If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a student at Vassar College, and chances are that in your social media browsing you have seen at least one person post the now viral video of a young woman being harassed on the streets of New York City, born from a collaboration between the anti-street harassment group Hollaback! and the marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative. First I should mention the problematic aspects surrounding the creation of this video that suggest that the video’s director, Rob Bliss, intentionally edited out the majority of the white men that harassed the woman and instead skewed the video to feature mainly men of color. Bliss addressed this claim by insisting that he was in no way trying to portray one race as being more likely to harass women in the streets, but many remain unconvinced. Intentional or not, this stereotyping is an intersectional issue of race and class that should not be ignored. That said, the general message that catcalling is a real every day thing that women aren’t actually making up is still apparently something that men need to be convinced of, so I guess this video is at least doing its job of getting the conversation flowing.
Take this conversation, which you might have also seen already, for example:
This adult Real Live Adult Male who wrote a book called “The Man-ual” (I wonder how long it took him to think of that) thinks that street harassment isn’t an issue. His arguments are basically as follows:
“You would not care if all these guys were hot. They would be bolstering your self-esteem and your ego. There is nothing a woman likes more than to hear how pretty she is.”
Thank you for your insightful input on the inner workings of the female mind. You sound like an expert on what women like.
“Feminists are taking it too far. You’re telling me that if I complement you on the street, it’s some sort of abuse? That means that if you don’t complement me when I walk by, that’s abuse. You didn’t bolster my self-esteem. I want to start a coalition against women who don’t complement men.”
Aw! You’re a presumably heterosexual white male who feels left out of being harassed! I feel so sorry for you!
“No one is holding a gun to your head telling you that you have to live in New York City.”
Um, okay, that makes perfect sense. Women just should all move to the remote rural countryside in order to not be verbally harassed. I see no problem with that.
“The type of guys that made those comments speak for itself. That’s part of their culture, maybe how they’re brought up…”
DIDN’T THINK HE WAS GONNA GO THERE BUT THEN HE DID.
“Political correctness has gone too far. If you don’t like it as a woman, turn around and tell him to shut up. Stand up for yourself!”
Yeah, because women have no reason to fear for their own safety. Oh wait, he has a response to that too.
“THEN CARRY A GUN!”
I’m sure that we as Vassar students don’t need to be told that a woman walking down the street in a big city, or anywhere really, is just trying to go about her daily life, and as shocking as it may seem isn’t actually interested in hearing objectifying comments from anyone about her appearance today. This is not complementary. Even something as seemingly innocuous as “hello” can and will be taken as an invitation for further comments. Obviously saying hello isn’t harassment in and of itself, but haven’t we been taught about stranger danger since we were little kids? Why does that suddenly not apply because men demand that women pay attention to them? Women don’t owe random men on the street conversation. There’s quite a lot that I could rant about regarding this topic, but I think Jessica Williams said it best: “Dear Nice Guys Who Just Want to Say Hi, the assholes ruined it for you. Police your asshole friends and then maybe we can talk in 5 years.”