In case you didn’t catch it, Hollaback! (a non-profit devoted to ending street harassment) filmed a woman walking around NYC wearing a plain t-shirt and jeans – not that that shit matters – for 10 hours and she received an uncomfortable amount of unsolicited comments, greetings, and catcalls. The video is cringe-worthy and disgusting and yet it is completely unsurprising.
And from this video came some pretty choice comments. Let’s look at a few shall we?
“You, and a lot of the comment section should be ashamed of yourselves. A lot of those men were GENTLEMEN, and you’re making them look like potential predators just because you’re an attention whore that doesn’t like getting it from certain people. Shame on you. It’s a crime to call a random woman on the street beautiful, yet some buttered up slut can runup to any random guy and start flirting with him and nobody thinks twice? Pfft.”
“I agree that most of the guys in the video were sleazy but what about when a guy offers to buy you a drink in a bar? Its amazing how much less offensive women find “unwanted attention” when it suits them!”
“Excessively tight jeans serve a very deliberate function for women: attracting a sexual partner…they have to use a sexy woman because we all know that ugly women – like the feminists behind this video – never get hit on or street harassed. I bet there are millions of ugly and overweight women all over the world that would love the attention this girl’s getting.”
– This comment comes from a despicable Men’s Rights Activist video narrated by a guy “refuting” the Hollaback! video. He is either completely delusional or an extremely convincing troll. Won’t even link to it on principle.
A whole lot of people are baffled by how most of the stuff in this video constitutes harassment. “He was just being nice! Telling her to have a good day! Since when is it a crime to say ‘hi’ to someone?!” True. Very true. But from what I understand, NYC is not the kind of warm, manner-driven place where people greet each other on the street as though his aunt grew up with her mom and they grew up together. Do you see those heads turning? Do you recognize those men leering? That’s what makes women uncomfortable.
Typically, the goal of this seemingly innocuous “hello” is to get a response and to begin a conversation. Jessica Williams from The Daily Show – who just consistently kicks ass – did a great piece on catcalling and street harassment. Right toward the beginning we see her walking past a construction site.
“Hola,” one man says to her. Ah! Just like the guys in the Hollaback! video were saying. A nice greeting, well-mannered, considerate as fuck.
“Hola,” Jessica responds. Nice. Holas exchanged, conversation complete.
“How are you?” He continues. All right, nice guy – wondering how she is. Wants to make sure her day is going all right.
“I’m fine, how are you?” Jessica asks.
“You look good…what is your name?” Ah! There it is! That’s what I was waiting for. He wasn’t just saying ‘hi.’ He didn’t just want to see how she was doing – from one human to another. He wanted to GET IN THERE.
You know how I know this is a real thing? Because I’m guilty of falling for this little stunt. A man – probably around the age of 65 to my 23 at the time – was standing next to me at a crosswalk in downtown Seattle. We made very brief, nearly accidental, eye contact and – despite me having headphones on – he asked me how my day was going. My Midwest manners kicked in and I said “Fine, thank you,” and I didn’t continue the conversation. He asked me a few more questions as the crosswalk sign still glowed an orange hand. I answered politely and concisely because I didn’t want to be rude. Finally, the little blue guy popped up on the crosswalk sign and I was free to walk away. He walked near me for a moment before saying “You are very beautiful. Do you have a boyfriend? Do you want to go out?” and I realized I’d completely given in to that seemingly innocent “just being polite” greeting. So I focused ahead of me, picked up my pace, and walked away without a word.
Another time, I was walking to my boyfriend’s place at about 9:45 PM. I was walking on a busy little neighborhood street with bars and there were a lot of people around because the Seahawks had won the Super Bowl a few hours earlier. I was wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and no makeup. And yet, while walking past a group of very large men, a few tried to speak to me and when I didn’t respond, one of them reached out and grabbed the sleeve of my sweatshirt to pull me back toward them. I jerked away and kept walking.
Nothing big. Didn’t get threatened. Didn’t get raped. I didn’t truly fear for my safety because I was surrounded by people. Still, I felt angry and shaken and a bit violated.
Harassment doesn’t always mean that someone is yelling shit like, “Hey, you little bitch. I’m going to fuck you while you beg me to stop,” it’s that they’re opening a door to what can potentially be a truly uncomfortable, threatening, and sometimes violent situation.
Not even a month ago in Queens, a woman was approached by a man trying to talk to her. She did not want to speak to him and in response, he slashed her throat with some type of blade. That’s right. So either I don’t speak to men on the street and I’m a bitch for not acknowledging “compliments” or I tell them that I’m not interested or a simple “no” and there’s a chance someone might slit my throat? With both of these options comes the conclusion that none of the initial “greetings” were so harmless or lacking ulterior motives. (And yes, of course I realize those are two extremes. But the fact remains, they are extremes that have happened to women just like me.)
Walking on the street is not a social gathering. It is how we get from one place to another. It is a necessary thing we do and most of the time, we do not want to be talked to while walking around. It’s unsettling for a stranger to single you out of the throngs of people walking around and to skip right ahead and say something like “Hey what’s up girl? How you doing? Someone’s acknowledging you!” And it’s still unsettling when a stranger strikes up a harmless conversation, “Hi, how’s your day?” only to feel completely let down when 90 seconds later of uncomfortable but polite conversation, he comments on your “fine ass”. And as you walk away, wondering about the state of humankind, you hear him say, “Daaaamn,” as he – I stress he because there will be others – checks your ass out for the final time.
The thing is, I owe nothing to anyone and I am not here for anyone. Just because someone is “acknowledging” me does not mean that I have to acknowledge them. It does not mean that I am grateful to be acknowledged. I do not and will not smile for you. I did not choose my outfit so that strange men I do not know can leer at me and see it as an invitation. I wear things for me. I do things for me. I am a human person who is entitled to not be spoken to on the street no matter how innocent or how sleazy the intention.
Men will be quick to tell you that most men won’t try to rape you. Generally, I agree. But girls and women are raised to be hyper aware of everything that can lead anywhere from harassment – be it sexual, verbal, physical, etc. – to rape.Where are you going? What route are you taking? What will you be wearing? Do you anticipate it drawing unwanted attention? Did you let someone know when you should be arriving? Did you let them know you’re running late? Do you have your keys laced in your fingers to use as a weapon if necessary? Is that finger on your mace? Have you been drinking? How much have you been drinking? Make sure to text someone when you get home. If you get nervous, call someone to talk to them while you’re walking in hopes that it wards off any potential attackers.
This is a real mental checklist that I would say most women – at least most young women I know – run through without even really thinking about almost anytime they’re out in public. And that is fucked up. That should not have to be our mentality while existing in the world.
It’s appalling how many people are commenting on this talking about how “this video only shows 100 comments over 10 hours and like 2 of them were harassments.” It does not matter. There should be zero harassments. None of those comments should occur.
Of course, a lot of men are anxious about “HOW DO I TALK TO WOMEN THEN!?” Well, not on the fucking street as you’re passing her by, ogling her and commenting on how she makes your dick feel, that’s for goddamn sure. One woman on reddit wrote up a pretty solid list of guidelines for when and how to talk to a woman in public that you do not know. I think the one big thing to remember is this:
If you approach a woman and attempt to start a conversation or pick her up and she says “No,” or does not even acknowledge you, she fucking MEANS no. You bow out, leave her alone, and you can sulk or wallow in self pity at home if you have to.
I could say a lot more on this topic and I’m sure that I will over time. But for now, I think that will do.