Anti-Harassment Book Talk and Panel

YO, I’m totally on the panel for this. Come and see me argue for the regulation of offensive public speech. (GASP!)

Book Talk & Anti-Harassment Extravaganza!

Friday, May 19, 7:00PM at

Laura Beth Nielsen
Author of License to Harass

Followed by a discussion panel with NYC anti-street harassment activists.

With a special performance by the NYC Radical Cheerleaders!

Laura Beth Nielsen is a feminist lawyer and professor of law and sociology at Northwestern. She is currently a Research Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. Drawing on numerous interviews and an interdisciplinary body of scholarship, “License to Harass” investigates how the law justifies racist and sexist street speech, perpetuating existing hierarchies in public spaces.

Organized by HollaBackNYC.

13 Comments so far

  1. Vinny (unregistered) on May 18th, 2006 @ 12:03 pm

    Unless you threaten someone (ie: I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna kick your ass, I’m gonna rape you) or advocate the violent (keyword: violent) overthrow of the government, or risk public safety (causing a stampede by yelling BOMB in an airport might be a good example), there should be no regulations on speech.


    You don’t have a right to not be uncomfortable, unfortunately. It would figure that a feminist would come up with fifty million ways speech should be regulated; they tend to love shuttin’ people up, particularly non womyn.

    And btw: Hollaback is a good way to counter speech that’s not socially acceptable: exposing people and their comments, etc.

    THAT’S how you combat disagreeable speech. Not laws.

  2. Sean (unregistered) on May 18th, 2006 @ 4:42 pm

    Whoa, a tricky one here from the land of Free Speech. Not sure how this would go down over here. I guess Londoners probably don’t give a shit. We’re more worried about the congestion charge topping £10.

  3. Anna (unregistered) on May 20th, 2006 @ 10:46 am

    Sean–Tricky one indeed. The idea of the sanctity of the First Amendment is incredibly ingrained to the detriment of continually subordinated groups who are most frequently the targets of public offensive, dare I say hate, speech. Funny how there’s all kinds of laws regulating begging, maybe because its targets are higher up on the social scale, whereas racist and sexist public speech affects those lower down (ie: those that are not well-represented in the legal system)

    Dear Vinny,

    It is obvious that you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in public space. Offensive sexist public speech is very often threatening or done “with intent to intimidate” and that, my friend, is the kind of speech recently ruled to be acceptable for regulation in Virginia v. Black

    Furthermore, I wish you’d come to the panel. Laura Beth Nielsen has a very sharp legal mind and makes some very convincing arguments for the regulation of offensive public speech. In case you need a refresher, the protection of speech, its original intent if you will, is for the protection of political speech. i.e. so that our country doesn’t become fascist and crack down on minority political views. The threatening comments that women are the targets of on a DAILY BASIS unfortunately do not fall into that category, but I’m sure you could make a convincing argument for the profound political nature of “I wanna lick your pussy.”

    Finally, as you seem to know from your comment, there is a lot of speech already regulated. The Constitution will not spontaneously combust if there is a law prohibiting men from saying nasty things to women in public.



  4. Vinny (unregistered) on May 20th, 2006 @ 11:51 am

    You don’t have a right to not be offended.

    If a guy says he wants to lick your pussy, then the guy is a scumbag. If he does it in an aggressive way and gets two inches from your nose, that’s harassment. If he touches you while doing it, it’s technically assault.

    And you know what?

    EVERY SINGLE THING I just said there is covered by existing laws.

    I definitely don’t need a refresher in free speech laws because I argue for them on a daily basis whether I like what people say or not. Ending vicious and nasty speech does nothing to end the conduct itself or the intent behind it. It either makes people become more clever in their attacks or turns everything into offensive speech because someone can be offended by everything said.

    There is no public danger in men saying nasty things to women. Comparing it to yelling bomb at an airport is not only ludicrous, it shows a complete lack of understanding with regards to proportion.


    Free Speech Absolutist

  5. Anna (unregistered) on May 20th, 2006 @ 12:30 pm

    “There is no public danger in men saying nasty things to women.”

    I think you’re showing a complete lack of understanding with regards to proportion (whatever that means.)

    Again, you obviously don’t know how women perceive and experience public space. Nasty words can turn into nasty actions and women feel THREATENED in public space on a daily basis because of nasty comments.

    This is counter to our country’s wonderful idea of public space as democratic and equitable space. As a woman, I am perpetually subordinated and threatened by comments like that.

    Unfortunately, this discussion is not going to go anywhere as long as you refuse to understand the perspective of those who are targets of offensive speech.

    Until then, why don’t you go back to your libertarian cabin with your rifle and write a check to FIRE to support “individual rights.” Perhaps you can try to get at those crazy feminists who want better harassment policies at universities.

    Good luck, Vinny!

  6. Vinny (unregistered) on May 20th, 2006 @ 1:16 pm

    Perception is one thing. Most construction workers slinging nasty comments are not going to rape the woman they say them to.

    Unfortunately, this discussion is not going to go anywhere as long as you refuse to understand the perspective of those who are targets of offensive speech.

    Until then, why don’t you go back to your libertarian cabin with your rifle and write a check to FIRE to support “individual rights.” Perhaps you can try to get at those crazy feminists who want better harassment policies at universities.

    You know, every time I have a conversation here, or try to address an issue, you pull out the same bull. You make up some generalistic label and then apply it to me.

    The fact is you’re wrong. Period.

    If everyone got the speech that offended them legislated, guess what? You couldn’t say anything including your uneducated and ill-fitting slap at my “libertarian cabin.”

    Feining tolerance, prosecuting speech, and then exhibiting ignorance like that only demonstrates how deeply held your convictions are on this issue.

    As for universities, that isn’t the government, is it? You do understand the difference between a college and a country, and that a college can in fact regulate speech freely and without consequence, while the government actually can’t.

    Maybe, if the issue is so important to you, you need to understand the issue a little better because comparing a college or a university to a country is just flat out ignorant.

    (Oh, and for the record, I don’t own a Gun or support FIRE. Nice to use stupid stereotypes under the guise of intellectual discussion).

  7. Anna (unregistered) on May 20th, 2006 @ 1:29 pm

    You continue to ignore women’s lived experience in favor of pretty abstractions and the slippery slope argument.

    Offensive public speech can be carefully defined and regulated. If you are confident in law and reason then you should know that.

    And pardon me if I associate “free speech absolutists” with FIRE since they proclaim themselves as such. That’s the quick and not entirely unreasonable or ignorant association I made. Apologies. I am glad you don’t support them.

    Nevertheless, after this we are still stuck on the same point. And I think some empathy and understanding on your side wouldn’t hurt. Maybe ask your wife, girlfriend, daughters, etc. how they feel about offensive, sexualizing, lewd, rude, threatening comments from strange men in public places. Have you ever?

  8. Joan (unregistered) on May 20th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    Hey Vinny,

    When I am harassed on the street, I don’t get ‘offended.’ I am offended, for example, if I see someone holding up a picture of a bloody fetus to protest abortion. However, I think that is political speech and I wouldn’t regulate it.

    When someone sexually harasses me on the street, I feel many things. I feel afraid, violated, humiliated, and angry. But offended is not how I would describe how I feel. The person harassing me has not made a political statement, unless you count the implicit statement that women should not have access to public spaces without men to accompany them.

    And you may say you’re no ‘individual rights’ conservative, but that’s sure what it sounds like to me.

  9. Vinny (unregistered) on May 21st, 2006 @ 1:04 am

    Very simple, plain and straightforward question.

    How do you define offensive?

    What non-subjective and non case by case basis standard do you use to define offensive so something that offends Anna and doesn’t offend Joan is enough to get someone some kind of criminal penalty.

    Whose standard for offensive do we adopt?

    And if you say, “it’s really easy. Any time someone says I want to ‘lick your pussy'” as you put it, when is “I want to lick your pussy” offensive enough to warrant someone going to jail, and silly enough to just be some scumbag who isn’t worth paying any attention to.

    Maybe some empathy on your part is more in order. Not everyone who walks around with a penis between his legs is ignorant to the epic plight of women who get nasty comments. As is typically the case, you like most of the “activist” women I know think unless you have breasts and a vagina, you’re automatically ignorant to everything but sports and porn.

    And Joan, you’re so out there it’s not worth even discussing. You seem to be stuck on political speech which isn’t even the topic of conversation. Please do a better job of keeping up.


  10. Anna (unregistered) on May 23rd, 2006 @ 2:05 pm

    Empathy for the white man’s epic plight to assert his dominance in this world?

    Dear Vinny, contrary to popular belief activist women recognize the importance and necessity of building strong alliances and relationships with men. Please don’t tell me that I hate men–because I don’t, and that assertion is a ludicrous cop-out from making a real argument.

    I thought the First Amendment right to free speech had to do with political speech. Doesn’t it? I think Joan understands the discussion here better than you, Vinny.

    As Joan perfectly described, street harassment doesn’t necessarily offend but evokes a slew of reactions often including feeling threatened. Women have the right, just as much as men already enjoy, to not feel threatened in public space on a daily basis.

  11. Vinny (unregistered) on May 24th, 2006 @ 8:35 am

    Anna… You really need to try to stay focused here. This is about harassment, not political speech. Joan is off-base in bringing it up because it’s not the topic of discussion.

    As for feeling threatened, let’s put it another way using something that’s actually happened to me a few times.

    I get on the subway. I’m the only guy in the subway. It’s 3:00am. I’m on the 5 train chugging home to the Bronx where I live. 5 black kids get on the train, and in the mostly empty train car sit right next to me.

    Now they haven’t done anything wrong, however, it evokes, in me, a feeling of being threatened, seeing as they chose to sit near me on an empty car.

    Do I have a right to call the police or hit the emergency intercom on the train simply because I felt threatened? They didn’t actually do anything. By your standard, the mere evocation of a threatening feeling means I’m threatened.

    That’s just stupid.

    Women do have the right to not feel threatened on a daily basis. The problem is what you’re describing is not threatening. It’s revolting. It’s nasty. It’s low-class and frankly, if you walked up to the guy and kicked him in the nuts, I’d laugh.

    Your assertion that there’s some white man’s epic plight to dominate the world is perfectly symbolic of the kind of misguided crap that loads up the activist mind.

    I am a white male.

    I’m not rich.

    I work hard.

    I live in a middle class neighborhood in a building in the Bronx.

    I ride the subway to work, not a $60,000 car.

    I have no intention of ruling the world in anyway. I want to get home after work, pet my cat, kiss my wife and relax.

    That’s my big plan for world domination.

    Despite your mocking me for calling you clueless about the workings of the male mind, your comment really does indicate that your thinking runs no deeper than feminist talking points and what you’re told you should be threatened by.

    If you want to live a vapid life drowned in talking points and empty thinking wrapped in an oppression complex, go right ahead. I have news for you, though. You’re gonna be miserable for a long time; even moreso than you already are.

  12. Joan (unregistered) on May 24th, 2006 @ 2:37 pm


    Very simple, plain and straightforward question:

    What is feminism?

    Just wondering.

    You seem to have a very clear idea of what that philosophy entails. I, on the other hand, really couldn’t tell you. Susan Faludi is a far cry from Judith Butler, who is in a whole different galaxy than Inga Muscio. And don’t even get me started on bell hooks. If you put Audre Lorde in a room with Gloria Steinem, I’ll bet they’d argue with each other (if Audre Lorde were alive, I mean).

    Do I think I should be able to walk down the street without feeling threatened? Yes. Do I think that makes me a feminist? I have no idea. The word seems rather meaningless to me. I also don’t see why it matters.

    Anyway, the way I look at speech is like this: your right to punch ends at the tip of my nose. In other words, you are allowed to do whatever you want, until it harms me. So, if some guy wanted to, say, burn a cross on the sidewalk in front of my house while holding a noose and wearing a white sheet as a way to ‘express himself,’ that isn’t protected speech because it’s threatening and damaging to me and my community. Street harassment is the same kind of thing. And yes, it is ‘that bad’ and no, no one ‘told me’ to be threatened by it.

    I also don’t see why you think it’s okay to resort to illegal physical violence against these guys, but having the police give them a ticket sounds totally off the wall to you.


    As for your interaction on the subway, it sounds like a sad, sad thing that happened. Either they were trying to make you afraid, probably because you are white, or they weren’t and you were afraid, probably at least partially because they were black. That sucks and I wish the world were different. But it isn’t relevant to our discussion, for a lot of reasons that I think you’re smart enough to understand without me laying them all out.

  13. Anna (unregistered) on May 26th, 2006 @ 12:02 pm

    Joan, hitting the nail on the head. Ditto ditto ditto.

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