Simone Flanagan is the Director of the Melbourne chapter of Hollaback!, a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world. She was also founding member of Music in the Sticks, a government funded Freeza youth group facilitating drug and alcohol free music events in the Macedon Ranges, has held various production roles at numerous music and arts festivals. We talk to Simone about motivations and making a difference.
Tell us about how the Hollaback campaign started and how the different branches are involved?
Internationally, the Hollaback! movement was started in New York City, by Emily May in 2005, who started a group to speak back to the growing frustration about street harassment. In Australia, the Melbourne chapter was founded by Alana Inserra in 2012. I became involved in early 2013, and in May 2013 became the next Director when Alana stepped down. There are currently Hollaback! chapters in 84 cities and 24 countries. The experiences of street harassment is different from city to city, and as such each of the Hollaback! chapters are unique in the way that they speak back against street harassment. Street harassment is a global problem.
The recent video of what it’s like to be a woman in the streets of NYC shot the Hollaback! campaign into the mainstream and international media. What has been the result of such exposure?
The video had mixed reactions across the world. It was heavily criticised for only showing men of colour harassing the woman as she walked. It did get people talking about street harassment, and we noticed an increase in the number of people who submitted stories to our site in the weeks that followed.
How did you personally become involved with the campaign and how can other women participate?
Street harassment has always been something that I hated, since first experiencing it on the streets of a country town that I grew up in. I first heard about Hollaback! Melbourne when they were involved in a campaign against a bar in Melbourne that had responded negatively to a patrons complaint about harassment. At the time Hollaback! Melbourne was looking for a Press Liaison Officer, I applied and was successful. Not long after that Director Alanna had to step down from her role due to personal reasons and I was offered the opportunity to be the Director.
As we are entirely volunteer run, we would love other women to get in touch and become involved. We are always keen to more people involved in our campaigns. The best way to do so is to get in touch via our social media.
What is the long-term vision for Hollaback?
Stories change the world. The long term vision for Hollaback! is to encourage people to share their stories and by doing so street harassment becomes less stigmatised. Shifting public opinion about street harassment and encourage individuals to take action, the focus shifts from the person experiencing harassment to the perpetrator. Speaking out against street harassment encourages others to speak out about street harassment, and sends a strong message to harassers that they’re behaviour is not welcome or appropriate.
Our hope is that this will ignite public conversations, and lead to the development of strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces. We’re also very keen to work on encouraging bystander intervention, to encourage people to speak out when they witness street harassment happening to others.
You have also worked and volunteered in the community arts sector for over 15 years, form youth arts, to web and feminist film festivals. What motives you to work in this tough industry, which is generally under-resourced and underpaid?
I believe that the arts have the power to convey messages and get people interested in social justice issues – simply put art can (and does) change the world. I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to volunteer and work in the not for profit and community arts sector over the past 15 years. I believe in giving back to the community, and spending my time doing things that I’m passionate about. My passions have evolved over the years but I have a strong interest in disability, youth justice, asylum seekers, and I’m currently working as Media and Communications Coordinator at The Big Issue – where I regularly volunteered a few years ago.
Simone has been involved with community events for almost 15 years. Besides being the director of the Melbourne chapter of Hollaback!, Simone is currently working in arts and disability and believes in equality and respect for all people. She is happiest when scuba diving or rock climbing and loves the opportunity to challenge herself.