op-ed: combating sexual harassment with creativity
By Indigo Mateo
September 10, 2019
In August 2019, the musician-activist Indigo Mateo appeared on the AFROPUNK Brooklyn Solution Sessions panel about Street Harassment. We asked Indigo to write about how her experiences enabled her creative response.
It was 2015, and my experience with sexual assault was still recent and raw. I walked through Manhattan on the way to my first ever therapy session, when a man startled me, making kissing noises from his car. Cue: trigger.
I wanted to turn around, go back home to New Jersey, and “Men are trash” the pain away, until I fell asleep. Instead, I spat on the ground, telling myself that I could leave his energy on the sidewalk with my spit. I made it to the session. Cue: win.
The first instinct that comes up when I experience a personal “healing win” or milestone is to share it with others, so that folks know it’s happening and it’s possible. Womxn are triumphing through the experience of sexual violence. We’re in a culture where we have more tools than ever to share our lifestyles. What I choose to share is that my experiences with sexual assault and trauma, and my will to create, all constantly collide — in a way that’s healthy for me. My art is the most accessible and honest way to have the activist conversations that I believe will transform the world around us.
I say this to other artists with a cause: Question the culture. Then don’t hesitate to BE the answer.
In our music video, my homegirl Taina’s real-life clap back at a street harasser reminds us that people who street harass feel insignificant. While attempting to force their twisted form of physical validation, they desperately seek to be seen, to have their opinions matter. To have power and dominance in how we walk through the world. These interactions vary from ignorant to malicious, but they always feel gross.
“YQYG” affirms us who endure harassment and challenges the behavior of those who harass. “YQYG” recognizes the Queens and Goddesses who endure harassment, and whose bodies come in all gender identities, ages, shapes, races and colors. Our experience deserves to be made visible and not trivialized. We deserve to feel safe in our streets. We declare that our struggle is real. But that struggle doesn’t define us. We do.
We assert that street harassers have a right to their transformation, and a responsibility to do something different. We encourage allies to intervene, and illustrate how when we take care of each other — we don’t need police or prisons.
“YQYG” is our battle cry and our celebration.
To me, art and activism are inextricably connected. I use them to conjure words and tools for oppressive situations, where words and tools are hard to find. I create to keep from falling into silence and internalizing hate that’s legitimately not mine. On some bruja shit, I seek to cast these spells for myself and for everyone.
My role as an artist is to make the revolution livable. To give it an ecosystem to thrive. My music encourages people to outlive their trauma, and discover the ritual of reclamation. When I’m brave, vulnerable and honest, my storytelling is freedom work that releases people from isolation, and invites them to be solutions.
My bro Richie Reseda and I co-own Question Culture, the social impact record label that produced the music, the video, and the social impact campaign that will be launched in December. The campaign will include swagged out, harassment-intervention instructional videos, and a multi-city “Reclaim The Streets” empowerment tour.
Lauren Jimenez and I wrote “YQYG” to say this: “We will occupy our truths and our streets without fear. We will reject the power struggle that harassers throw onto us. We will keep it moving, with style, grace, and room for everyone to heal.”
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