May 2012

21st Century Street Harassment: Sneaky Snapshots on Public Transportation

bus

Imagine getting on a local bus or subway car knowing the possibility exists that someone will take your picture and upload it online for viewers to comment on your appearance—all without your permission. Creepy, huh? It’s the new reality for women in Buenos Aires.

Last Thursday, May 24th after boarding bus 39 during rush-hour traffic in the Argentine capital, I pushed to the back of the crowded bus where I gratefully claimed a small bubble of personal space all to myself. With one hand on my purse and the other clutching a pole, I scanned the faces of my fellow passengers and stiffened, remembering what my friends at Hollaback! Buenos Aires alerted me to earlier that day: A Facebook page, called Chicas Bondi, roughly translated to “Bus Girls,” pleases its 8000+ fans and counting by posting photos of young Argentine women that are taken surreptitiously on specific bus lines. Bus 39 was one of them. Even though I didn’t fit all the characteristics of a chica bondi (I’m white, but not young and skinny), I still felt uncomfortable; I couldn’t be 100% sure a voyeur wasn’t sneaking a shot of me with his cell phone.

The page owners, who conveniently choose to remain anonymous, defend their actions under the guise of being “art” (giving me serious flashbacks to our Monster campaign, in which violent sexual images of women in a Kanye West video were also justified in the name of “art”). They claim to offer an alternative face of beauty, in contrast to the T&A that is typically shown on some Argentine mainstream television shows. It’s a bit of stretch to believe their argument considering the women who unknowingly become their models all share the same skin color, body type, and age group.

Their tagline, “sin pose y sin permiso/without posing and without permission”, based on fans’ comments, seems to be the biggest pull to the page. The page owners generously stated that if a woman wanted her picture removed, they would graciously do so. What seemed to escape them is that by putting women in the public gaze as objects to be consumed without their knowledge could put some women in danger: when a picture is posted, the bus route is also included, potentially making them targets of harassment. Apart from such risks, this practice is a violation of privacy, plain and simple.

Fortunately, while I was shuddering at the thought of being secretively caught on film...

For the full story, please visit Adios Barbie.