There’s a video that’s been circulating online since Tuesday, and it frames itself like this: a woman walks around New York City for 10 hours, with a camera secretly recording as she gets street-called 100 times by men.
The woman who does the walking is Shoshana Roberts. Most of the men who street-harass, call out and follow her are black and Latino. Noticeably absent from the video? White men.
It’s something a lot of people noted.
“The racial politics of the video are [f*****] up,” the author Roxane Gay commented on Twitter. “Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”
Slate’s Hanna Rosin noticed the same.
“The one dude who turns around and says, “Nice,” is white, but the guys who do the most egregious things—like the one who harangues her, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more,” or the one who follows her down the street too closely for five whole minutes—are not.”
“Catcalling has always been an uncomfortable feminist issue because of the class and race dynamics involved,” Rosin said Friday in an interview with NPR’s Here & Now. “And that’s a much more difficult conversation to have than the straight forward one of look at this woman being harassed looking down the street.”
And Akiba Solomon at Colorlines echoed both Gay and Rosin’s concerns. But she also pointed out — albeit, a little tentatively — that the video “characterizes all of the men’s behavior as the same. So ‘hello,’ a demand for gratitude, and following the woman all carry the same weight.”
The video was created by an anti-harassment organization Hollaback! and Rob Bliss Creative, an ad agency. Rosin says that Bliss apologized on reddit — in a post that’s now deleted — for editing out white men. Bliss wrote “We got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera.” That’s why Bliss said he had to edit them out. (Serious question: Weren’t most of the street harassers in the video interacting “in passing”?)
This isn’t the first time Bliss’ work has had some troubling portrayals of brown folks, Rosin writes. When he created a promotional video for Grand Rapids, Mich., Bliss reportedly minimized the city’s sizable minority population.
On its website, Hollaback! issued this statement about Bliss’ New York video:
“We regret the unintended racial bias in the editing of the video that over represents men of color. Although we appreciate Rob’s support, we are committed to showing the complete picture. It is our hope and intention that this video will be the start of a series to demonstrate that the type of harassment we’re concerned about is directed toward women of all races and ethnicities and conducted by an equally diverse population of men.”
The Daily Show‘s Jessica Williams explored this in her segment “The Feminist Atmosphere.” In it, she shows her commute to work and gets cat-called by various dudes. She also talks to a room full of women who’ve experienced their fair share of street harassment. Williams’ big point is that street harassment is ubiquitous and it’s impossible for women to know how to respond.
A funny take on the Hollaback! video makes white dudes (and white people, in general) much more visible. In Funny Or Die’s “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Man,” a white guy roams the streets and gets offered jobs, high-fives and even an invite to participate in a drum circle.
When we think about Hollaback!’s mission to end street harassment, the how part presents a pretty large question mark. On its website, the organization asks folks to share their stories about harassment in the hopes that these tales “will redefine safety in your community—it will inspire legislators, the police, and other authorities to take this issue seriously – to approach it with sensitivity, and to create policies that make everyone feel safe.”
So we’re curious: have you ever had an exchange with street harassers that’s changed their minds? Or have you felt that you’ve been accused unfairly of street harassment? Tell us about it in the comments.