The Brooklyn Movement Center is taking on the streets of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights to change the way women move through the neighborhoods — or more specifically, to change the way the neighborhoods interact with the women within them.
"There's a basic modicum of respect that women aren't afforded while trying to navigate these streets," BMC lead organizer Anthonine Pierre told Metro. "It seems very complicated sometimes for men, but it's pretty simple: use words that are respectful, and if a woman doesn't want to speak to you, stop talking to her."
At a chalk party last month in a park in Bed-Stuy, she and BMC communications organizer Marly Pierre-Louis were able to speak with some men in the neighborhood, but Pierre-Louis said that the conversation "definitely made it clear that we had a lot of work cut out for us."
"It's going to take more than a conversation in the park to get a man to understand what women experience," Pierre-Louis said. "They just don't see it as harassment, they can't understand it."
Pierre said some men complained of the way women respond to them, saying, "All I want to do is say good morning to you and I get my head chewed off."
She pointed out that while one man may simply be saying good morning, the woman may have had to walk through several other men who used less kind language.
Pierre-Louis said it's hard to even cite specific incidents because "it happens so frequently and so casually."
The women described stories they'd heard from other women, some of whom have even had to deal with threats of rape. One women reported a man saying "next time I see you, I'll rape you," and another said that after she ignored a man's advances, he told her, "you're lucky I don't rape you."
Other women reported having glass bottles thrown at them and being spat at from cars that drive slowly by. Many women say they've been followed, either on foot or by men in vehicles.
Even things as seemingly innocuous as cat-calling or blowing kisses are harmful, Pierre said, and "still contribute to the way a woman moves psychologically through her neighborhood."
She and Pierre-Louis are hoping to do action projects throughout the summer, as the warm weather increases women's risk for harassment.
"We're going to be identifying high-risk harassment areas in the neighborhood," Pierre-Louis said, "and be very visible in those areas and make a lot of noise and attract a lot of attention to the issue."
In the fall, they hope to start some allied work with men who could undergo community organizing training to do outreach with other men and help facilitate conversations around the fundamental question: how do we transform our neighborhood?
"We can think about how to keep ourselves as women safer, we can tell our stories," she added. "But solutions are going to have to come from community dialogue."
She noted that men "have been taught by society how to talk to women in the street."
"We'd like for everyone to sort of have a new way of dealing with each other," she said. "The question is: how do we have the dialogue so that can happen, so we can be a community?"
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat