Cornered by an aggressive “suitor” demanding your digits? Tell them to call (669) 221-6251. That’s the number of the new Feminist Phone Intervention hotline — and when a person calls or texts it, they’re treated to an automatically-generated quotation from feminist writer bell hooks. Is it brilliant? (Yes.) Is it necessary? (Also yes.) The project’s Tumblr explains:
because we’re raised to know it’s safer to give a fake phone number than to directly reject an aggressive guy.
because we’re raised to know that evasion or rejection can be met with violence.
because women are still threatened and punished for rejecting advances.
because (669) UGH-ASIF, WTF-DUDE, and MAJR-SHADE were taken.
because why give any old fake number, when you can have bell hooks screen your calls?
so next time, just give out this number: (669) 221-6251
tech to protect.
The idea — brainchild of “an anonymous Latina from the Bronx” — came about in the wake of Elliot Rodgers’ shooting spree, when the New York post “decided to print some bikini photos of a woman who had ‘spurned’ him,” she tells Nerve. (“She was ten years old at the time they met, for crying out loud!”) For her, that embodied the problem: “the culture and the press suggests sympathy with the murderer for having been ‘romantically rejected,’ and punishes an innocent woman (who was a girl at the time) by violating her privacy. It’s nauseating and enraging, and I think the lack of critical analysis in media coverage of Rodgers’ violent acts made many women feel increasingly fearful.”
So she decided to take action. Moving through the world as a woman or feminine-presenting person requires constant and exhausting mental calculations, she says: “how do I protect my privacy? How do I let this stranger down gently, so he won’t hurt me or insult me? How do I manage this situation where a stranger feels entitled to my time, my contact info, my body? Am I really responsible for explaining to this person why his actions are not appropriate? “A phone line couldn’t solve all the problems, but it could “outsource…the labor of explanation.”
At a fundamental level, it shouldn’t be a woman’s job to kindly and patiently educate the dude that’s making her feel unsafe. (Sometimes, that’s not even advisable — “there can be good reasons for avoiding explicit rejection,” she points out.) A few well-chosen, auto-generated bell hooks quotes, though? Those could give people a way to “preserve their privacy and to talk back.” It’s a practical solution to an actual problem, she says, and also, she hopes “effective agit-prop addressing the issue of harassment.”
Initially, the idea was “a phone line that would automatically play Aretha singing “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.,” but I didn’t know if I’d need to pay royalties for the song…” she recalls. That would have been awesome. This is better:
It’s sad it’s necessary. It shouldn’t be necessary. But there’s not enough of bell hooks in the world, and that means sometimes, it is necessary — and for those times, the hotline is there. When you can’t say it, bell hooks can. “Wherever domination is present, love is lacking,” the robotic voice tells me when I call.
To keep the project going — phone lines are expensive, and call volume is high, with no signs of stopping — the Feminist Phone Intervention is asking for donations, with any money raised beyond the cost of the phone bill going toward The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.