By now you’ve probably seen “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” the video with more than 15 million hits that puts catcalling on full display. As a young female New Yorker, I can say this video is sadly accurate.
I’ve been catcalled and verbally harassed on the street more times than I can count. And most of these instances have happened in my Upper East Side neighborhood, an affluent and predominantly white area of Manhattan. Like the woman in the video, I’ve been followed. Not for five minutes but for a block, which was still very scary. I’ve been called everything from a bitch to beautiful. I usually remain quiet and walk away as quickly as possible. But this summer one encounter made me so frustrated that I took to Facebook to vent, something I rarely ever do.
“Attention, construction workers:
When a woman (like myself) wears a pencil skirt, it does not give you license to hit on her. In fact if you see her in a pencil skirt at 8 am, it’s because she’s on her way to work. And, as I’m sure my fellow females would agree, she’s not a commodity, not a body, not an object to be harassed. She’s a woman. A strong, confident, empowered woman who deserves to be treated as such. She shouldn’t have to slouch down and hold her bag across her body in order to walk through the city without being catcalled. It’s time to show some respect.
(Oh, and Billy, I don’t care that you’re a Libra and your favorite movie is Frozen.)”
Yes, in one of the men’s attempts to grab my attention, he actually announced that his name is Billy, he’s a Libra, and his favorite movie is Frozen—proudly displaying his superficial idea of how to woo a woman.
Dozens of friends liked or commented on my post, saying they’ve experienced catcalling, too. “I purposefully put on headphones and listen to music super loud to drown out any potential catcalls. It’s a real bummer that I have to do that, but it’s better than hearing the comments!” said one girlfriend. Bummer is right.
I don’t think this video was made to demonize men. My male friends have expressed disgust and disappointment with the way the woman in the video was treated. The video was made to prompt conversation. To show men, who may otherwise have no idea, that this is how many women are treated and how straight-up wrong it is.
And I don’t think this video is about random jerks. I think a lot of men have simply been conditioned to treat women in this way. There’s a pervasive problem in society today to think that women are objects meant for consumption. All you have to do is glance at the litany of sexist ads on TV and in magazines today (Carl’s Jr, I’m looking at you) to see what I mean. The accessibility of porn doesn’t help matters either. We have Fifty Shades of Gray, “Blurred Lines,” and Miley Cyrus grabbing her crotch on stage—the pornification of our culture is clear. In fact a recent survey found that 29 percent of U.S. employees have looked at porn at least once a week. Considering the research on what porn does to your brain, is there any wonder they’d start to see woman as sexual objects for their pleasure and lose their inhibitions to expressing it?
I have experienced this firsthand. I once worked with a colleague—a married man—who repeatedly made myself and other young women in the office uncomfortable with comments like, “You look great today,” or “I really like your hair like that.” Note: If you’re a married coworker whose only other conversations with me are about work, such remarks are completely inappropriate. Did I mention I caught this colleague looking at porn twice?
And there seems to be some greater acceptance that women just have to deal with this. Because when someone does speak out, she’s asked, “What? Can’t you accept a compliment?” Or she’s told that she’s asking for it with her clothes or her makeup or the way she walks. Worse yet, she’s threatened with rape, as the woman in this video has been.
Let me be clear: I am not opposed to compliments from men, and I give men credit for having the courage to ask women on a date or tell women they’re beautiful. But such statements should only come from men who actually know the women they’re speaking to.
Even the seemingly casual “Hello” or “Good morning” from complete strangers, as seen in the video, are just as sketch. The remarks are unsolicited and the woman is clearly not engaged in any social interaction that would make a comment fitting or socially normal. It’s one thing to say good morning to a woman as she walks into a store or passes by and waves. But in the video (and as has happened to me in real life), the woman makes no eye contact and gives no social cues to make spontaneous conversation a respectable engagement.
So what’s a woman to do?
We can keep walking by silently. We can hand out cards to our catcallers, letting them know their behavior is unacceptable and pleading with them to be better men. It would be easy to say, “Give that catcaller a piece of your mind!” but I’d rather encourage women to be smart and safe—quickening the pace and shaking your head does just that. And you can report it to Hollaback!, the organization behind this video whose mission is to fight street harassment and ensure equal access to public spaces.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is to continue to talk about this with each other. Share your stories, encourage one another’s confidence, and discuss with the men in your life why catcalling and street harassment is unacceptable—and why we need their help to end it.