Feminista Jones wants to make the world a better place because she has a son.
That’s what the social justice activist and writer said to a mostly-full Kresge Hall on Friday, Jan. 23. The event was held jointly with SASS and ABLE for their Black History Term.
Feminista Jones writes for several publications, including “Time and Ebony,” and is noted for her hashtag, #YouOkSis – a term she coined for bystanders to combat street harassment. She came up with it when she witnessed a man bothering a woman on the street and interjected herself to ask if the woman was okay. Later, she tweeted about the situation, and someone suggested she turn the expression “You okay sis?” into a hashtag. Soon, it was trending.
“We focus so much on the attacker … and sometimes people want to feel like they’re being noticed,” she said. She suggested intervening in the situation to ask where the nearest Starbucks is, or what time it is.
“We generally don’t give a damn about each other,” she said. She encouraged women to help one another out, and for bystanders to step into a space of harassment without exerting themselves.
She spent most of her lecture talking about street harassment, especially among black women. She discussed her experience with street harassment, especially growing up in Queens, New York in the 1980s. For almost two decades, she didn’t talk about street harassment.
“Now I’m so conscious and aware, and it’s triggering me more now,” she said.
She asked the room who’d been harassed or given unwanted attention on the street. Nearly the entire room raised a hand. On average, girls experience street harassment for the first time from age 10 to 12, she said.
To supplement her talk, Jones played different songs by female musicians, including Queen Latifah, and “Nasty” by Janet Jackson. She ruminated on the first line: “My first name ain’t baby — it’s Janet. Mrs. Jackson if you’re nasty.”
She also asked the audience for questions about how to deal with situations involving street harassment, and how to grapple with issues of race and gender in such situations.