Emily May, profiled by MAKERS, shares the incident that inspired her to co-found Hollaback! She told us her startup experiences for our 1000 Stories Campaign

1000 Stories submission on The Story Exchange by Emily May, Hollaback! Photo: SPIN Magazine
Emily May, Hollaback! Photo: SPIN Magazine

Hollaback! is a global movement that empowers youth to take a stand against street harassment. Throughout 50 cities around the world, participants use their smartphones to document street gropers, cat-callers, or just intimidating onlookers, and post their photos on the Hollaback! websites and publicly viewable maps.

Reason for starting
Hollaback! started in 2005 as the project of seven youth (three men and four women). As the women told story after story of harassment, the men became increasingly concerned. Samuel Carter, who is now Hollaback!’s board chair, said quite simply, “you live in a different city than we do.” Collectively, they resolved to change that. Around the same time, a woman named Thao Nygen bravely stood up to her harasser – an older, upper middle class raw-foods restaurant owner – who terrified her by masturbating across from her on the subway. She took his photo with her camera, and when the police ignored it, she posted it on flickr, where it incited a city-wide conversation about street harassment. [pullquote] Our top challenge is convincing people that street harassment happens, it matters, and it has deep impacts in our lives.[/pullquote] The youth were inspired by Thao’s story, and decided apply her model to all forms of harassment and to document these experiences on a public blog.

How do you define success?
We’ll know we’re successful when the experience of street harassment has changed: victims know what harassment looks like, they know it’s not acceptable, and they know there are systems in place they can use to make a difference.

Watch Emily on MAKERS:

Biggest Success
In two and a half years, we’ve gone from trained over 200 activists from 62 cities and 25 countries around the world who have launched their own Hollaback blogs on the iHollaback.org platform, creating a unified organizational hub. Our site leaders are young and diverse: 75% are under 30, 50% are under 25, 44% are LGBTQ and 33% are people of color. We’ve built an incredible community. I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
As we move street harassment from an issue that was isolating to one that is sharable, our top challenge is convincing people that street harassment happens, it matters, and it has deep impacts in our lives.

Who is your most important role model?
Our site leaders. They are doing this against all odds in communities around the world. My job is to make sure the world knows how awesome they are.


Are you a woman who has started a business? Submit your story and it will appear on our site. We will use it to find candidates for our 2013 filming season and for blog posts.