Why I cofounded SAFER: NYC, A perspective from the male leader of a feminist organization

By Joseph Fan

If you told me when I was in high school that I would found a feminist organization, you would have gotten heckled by that younger me. This was of course, in part, due to my misunderstanding of the word "feminist." My friends, the music I listened to, my environment, my role models all told me that word was for butch lesbians who believed in female superiority. I had no idea that it meant equality. I also had no idea that I could also unknowingly have been guilty of street harassment, specifically catcalling. 

 
                               Me in High School

                               Me in High School

 

I went to Brooklyn Technical High School (a specialized New York City high school); I graduated summa cum laude from Baruch College; I went to an Ivy League law school - I lived an entire 26 years without knowing what feminism really meant. And then I met the love of my life, the other co-founder of SAFER: NYC, Julia Nethero. Julia told me how she has been street harassed and cat called since she was 13, how she had to plan her nights out to be safe, taking cabs or taking the long way home, and altering what she wore. And then something clicked – I had a flashback to when I was 19 and had long hair. Random guys would dance up on me with erections, until I turned around and they saw I was a man; suddenly, I was an equal, a peer, a person - not meat that was lower than them and they would apologize profusely. All those nights, I was able to take the train home alone late night and I didn’t have a worry in the world. Growing up to non-English speaking immigrant parents who never earned above the poverty level, I knew very little about any type of privilege. However, this male privilege epiphany hit me in the stomach like a bag of doorknobs. She made a feminist out of me.

The idea for SAFER: NYC started about a year ago in January 2015 with several viral videos Julia showed me on street harassment. Although I was someone who did not like street harassment, I was defensive and offended at the racist and sexist undertones of many of the videos. They all seemed to point the finger at men. “Well, what can I do about that?,” Julia asked. “What if we started our own organization to end street harassment and engaged men to be part of the solution?” We both laughed at the absurdity.

How is it ok that street harassment happens to our mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, fathers, neices, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents, family and friends…everyone? It isn't! I see it happen every day and I am sick of it! I refuse to stand idle while my fellow human being is harassed!

I started SAFER: NYC because I wanted to help end street harassment and I did not know how to get involved because I felt there was no place for me as a man. And then with Julia, we realized that by engaging the other often vilified half of the population, we can double our manpower (pun intended) and actually end street harassment!