To create the video, Bliss, who had a camera attached to his backpack, walked in front of actress Shoshana Roberts for 10 hours as she silently strolled through the streets of New York. Over the course of filming, Roberts experienced over 100 incidents of verbal street harassment, including being followed by one man for over five minutes.
As shocking as the amount of street harassment in the video is, even more shocking is the amount of sexist remarks that have been made in the days following the video’s release.
Some viewers wrote extremely explicit comments on the video’s web page. One man posted, “Stupid f—ing c—. I hope you get raped.” Another ranted, “This woman wears a skintight tank top with leggings and probably a push-up bra. What did she expect? Why is she even wearing makeup if she doesn’t want to draw attention on her? This slut can f— herself.”
It would be easy to brush off these comments as radical and unrepresentative of society as a whole; however, they indicate aspects of sexism that are built into our societal infrastructure.
These comments are abhorrent, but it is not an isolated reaction. Many men feel threatened by women who attempt to change the status quo and therefore lash out at them.
As Kelsey McKinney writes for Vox, “The response to Roberts’s video is so offensive because it is, again, so familiar. Rape and death threats have become a standard response to any woman who dares to speak out on the internet about, well, anything.”
It is important to acknowledge that many men have embraced movements to end sexism. However, the fact that reactions such as these continue to appear in the comments posts of videos that fight back against sexism indicate that society still has not been able to get everybody on board with a movement for equality, especially since the current status quo favors men in that it gives them enormous freedom to say or do what they want to women on the street.
What is more troubling than these individual reactions, however, is that society as a whole makes little effort to push for the elimination of sexism. In fact, it often subtly justifies sexism.
The second comment on the video implies that Roberts deserves to be raped because of her choice of attire. This is sexist because it calls women to temper their appearance to avoid inciting men’s sexual desires, while giving men the freedom to act as they please.
Even the video itself furthers this notion when it gives the disclaimer that Roberts is walking the streets in “jeans and a crewneck t-shirt.” This implies that, had Shoshana been wearing a more provocative outfit, society would be less likely to find the sexual harassment she receives to be unwarranted. However, this type of societal thinking is dangerous because it removes the burden from men to act in a civil manner toward women. Unfortunately, this strain of reasoning persists and is part of the reason that little has been done to end street violence.
Furthermore, society often justifies street harassment by claiming that catcalling is a form of flattery and should be welcomed by women. One viewer posted in the comments that the men in the video are “not harassing her; they are adoring her. This is part of the Latino culture. Whites and blacks would not understand.” Many later commenters stated that they disapproved of this thinking.
But with that said, this type of justification, that a man catcalling at a woman on the street is not offensive, is still prevalent in society. On the Fox News program “The Five,” Eric Bolling responded to the video by saying that the catcalling wasn’t offensive in nature. Many of his co-hosts agreed that, while the man following Roberts was creepy, many of the other men were simply being friendly.
Even Hollaback acknowledges that “what specifically counts as street harassment is determined by those who experience it.” If a woman is flattered by a catcall, then that is her agenda. However, regardless of what the catcaller says to the woman or how it is received, the exchange is sexist because the man is assuming that his comment about the woman’s appearance is more important to her than whatever else she is doing. Our failure to frown upon catcalling provides men with an incredible sense of entitlement to women’s time and appearance.
Catcalling is not the problem, but a symptom of the greater sexist undercurrents that characterize society. In order to put an end to street harassment towards women, we must work as a society to stop justifying verbal abuse, in any form.