Emily May of Hollaback!


A love for designer clothes and bags is great to have -- trust us! But what’s even better than a passion for fashion? A passion for philanthropy! And that’s just what Emily May, the founder of Hollaback! -- a nonprofit dedicated to ending street harassment -- has. Check out our exclusive interview with this amazing woman and learn all about the Hollaback! mission, where it’s headed in 2012 and how you can help put an end to street harassment.


I-ELLA: Please tell us about Hollaback! and its mission.

Emily: Hollaback! is a movement dedicated to ending street harassment using mobile technology, media advocacy and policy. By collecting women and LGBTQ folks' stories and pictures in a safe and shareable way with our mobile phone applications, Hollaback! is creating a crowd-sourced challenge to the status quo. It breaks the silence that has perpetuated sexual violence internationally, pronounces that any gender-based violence is unacceptable and creates a world where we have an empowered response to street harassment.


I-ELLA: Were you doing this type of work before starting Hollaback!?

Emily: Hollaback! was started by myself and six other friends in 2005. We ran Hollaback! for five years as a side project  -- never intending for it to be nonprofit – just happy to do the work.  Professionally, I worked in the anti-poverty world as a case manager, political action coordinator, director of development and most recently, a one-woman research and development team.  I also worked on four political campaigns. But in all my experience of the nonprofit sector I never saw something create as much impact, on as little money, as Hollaback!.  It’s been an activist fairytale.


I-ELLA: What gave you the idea to start Hollaback!? Was there a particular point when you thought, “This is enough?”

Emily: When I started Hollaback! I was getting street harassed three or four times a day. When I walked on, I felt weak. When I yelled at guys the situation escalated, and the police didn't care.


In 2005, a woman named Thao Nguyen was riding the train into work when she saw a man masturbating in the train across from her. Thao took a picture and brought it to the police, but they didn't do anything. She posted the picture on Flickr, and it quickly went viral and landed on the front cover of the Daily News. All of a sudden, the whole city was talking about public masturbation, and women everywhere were telling stories. After that, a group of friends (four women and three men) were talking about street harassment, how pervasive it was and how frustrating it is that we don't have a response. We were inspired by Thao, and thought, “What if we put pictures and stories of harassers up on a blog?” Hollaback! was born, and Thao is one of our founding board members.


I-ELLA: Where does your passion for philanthropy stem from?

Emily: I often wonder this too. This work isn’t easy. The hours are long. The pay isn’t great. But at the end of the day, I can’t just sit back and let street harassment happen to yet another girl. Especially not when I’ve got the solution. Until street harassment stops, I won’t stop either.


I-ELLA: You started Hollaback! at the young age of 24—did you ever have any doubts it would be so successful? What have been the most challenging aspects of starting a non-profit?

Emily: For the first six months, I shot up out of bed at 6 a.m. and worked straight until midnight. To save money, I ate mostly dried beans. I gained ten pounds. I barely saw my friends – or the light of day. We had no funding, and bills were mounting.  At my worst moments, it was an obsession. At my best, it was a calling. All I knew was that I had to make this happen. And I did. Today we are in 44 cities, 16 countries, speaking 9 different languages.


I-ELLA: How can others get involved?

Emily: If you too feel like you just can’t sit back while millions of girls internationally are getting street harassed, there are two very important things you can do: First, share you story of street harassment at ihollaback.org. Second, donate at ihollaback.org. We are a lean, mean nonprofit machine and we can’t do this without you.


I-ELLA: What are your goals for Hollaback! in 2012—and beyond?

Emily: In 2012, we’re going to launch our “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign to engage bystanders, pilot an initiative to address harassment on college campuses and launch another thirty sites internationally.


Long term, I want all the little baby girls riding around in strollers today to never have to experience street harassment the way that we have. I want them to be able to say good morning to the guy on the corner without fear that it will escalate. I want them to be able to walk down the street, their thoughts interrupted only by traffic and shop windows. And ultimately, I want them to take my work for granted.


I-ELLA: Anything else you would like to share?

Emily: Don't just walk on ... Hollaback!


I-ELLA Top Picks:

Emily: Luca Luca Fiore Peep Toe Pumps, and the Y London Hot Pink Leggings