If the instantly notorious street-harassment video was intended to make men more sympathetic to the horrors women deal with on a daily basis, it didn’t succeed.
Called simply, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” the video has now been viewed more than 15 million times on its original YouTube page, but it has done nothing to bring consensus to the issue of street harassment.
Although presenting evidence of the daily indignity of catcalls and unwarranted advances that women face was an admirable goal, the video just contains too much selective finger-pointing to be effective.
Critics quickly assailed the fact that the most common form of harassment the video’s subject, Shoshana B. Roberts, received were phrases like “How are you?” and just “Hi.” And the takeaway for many men—in conversations, on social media—was simply that if you speak to a woman on the street, then, according to this video, you are harassing her. That’s a narrative that many were quick to take issue with and others simply dismissed.
As a man, I found it easy to be put off by the video because it doesn’t seem particularly nuanced. Rather than allow for the existence of polite conversation between strangers, it simply points at any salutation—from “hello” to “damn!”—and labels it harassment.
Maybe I’m just looking at this from my perspective as a man, but clearly, I’m not the only guy seeing it this way.
“I can only imagine what it’s like to walk the streets and have people tell me that I’m beautiful, that I should smile, ask me how I’m doing, say god bless you and generally seem to like me,” wrote former XXL columnist Byron Crawford on his website. “Literally, I have no idea what that would be like.”
There’s also the racial makeup of the “10 Hours” cast of antagonizers. The conspicuous preponderance of black and Latino men who make appearances as harassers didn’t escape men of color—or women, for that matter.
“The racial politics of the video are [f—ked] up,” tweeted Purdue University professor and blogger Roxane Gay. “Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”
Acknowledging this, the video campaign’s creator, Rob Bliss, responded in a post that “we got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera,” or was ruined by a siren or other noise, according to Slate. The final product, he writes, “is not a perfect representation of everything that happened.”
But while Bliss asserts that he and Roberts walked all over the city and presented the video with no intended message other than to show one woman’s trek through New York, the actress used for the video, her wardrobe and the neighborhoods most prominently featured were all conscious decisions.
So while you could argue that black and Latino men more often vocally harass women, or even that audio pings and pops made it impossible to include even a smattering of white faces, some of the video’s intentional choices seem to play on The Birth of a Nation trope that white women simply aren’t safe from sex-crazed black and brown men—a point that Ayesha Siddiqi, editor-in-chief of the New Inquiry, made in a series of tweets, writing, “a white woman filming & shaming black men for saying hi to her are you sure your gender equality doesnt look a lot like class+race anxiety.”
The choice of whom to use to illustrate the problem was particularly interesting, given what Hollaback points out on its website: “Although the degree to which Shoshana gets harassed is shocking, the reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence.”
If people of color and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are harassed more often and more severely, why not use one of them in the video? It comes off as if the issue isn’t with street harassment per se but with street harassment of certain people by certain people.
Admittedly, much of the negative response has come from the chorus of good old boys who scream that Roberts had it coming for daring to wear a tight T-shirt and jeans in public, but the reason the video sparks debate rather than inspires compassion is really a matter of what is in it and what is not.
Street harassment merits substantive conversation, no doubt. But it requires more than a video that reanimates a tired narrative presenting men as attackers and women as victims and offers no place for a discussion about the gradation of communication or the role that men can play in making it stop. A video that did this might not get 15 million hits, but it could actually help solve the problem instead of just making people pick a side.
Dion Rabouin is a freelance writer currently based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.