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Q+A: Loyola sophomore talks street harassment, feminism

Loyola University Chicago sophomore Shanzeh speaks at a Student Government general meeting. Photo by Zoë Fisher.

Loyola University Chicago sophomore Shanzeh speaks at a Student Government general meeting. Photo by Zoë Fisher.

By Zoë Fisher

I met with Chicago native Shanzeh on a gloomy Tuesday in Loyola University Chicago’s crowded library. We found a dimly lit, secluded room to talk. Her burgundy headscarf tightly hugged her oval face. Though she’s only a sophomore, Shanzeh is involved in several political and cultural groups that are well-known at Loyola. (She asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy outside the Loyola community.)

A few of these organizations include the feminist organization WILL, which stands for Women in Leadership Loyola, the women of color group LUCES and the Muslim Student Alliance. In September, WILL hosted its annual chalk walk.  

The following interview has been edited and condensed. 

Zoë Fisher: Can you explain what a chalk walk is and your experience with street harassment? 

Shanzeh: Basically what we do is we walk around Rogers Park with chalk and we chalk the sidewalks. Public sidewalks, not on any private property. We write slogans and phrases like: “We will holla back,” “I’m not your baby,” “My dress does not mean ‘yes,’” “Consent is sexy,” “I’m not here for you,” “I’m not public property,” [and] “I’m not a dog, don’t whistle at me.” Things like that, things that get people to stop and think. 

Fisher: Do you have any personal experiences in Chicago with street harassment? 

Shanzeh: Yeah, so before I was hijabi 

Fisher: Can you explain what that is? 

Shanzeh: Hijab is the Islamic head scarf… in practice. But hijab really means modesty and people chose to enact that in different ways. Before I put my headscarf on, which I’m currently wearing, I enacted modesty in different ways, I had other definitions of modesty. I was modest in my action and not necessarily what I was wearing and I thought that was good. Recently, I think six weeks ago, I started wearing the Islamic head scarf. Like covering my hair, wearing full-sleeves, pants down to my ankles. I like it. For me it was a religious step, more than that it was also a feminist stamp. It was like I was taking control of who can see me and what they can see. I was taking ownership of my body and that did stem from a lot of things I’ve been through with people taking ownership of my body, the way that they look at me, and that does tie back to street harassment. 

Fisher: Tell me how?

Shanzeh: This time last year, I was going to a concert and I was wearing a crop top and a long skirt. I was on the El by myself because I was meeting a group of my friends at the concert. Someone came up to me and he just grabbed my crop top and like yanked it down so hard that it flew up passed my breasts… and it was very embarrassing and I freaked out and somehow I had it in me, my initial response was to back up and be like ‘Why did you do that?’  

Fisher: What season was it?

Shanzeh: It was maybe September last year. But since I’ve been wearing the scarf, I have also still been harassed. So it doesn’t really matter what you’re wearing because I was literally covered from head to toe, not wearing anything that someone could claim was provocative, which I think is a bulls*** excuse. I was sitting on the El and someone came and sat next to me and he put his arm around me and I think he was trying to say that I was lucky that I was getting his attention because I think he thought that I don’t get attention because of what I wear, and that he was doing me a favor by giving me attention. I was not having that.  

Fisher: Can you tell me a time from your childhood where you first realized you were a feminist? 

Shanzeh: I’ve joked with my dad like I don’t know how I’m his daughter because my dad is very patriarchal. And it doesn’t stem from the religion, that’s something I’ve realized recently. A lot of people think that Islam is anti-feminist but it doesn’t come from the religion, it comes from culture. The more I looked in the religion and the reason why I put the headscarf on is that I realized it’s such a feminist move.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.