“Sometimes I walk down the street and the men, they call me beautiful…”
If you exist in society as a woman, chances are you’ve experienced street harassment. Let’s be real: You probably get catcalled on the daily. Most mujeres are familiar with the whistles, unwarranted comments about their bodies, demands to smile and the slew of expletives that follow after ignoring the harasser. For some, the hisses can even dangerously escalate to physical violence or stalking.
That’s a pretty extreme price to pay for simply deciding to walk out of your home as a woman, and that’s precisely why a group of ladies of color are fighting back with a stunning short choreographed film resisting street harassment and empowering mamis to take back ownership of their bodies.
The video, titled “Elephant,” offers a visual narration of poet Elisabet Velasquez‘s piece of the same name, and her words are nothing short of powerful.
“Sometimes I walk down the street, and my body is a chapel. The men, who think they have holy water for saliva, spit blessings my way. I guess I dressed like a sin today. I guess I helped someone break a commandment or 10 by being a woman with a body of water most men are not Moses enough for,” the Puerto Rican writer starts her powerful poem.
As she reads the piece aloud, dancer Keomi Tarver, whose body was used as a canvas for artist Alicia Cobb to paint a stunning image of a lioness on, uses her cuerpo and a New York City backdrop to visually recount the poem.
For the five woman behind this production, it was crucial that the short film not just call out street harassment as a fragment of patriarchy but also remind women that their fury is acceptable.
CREDIT: Elephant NYC
“When I began to write ‘Elephant,’ I was tired of explaining to men why it wasn’t OK to follow me down the street, or that I didn’t owe them a smile or a hello. I did not want to educate men. I wanted to empower women,” Velasquez told mitú.
“Elephant came from a place of resistance and exhaustion. I think education is important, but it is equally important that we give ourselves the space for our rage and allow ourselves to be tired and over it.”
The message was healing for videographer Connie Chavez. The peruana hopped on the project last-minute, unsure of the assignment and unaware how life-changing it would be for her.
“The sisterhood and magic we created that day healed me. I had never met Keomi, Wendy and Alicia, but that day we shared stories, tears and laughter as if we had known each other for years,” Chavez said.
According to her, the women still didn’t have a clear vision for the video on shoot day, but they started the morning with mediation, burning palo santo and dancing to Beyoncé – apparently all the ingredients needed to make magic, which they did.
But the video isn’t just curative because of its powerful message and glorious visuals. This work of art allows women of color to see themselves as targets of a system that is as racist as it is sexist. Too often in anti-street harassment videos and articles, we are given representations of white women being catcalled by men of color, media that fools viewers into believing that gender intimidation only takes place in communities of color. To debunk that myth, the women place their black and brown bodies in a predominately white neighborhood of New York, recognizing that white men are also harassers and women of color are also victims.
“I just hope that women of color know that their narratives are valid, too. That their point of view matters. That their anger matters. That they have a right to their bodies, too,” said Velasquez.
With that, watch the powerful video above, mujeres, and don’t be scared to get angry the next time you hear piropos.