30/ 10/ 2014
Hollaback, an organization with some good intentions, stepped up its game with this video of a woman walking around New York to record men cat-calling her. The video was shot, edited and marketed to go viral, and it did, with at least tens of millions of views:
But while I am against sexual harassment, I am once again dismayed about people who hysterically lump all kinds of cat calls in with harassment. I’m also really f*cking angry at the increasingly apparent element of racism and classism involved in these reactions (read more about it in my earlier post here).
First, I will repeat that I HAVE been a victim of sexual harassment and assault on the streets and elsewhere, though I would characterize my personal experiences as mild and–unfortunately–very common. And having experienced it, and sympathizing with women who’ve been through much, much worse, it is disrespectful to victims of actual harassment and assault to say every single whistle and compliment and greeting and attempt to get your attention is harassment.
Want an example? The guy shouting good morning in the Hollaback video was harmless. The guy who followed the actress for 5 minutes? That was threatening, and creepy as hell.
Now moving on to my main point, about the racist and classist elements of this increasingly popular topic of conversation, even among women of color, who should know better: If some dude dressed in J.Crew walked up to the actress in this video in Starbucks and tried to strike up a conversation with her, you can bet it would not have been included in this video or considered harassment. In fact, all the white men were cut out of the video, of which the vast majority of shots ended up coming from Harlem despite the actual 10-hour walk supposedly having covered many other neighborhoods.
Basically, some things are being called harassment these days simply because of who’s saying them–it’s harassment if a greeting or compliment comes from a working class man or a man of color dressed in “urban” looking clothing on the street; but if some random stranger comes up to a woman inside a commercial building, a coffee shop or something, dressed like a white collar professional, it’s acceptable. This is not cool.
What is happening here, partially, is that more people who didn’t grow up with this social ritual are moving to places and mixing with people who did. (I say partially because a number of the people who are most hysterical over this issue are also New Yorkers of color.) But like the aggressive and seemingly-offensive way that New Yorkers of a certain class background talk sarcastically, crack biting jokes, or even play basketball, there is an etiquette to the a back and forth and even rules of engagement for what is acceptable and what isn’t.
The reality is that most guys are not hostile or dangerous, they’re usually friendly and good natured about it whether you talk shit back, or just smile and wave. This is not understood by those for whom this ritual is foreign. Another common misconception is that men are the only ones who holla, which isn’t true–it’s just far more common, especially as we get older.
Within the ritual, it’s pretty obvious when it’s harmless, or when someone crosses the line and is an actual threat (i.e. guys who touch you, follow you, don’t take no for an answer, etc.). It’s fair to argue that men do not realize the physical vulnerability that women feel, and should–that’s is a real gender difference that people are not sensitive enough to. But it’s still important to recognize that those men who cross the line are entirely different kinds of men from the ones who just holler in passing without being rude/offensive/threatening/in your personal space.
Meanwhile, there is another reality about the men who cross the line that needs to be recognized: even if the Hollaback movement wins one day, and we live in a world where the normal, harmless guys never holla again, there will still be those psychos who stalk, threaten, harass, abuse or do worse to women. Some of the advocates against street harassment seem to be pushing an idea that women should not have to be on guard because men are acting up–but I would argue that even if men DIDN’T act this way women and people in general should always be on guard, it’s just common sense.
Lastly, there are some women out there who are arguing against any sort of approach by men to women on the street because it’s gender specific and therefore sexist. I am an advocate of women’s rights, but this argument is as ridiculous as the argument for color-blindness as the antidote to racism. Women deserve equal protection under the law, they deserve equal rights and equal opportunities. But women and men are NOT THE SAME. At the end of the day, a holla is based on physical attraction.
Arguing that it’s wrong because it’s initiated by men toward women is first of all false, because gay men holla at men, too, while gay women also holla at women. It’s also ridiculous because under the same principle, any expression of sexual interest would be a sexist attempt at domination. In that case, no man should ever approach any woman to express sexual interest in a public setting unless she has already consented, which would A) make meeting people impossible and B) be against the laws of nature.
For further reading, if you have any interest in the objective truth, please check out this analysis of why the Hollaback video was, at best, a very unscientific and biased marketing ploy: https://medium.com/message/that-catcalling-video-and-why-research-methods-is-such-an-exciting-topic-really-32223ac9c9e8