Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Teen Issues: Street Harassment (guest post by Pauline Holdsworth)

Street harassment isn’t how we envision teenagers learning about themselves. We don’t name it as a form of education or discuss its consequences or argue over its curriculum – and in leaving out the lived experiences teenagers have with harassment in public spaces from our conversations, we’re leaving glaring gaps in what they’re being taught. 
From Stop Street Harassment: “Catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation, and assault. Most women (more than 80% worldwide) and LGBQT folks will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their life. Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop. “

Here’s the kind of education street harassment gives you . . . 

You learn that you live in a world where the act of saying no makes you ungrateful. You study the reactions of adults around you and learn it’s ruder for you to say you’re uncomfortable than for someone else to harass you. You learn that public spaces aren’t really open to people like you, and you start to chart a different kind of map of the world, one where you’re starting to limit the places you can go. You see the rest of the world operating on a 24-hour day, but you feel your own day steadily shortening: these are the hours of the day you feel comfortable outdoors. On some days you can count that number on one hand. 
Street harassment gives you a powerful and unsettling crash course in sexuality, power dynamics, and consent, and it’s rarely countered by any kind of positive counter-intervention that gives you a different set of rules to work with. It’s also a form of education that starts early. It starts before you’ve had the time or space to explore your sexuality or your body or your boundaries for yourself. 
View complete infographic at Hollaback

Perhaps most powerfully, what street harassment teaches you is that your comfort level, boundaries, and sense of safety aren’t seen as important by the world you live in. Street harassment leads to a slow erosion of consent. Over time, you find yourself saying no less and less frequently. You’re told that girls are supposed to be nice, and you begin to understand that when people say that, what they mean is that girls aren’t supposed to contradict or resist. You smile nervously and try to be polite when strangers approach you on the street, but then when you try to walk away, you’re accused of leading them on. Of asking for it. You are no longer a nice girl. You are an ungrateful bitch. 

The lessons young girls learn from street harassment are the lessons they bring to their relationships. Those lessons tell you that it’s not nice to say no, that you should be happy and grateful and welcoming when you receive attention, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Those lesson spill over into the way you approach public displays of affection, into the boundaries you set, into whether or not you feel comfortable enough to say when you’re not. For many teenage girls, the education they’ve received up until that point has convinced them they don’t even have the right to set boundaries, let alone to re-neogtiate them or demand that they be respected. 
What we need is a different kind of education. That education can come from school systems and teachers and parents and friends, but it can also come from creative alternatives, like books that show a world with different rules. Tamora Pierce’s books show a fantasy world where female protagonists encounter and resist street harassment, intimidation, and abuse, and go on to form all-female temple guards that work to create a sanctuary for survivors. They show communities that band together around collective values and refuse to accept harassment as inevitable. For girls who aren’t seeing those actions and those attitudes modeled around them, it can be incredibly powerful to have access to a fictional world where they are. In many cases, young adult fiction that shows these alternatives can prompt readers to start questioning rules they’ve taken for granted. 
For other readers, that spark can come from books that illustrate the consequences of that constant harassment and erosion of consent in a realistic setting. Jay Asher’s novel 13 Reasons Why is a powerful lesson in bystander intervention through the eyes of a teenage boy who was too late. As he listens to the 13 tapes left by his crush after her suicide, he begins to experience the way their town looked and felt different for her and the way the harassment she experienced slowly wore her down. For readers, especially straight-identified teenage boys, 13 Reasons Why is a desperately necessary window into the education they’re not getting – and it’s something that can prompt them to question the education they are getting about relationships, harassment, and their responsibilities as bystanders. 
When we counter the education street harassment provides with alternative lessons (fictional or otherwise) of our own, we’re equipping young girls with the knowledge they need to write their own rules. In a world where they’re constantly being taught they don’t have to right to, helping them draft those rules is a small but revolutionary act. 

To learn more and get involved visit these organizations:

Help us build a book list: What books can you think of that depict examples of street harassment?  What titles can you think of that show girls standing up to harassment?  And what titles can you think of that give us healthy examples of consent, healthy sexual relationships, and strong teenage girls?  Tell us in the comments.


Pauline Holdsworth is a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism, where she is writing her thesis on media coverage of sexual assault and gender-based violence. She covers gender and women’s issues for Campus Progress, the youth partner to ThinkProgress, and regularly writes about sexual assault prevention and representations of consent and assault in young adult literature and the media. She runs a series on consent-based education, which examines how teachers, librarians, authors, and advocates are working to engage teens in a conversation about consent. Pauline has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Toronto, where she worked at her student newspaper as an arts writer, Senior Arts & Culture Editor, and Editor-in-Chief.

Reflections: When is a Prank More Than Just a Prank? What I learned from 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

As you have probably heard, there are some serious things happening both in the news and in real life regarding Kate Middleton and her pregnancy.  It turns out, Kate has HG – Hyperemesis Gravidarum.  Those of you who frequent this blog know that I am passionate about raising awareness and were probably surprised by my silence on the subject.  The truth is, I did spend some time Tweeting about it.  I also spent some time remembering my experiences and shed a few tears. So here is what I want to say:

Kate Middleton, according to the press, does not have morning sickness. She does not have severe morning sickness.  She has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG).  A debilitating, life threatening pregnancy illness that can cause severe complications for both the mother and child.  She is in for a rocky road ahead and I hope (and yes I have even been praying) that Kate responds well to treatment and that her HG is kept under control so that the impact on her mind and body are minimized.  I think if anyone is in a position to get good treatment, it is her.  I am sad to hear that she has HG because I wish it on no one.  I am sometimes thankful that HG is getting the publicity that it needs, although that publicity has often been wrong.  (For some of the best media coverage of HG, check out this video segment from the Katie Couric show.)  To get good and accurate information, I implore you to visit the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation at www.helpher.org.

But let’s talk about the Prank Heard Round the World

The other day, Australian radio DJs called the Duchess in the hospital by pretending to be the Queen.  Possibly in response to that prank, one of the nurses involved – the nurse who initially put the call through – took her life.  The Internet has been abuzz with opinions regarding culpability, mental stability, etc.  From the get go, the prank made me angry.  Like, frothing mad seething angry.  Why?

An Illness By Any Other Name
The DJs involved felt that it was somehow appropriate to call in and harass and make fun of a woman who was sick and wrestling with a serious situation.  Personally, I don’t care what type of sickness a person has, your job is step back and let them recover in peace.  But no, they felt that it was somehow a good idea – and within their rights – to call and harass and mock a sick person.  Keep in mind, one of the main purposes of a hospital is to take care of the sick and dying – why do we think they have time to deal with pranks? Would we have thought it was funny if she had cancer? A heart attack? An organ transplant?  No, but it was just “morning sickness” right?  Silly girl, can’t handle a little bit of morning sickness.  And yet, what she was dealing with made her become so dehydrated that she was placed into a hospital for several days so that she could be properly hydrated.  Take a moment sometime and Google what happens when your body becomes dehydrated.  Or I could save you the effort and tell you – it is painful, terrifying, and soul wearying.  But it doesn’t matter what she had, you leave a sick person alone so that they can rest and heal.

Want to know about HG and my personal story?
Want to know what it is like to be so dehydrated that you have to go to the hospital for IV fluids?


The Right to Medical Privacy
Then we have the issue of medical privacy.  I am not sure how they regard medical privacy outside the U.S., but here it is a sacred thing.  What happens to you medically is designed to be kept between you and your doctor.  Part of the reason for this is so that it doesn’t impact your future life; employers can’t discriminate against you based on your medical history because they don’t have access to it.  Your family, friends, neighbors, strangers – none of them have a right to know because information can have consequences.  It can create bias.  It can change perceptions. It can change opportunities.  Also, there is an emotional component to our medical lives. When we are sick, whatever that sickness may be, we have a right to process and deal with that information privately on our own terms and on our own timetable.  I get to choose when and how to tell the world I have cancer so that I have the time I need to figure out how I feel about this fact.  I get to choose when and how to tell the world  about my HG experiences.  I am very open about my experience, but I have had time to process what happened to me.  I had time to grieve the loss of my baby.  I had time to heal and not be terribly afraid of being sick or of going to the doctor.  I had time to come to terms with the fact that I can never have anymore children because of HG.  By trying to make Kate and her family go public with her medical information, those DJs were robbing Kate of all that we respect and value regarding medical privacy.  They took the control away from her and alienated her basic human rights.

Your Job’s in Jeopardy
And finally, by pulling off this prank, they put everyone at the hospital in incredible legal risk.  They jeopardized their jobs.  In order for their prank to work, the hospital staff had to put the call through, which they did.  By putting the call through the hospital staff was in incredible legal peril.  They had become unwilling co-conspirators in all of the above.  They violated their patients right to medical privacy. They put these DJs, and the world, in the position to mock and laugh at a sick, hospitalized woman.  Every person in the hospital was now in legal peril and the truth is, they were probably going to lose their jobs.  Not only would they lose their jobs, but given the widespread nature of the prank – it went global – they were more than likely now unemployable in the field in which they had trained and worked.  They were now going to have incredible difficulty feeding their families, paying their rents, etc.  If it wasn’t happening at the time, I assure you the wheels were in motion.  You don’t break your employers rules in such a public way without there being consequences.

If You Poke a Bear with a Stick . . .
There is an underlying cruelty to pranks; by pulling a prank you are seeking to get your enjoyment and satisfaction at the expense of others.  Your laughs come courtesy of putting another human being into a situation and the truth is, unless you know that other person intimately, you really don’t know the emotional ramifications of what you are doing.  You may be pulling an elevator prank on a person who has severe claustrophobia that spent the morning psyching up for an elevator trip.  You may be pulling a prank on a person who found out last night that their spouse has cancer, that their child is failing, that their world is falling apart.  You may be pulling a prank on a person who spent all of high school being bullied and is in an emotionally sensitive place every day.  What you are doing is taking a gamble with someone else’s emotional and physical well being – a gamble that you have no right to take because you can never know the full ramifications of any given situation for another human being.  And yes, you do bear the burden of responsibility for your actions.  Even if the other person’s reactions don’t make sense to you, you – the prankster – bear the burden of responsibility for pushing a button and flipping a switch that you had no right to do, and all for the sake of a laugh. 

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”  – 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher

A Bully by Any Other Name
A prankster is nothing more than a glorified bully.  They are using another person – unwillingly – to generate a laugh. A prankster is the HS bully who gives the class geek a mega wedgy while everyone in the hallway laughs.  A prankster is the mean girl who slut shames, the boy with the shock gum who delights in seeing that jolt of pain when their victim is zapped, the group of kids at prom with the bucket of pigs blood.  While we are taking a stand against bullies, let’s remember that pranks are often just another form of bullying because it comes at the expense of another human being without their consent and without knowledge of the impact that it has on them.

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.” – 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher

One can’t help but think in this situation of the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  The main idea behind this book is that our words and actions have consequences.  We may not even see them at the moment, but there is a recipient on the other end and we can never fully understand the impact we are having.  Sometimes we see it too late.  This is why we must think carefully before we speak, step lightly on the path of other lives.  When we come in contact with another life, we leave our finger prints on it.  That is a huge responsibility to bear, we should not do so as lightly as we often do.

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.” – 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher

Top 10 Tuesday: From Beyond the Grave

In the end, life inevitably always ends in death. Death and taxes you know.  A lot of teens can avoid the taxes part, but they often get to the death part too early, especially in teen fiction.  But death is a funny thing, and you don’t always stay dead.  Or you hang out in limbo while you wait to learn life’s GREAT LESSONS.  So here, for your reading pleasure, is a list of books that tell their stories from beyond the grave, where teens come back to make things right, fall in love, or just haunt the people who made their lives miserable.  They are not always ghost stories, because you don’t have to be a ghost to haunt someone.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.” (Lauren Oliver)

The idea for this Top 10 list came as I was reading Before I Fall the other day.  Here, Samantha Kingston dies in a car accident on her way home from a party, and yet she keeps waking up to repeat this day over and over again.  The question she must ask herself is why: What happened on this day that she is supposed to change?  Before I Fall is an interesting book because in the beginning, our main character is really not that likeable.  And yet, as she relives this day over and over again she comes to understand who she is and tries to find a way to make it right while she still has a chance.  It is an interesting story about bullying and how we affect those around us. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

The remaining books on our Top 10 list involve teens telling their stories from beyond the grave through unique storytelling devices or living as ghosts to continue their tale . . .

“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.” (Jay Asher)

“Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes the choices make you.” (Gayle Forman)
“You can obsess and obsess over how things ended- what you did wrong or could have done differently- but there’s not much of a point. It’s not like it’ll change anything. So really, why worry?” 
(Jess Rothenberg)
“New Orleans is a city that’s defined and therefore haunted by its past.” (Paula Morris discussing Ruined at http://www.bookdivas.com/interviews/2010/03/interview-paula-morris)
“Dear sir: twelve hours is as twelve years to me. I imagine you in your home, smiling, thinking of me. That I am your heart’s secret fills me with song. I wish I could sing of you here in my cage. You are my heart’s hidden poem. I reread you, memorize you, every moment we’re apart.”  (Laura Whitcomb)
“and if we can change
things that have
already happened
if those planes can fly in
uneasy formation
if that splinter moon
can blow away the shadows
then anything,
anything at all.”  (Jaclyn Moriarty)
“Great. Not only do I have an angry spirit guide, but an angry spirit guide with a vindictive streak and an unnatural knowledge of show tunes. Better and better already.”  (Stacey Kade)
“I started wondering about how someone would feel if they got a letter from a dead girl; what if the relationship between the two had been bad? Then my head was off into why had the relationship been bad. The novel started to form.” (Gail Giles discussing Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters at http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/authors/stories_behind/storygiles.html)
“My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered.”  (Alice Sebold)
Now it’s your turn, tell us your favorite stories of teens speaking beyond the grave and trying to right wrongs.  Don’t forget to tell us what your favorite title on the list is.