate about women’s rights and injustices, but maybe hadn’t really identified it as feminism or hadn’t quite identified myself within that”. It was through her involvement with Hollaback! that she started identifying more as a feminist and engaged with activism. In her own words:
“And then through doing Hollaback! I sort of identified with it, I suppose. And it was funny actually, because somebody accused me of being a feminist, sort of, in this very accusatory way. And I sort of said oh, oh, I suppose I am yeah. Yeah, I suppose I am a feminist.”
She directly links feminism and trolling as follows
“[W]hen it's a woman and a woman's said something that people don’t like, the negative backlash is usually going to be sexually violent, it’s going to be rape threats, it’s going to be something about your appearance, your sexuality or your gender. And that’s really frustrating and it’s really horrible. But I do think that there’s so much support now and there’s so much…you know, you can tell. All of a sudden, feminism causes are cropping up in universities, and people are beginning to think that feminists are taking over the world. You do kind of think, well, actually, they're running scared a little bit, they're beginning to get frightened, which means that we must be doing something right”
When talking about the ways everyone is impacted by harassment:
“[Y]ou don’t have to have any particular background or education [to experience harassment], you know, this is something that affects people from all walks of life and backgrounds and class. So I think that’s one of the really special things about Hollaback! is that it mobilises people, yeah, from all different kinds of demographics. And that’s what’s brilliant about it.”
When talking about the way Hollaback! took off:
“Hollaback! was taking off and people were really interested in it, and it was so exciting. It just kind of…yeah, things just sort of fell into place and I began to realise that yes, that was exactly what I was. I wasn’t just angry and touchy, I was a feminist and I was justified in my anger about this subject and that subject, you know, sexual violence and all of these subjects, it all kind of came together.
On Hollabacks! role in helping her identify as a feminist:
So for me, it was not…it’s such a big part of my life because it was the Hollaback!…you know, because it was the thing that helped me identify my feminism. And that has completely changed my life. So it’s got a very special place in my heart, yeah”
On the ways Hollaback! means a lot to people:
“I just feel like I was just a girl who’s just like everybody else, and we just did this thing because we cared about it. And then when people get in touch with us to say thank you for doing this, I’m really grateful, especially if it’s young girls. I remember getting one from, I think she was 17. And she just sort of was saying thank you for existing.
Speaking about the incredible power of the internet for feminist activism:
That really just…you know, it was one of my proudest moments. It was just so touching. […] And the fact you can use the Internet as this really amazing positive force and the fact that because of the Internet we can connect with people in Nairobi, Egypt and America and Australia, and all come together and join together on this one cause. It's clearly really global and you can see that from how many Hollaback! sites there are globally. It’s a global issue. […] And that keeps me going, that’s the stuff that keeps us going. So yeah, it’s great, it's always good. And it’s a shame I think that humans can tend to dwell on the negative feedback, and the negative responses is slightly more than the positive responses. But when you think, when people ask me about that, and I think of stuff that people have said, it’s actually so much more important and so much more kind of…yeah, I don’t think we’d necessarily be still going after five years if we didn’t have that kind of input and that feedback.“
On the ways street harassment is now widely recognised as a problem:
“I think at the beginning, it was quite rough because, like I said, people didn’t really want to know about it and it was going to be a bit of an uphill struggle. But I really do feel now that we don’t really have that struggle so much anymore. We’re not trying to convince people about what we’re doing and I don’t have to have conversations with - whether it would be socially or whether it would be with journalists or whether it would be with whoever - I don’t find myself having the conversations I had when we first started, which was, I was being challenged on it all the time.
When discussing activism done in on and offline spaces:
“It’s really important to get out there. Especially considering that this project is about bodies and public space, and it’s about public space and it's about reclaiming that public space, about our streets being our streets; and us not kind of as victims of street harassment or people who have experienced street harassment […] It’s really important that we’re out there doing training, we’re present at protests and marches and rallies, and we’re doing workshops and we’re meeting with volunteers[…] I think the energy that you get from being in a physical space with other people who have come together to discuss this issue that's really important, that energy is just irreplaceable.“
Our interview with Julia highlighted many key areas worth addressing. To start, she is one of several participants who began to identify as a feminist through her involvement with (feminist) activism. Although she had always been “touchy about the subject” of sexism, and interested in the ways it was manifested in behaviour such as street harassment, Hollaback! was “the thing that helped me identify my feminism.” And through her experience she realised that her anger about these practices was “justified.”
Julia also talked about the incredible amount of time her activism with Hollaback! London and the Good Night Out campaign take, and some of the difficulties of managing to combine a full-time job with feminist activism. She admits she has recently had to take a step back from her activism, but notes the way her co-organiser Bryone has found a way to earn some money from the Good Night Out campaign, which is necessary for her to survive on.
It is also clear from the interviews that her involvement with Hollaback! is emotionally intensive and exhausting at times. While she discusses the pride she feels about the success of Hollaback!, she also notes the ways she was constantly “challenged” about the need for activism around street harassment, and that at times this leads to trolling.