Subjective Annoyance…or let’s call it “Street Harassment” – The Not So Subtle Racism of Hollaback

There are now two videos making the rounds on the information superhighway. A few days ago it was that video of children using the F word for that radical ideological cult they call gender feminism. FCKH8 used shocking images, inflammatory and incorrect statistics to sell t-shirts. Now we have a woman, clearly using black and brown men as props, to spread hate and distrust. The people behind this video, Hollaback, want to perpetuate the gender war so that people can donate to yet another organization hell-bent on demonizing men.

This was a set up and people fell for it. I feel these organizations attempt to attract attention in ways that are repulsive. Hollaback does their own agenda injustice by posting this video and calling the actions we see here “street harassment.”

Have you even looked into the concept of street harassment? I have. It is just more nonsense from fringe members of the cult of man haters. Until the actions rise to the legal definition of sexual harassment, catcalls will remain an annoying fact of life for some attractive women in our country.

Men who don’t have high status, money or position to entice and woo women tend to use low investment strategies in the pursuit of the opposite sex. It costs them nothing to catcall. It is completely free. They might stand in the street for days and be on the hunt for women and catcall. Some women in certain neighborhoods turn around and smile, they laugh, they giggle. To these men, this is seen as an open door and they eventually get a phone number or two. They achieved very high return for a minimal investment.

This happens often in places like the ones shown in the video. Over the past few days I’ve heard from women who have actually said “no woman likes catcalling.” They are completely wrong. Today, men have real options. Women in many communities in New York City are available and interested in getting attention from men through catcalling. Do I condone this behavior? No. Do I understand it? Yes. If it just works once, a man like this knows it will work again if he keeps trying. Low risk-high return.

Harassment is a crime. No crimes were committed within this video. Is catcalling annoying? Yes. Is it a crime? NO! Therefore, what is being described and depicted as harassment is really subjective annoyance, and annoyance is not a crime. All of the men I saw in the video above seemed to be variations of the same man from the same neighborhood. There was not an accurate representation of life in New York depicted here. It might have been more representative of certain people who live in those communities.

In this video, there were no threats made, no requests for sexual favors, no graphic descriptions of explicit sexual acts, no attempts to physically impede her movement. The majority of the men here were being complimentary, friendly and behaving well within their first amendment rights. In short, the men were behaving consistent with their gender role as the pursuer and initiator. The one man who was supposedly following her for 5 minutes was being rude and was way out of line, but let me tell you, my girlfriend gets approached ALL THE TIME. I expect this because she is beautiful. When a man compliments my girlfriend or attempts to catcall, a simple “thank you” or “no thanks” is the response she uses when she does not want to engage. It acknowledges them and shuts them down. Some keep trying, but she keeps moving towards her destination. She understands how it feels to be catcalled, but knows how to handle herself in this city. It is the same approach anyone uses when bombarded by people on the street here in Manhattan when they are trying to sell you something. You either ignore them, acknowledge them or engage.

By the way, this is not your average day in this city.

No one walks around for 10 hours looking for trouble. These events happened in certain parts of NYC (notably 125th street). If this experiment took place near the financial district, and the woman in the video was surrounded by millionaires in Brooks Brothers suits, would this woman ignore their advances? I noticed that none of the streets included were Park, Madison, Fifth, or Lexington Ave. Neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, the Upper East Side or Williamsburg were nowhere to be found. How about the High Line? Why not? Nothing filmed there either.

I find the racial politics of this video very problematic. When specifically asked about the demographics of the men featured in the video, Emily May, co-founder and executive director of Hollaback!, mentioned in an interview on the NPR show The Takeaway, that it “cut across the racial and socioeconomic spectrum.” If that were the case, then why edit the video to show predominately black and brown men? She never addressed or answered the question. The harassment of women by men is an important issue, but when attempts such as this one uphold the narrative that black and brown men are uncivilized brutes then it does nothing but perpetuate the many ways black and brown men are stigmatized and demonized. Is justice really being served here?

When you look closely at the video, you will notice several scenes where the audio does not match the video. It appears as if there were cases of audio overdubs. Also, how do we know this was 10 hours and were are the 108 supposed examples of street harassment? When asked about the absence of white men in the video and the editing process, the director Rob Bliss said, “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. The final product, he writes, “is not a perfect representation of everything that happened.” If that is the case and you find yourself editing out all the white men who catcalled, maybe they could have taken another 10 or 20 hours looking for that white guy. You can certainly find it if you really are looking for it.

Again, sexual harassment is a CRIME. Nothing here was criminal. Being an attractive woman who gets catcalls is another unfortunate aspect of living in a city of 8 million people. Do we strive for a better life? Yes. But to label all of these videotaped interactions sexual harassment is stretching the definition.

How does one expect to interact in this large city, and have no one talk to them, or say “good morning?” Good luck figuring that one out.

The whole premise of this video is flawed and became a poorly executed exercise that achieved nothing except more confusion and negative attention for Hollaback and radical gender feminism.

What is supposed to be done about “street harassment?” Do we make catcalling illegal? According to Hollaback, yes.

According to Hollaback’s mission statement, the group is interested in modifying state and federal laws to punish offenders. This raises significant First Amendment concerns. They feel that the comments documented in this video, are the “most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against.” Hollaback hopes to “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” because they feel catcalling is a “gateway crime” that ultimately “makes gender-based violence OK.”

This sets a dangerous precedent.

Unfortunately, catcalling is symptomatic of a far deeper societal problem. It is important to note that, like most people, these men are not inherently bad; rather, they are acting based on their natural instincts and the expectations of the people in the community where they live.

As a healthy heterosexual male, I always notice women and I always appreciate when there is an attractive one in the room. That being said, I have never catcalled a woman, or made any other sexual comments to a woman I was not intimate with. I try to the best of my ability to treat women exactly as I would a man. I attribute my behavior to my upbringing. My parents had rules for how I was to treat and respect women. In addition, they had guidelines for how my sisters and I were to conduct themselves, which encompassed dating, dress, and a curfew. I do the same thing with my own children. My parents served and continue to serve as role models and demonstrate what a loving and respectful relationship looks like.

Nowadays, long-term relationships are on the decline, and as a result, proper relationship role models are becoming increasingly rare. It does not help matters that we live in a hook-up culture, which I think reinforces viewing women as a sexual object rather than a person deserving of respect. Until Hollaback addresses the larger societal problem, I do not think they will be very effective.

Their ultimate goal? They want to make free speech ILLEGAL!

Sexual harassment exists, but are we now redefining it to include casual greetings? This video was edited in such a way to make it look like the harassment is constant, which is false. Harassment is never acceptable, but I feel more sorry for the homeless men in the video than for the person the men in the video were  hello to.

Why is it that so much attention is paid to what seems like a damsel in distress, when the truth is she wasn’t. There was such an outcry in support of her over the past week even though this who thing was set up and a massive hoax. We seem to neglect the plight of the men who are stuck in these communities and only focus on this one woman who is doing quite well and is under no form of “oppression” at all in this country. Why is it that men’s issues are totally neglected but we fall over each other to figure out a way to help out women who feel threatened by a man saying hello? It is time to call these people out and start asking deeper questions about what the motive of organizations like Hollaback really are.

When we pay the same amount of attention to the gender aspect of homelessness, incarceration, job deaths, suicide, dropouts, and mortality rates, and discrimination in family courts, criminal courts, and domestic violence services, then maybe I’ll sympathize with a woman being asked how her day is on the street too many times.

2 comments for “Subjective Annoyance…or let’s call it “Street Harassment” – The Not So Subtle Racism of Hollaback

  1. Jill
    November 5, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    While I will concede that there are far worse problems in the world than street harassment (poverty, homelessness, racism, etc.), that does not detract from the fact that street harassment is a real problem that countless women face daily, multiple times per day.

    Your oversimplification of the problem (it’s a First Amendment Right, it’s as simple as a woman being asked how her day is, etc.) suggest that you truly do not understand the phenomenon, and truly, I wouldn’t expect you to; you’re a man.

    Saying that you understand street harassment because you have a girlfriend who is beautiful is like a racist saying, “Some of my bests friends are black.” You can not possibly understand the extreme levels of discomfort women experience daily when repeatedly approached on the street. It brings some of us to levels where we actively avoid certain neighborhoods or establishments, simply because we don’t want to deal with it.

    It is not as simple as a “hey beautiful.” It results in so much more than that. If we respond with a polite “thank you,” as you suggest your girlfriend does, it hardly ever ends there. A “thank you” reads to these men as an open invitation for the conversation to continue. A “no thank you” is considered a “dis” in many neighborhoods, and results in a scourge of insults. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told “fuck you bitch” simply because I ignored a street harasser’s advances.

    Your assertion that street harassment is a First Amendment Right is scary. “Freedom of Speech” does not mean that you can say whatever you want to whomever you want, any time you want. And if you argue that it does, then basically what you are saying is that your right to say “hello beautiful” to a woman trumps her right to be left alone. Why should this be the case?

    As for your argument that street harassment is not “harassment”… well, let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of “harassment,” shall we?

    According to the Meriam Webster English Dictionary, the word “harassment” is a noun meaning: “the act or an instance of harassing, or disturbing, pestering, or troubling repeatedly.”

    The word “harass” is a verb meaning: “(1) to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way. (2) to make repeated attacks against (an enemy). (3) to annoy persistently. (4) to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.”

    By almost all counts, saying “hey baby,” “hey beautiful,” “wassup sexy,” “damn girl,” or any variation on that theme is, by definition, harassment.

    In Hawai’i, it is illegal for humans to harass marine life. Many tourists traveling through beautiful Oahu find themselves tempted to approach a seal who is sunbathing on a rock. Many tourists might feel that they are not harassing the seal; they would never hurt it, they just want to get a closer look. However, “harassment” is not constituted by the harasser’s intention, but rather, how it makes the recipient feel. If the seal feels inclined to remove itself from its sunbathing position in order to avoid the humans who “just want to get a closer look,” then, from a legal perspective, that seal has been harassed. These people may believe that their desire to look at the seal trumps the seal’s desire to be left alone, but, from an ethical and legal standpoint, they are wrong.

    I’ll admit it is not an entirely parallel analogy, but the same sentiments can be applied here. A street harasser may think that his “good morning beautiful” is a compliment, but if it makes the recipient uncomfortable, she has been harassed. An unwelcome advance is an unwelcome advance. I, for one, do not want to be approached on the street simply because some man likes the way I look. Most of the time, I just want to be left alone. And, while one person’s “hello sexy” may not seem like that big a deal, you have to understand that the culmination of these comments, compiled day after day and hour after hour, constitutes an incessant and plaguing level of harassment that is exceedingly uncomfortable and, in many cases, unsafe.

    I’m a teacher. When one student whispers to a friend, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. A child who gets shushed for talking when the class needs to be quiet may feel this is unjust or unnecessary. What that child does not understand is that that one whisper, multiplied by the thirty kids in the class, will quickly become a dull roar if allowed to continue.

    One man’s comment certainly isn’t the worst thing that could happen, but when you can not walk from your home to your office with repeated unwanted advances, the result is distressing, at best. That is why so many women all over the country are campaigning to end it together. All we are asking is for men to stop objectifying us and approaching us with the attitude that they are entitled to our time and attention. In short, we just want to be left alone.

    The one point on which we agree is this organization’s desire to make street harassment illegal. I agree that this most likely can’t happen, although not because I want to protect the street harassers’ “First Amendment Rights,” but rather, because I think it is almost impossible to regulate. The intervention that desperately needs to take place is a much more personal one. Men and women need to educate young men about street harassment. Boys need to be taught that this is not appropriate way to approach a woman. Girls need to be taught that they don’t owe anyone anything, and that there is nothing wrong with ignoring or rejecting unwelcome advances from a stranger in the street. No, we don’t owe you a smile or a “thank you” or anything at all. We are not objects on display in a museum, free for others to comment upon or toward. And that is the basis of the anti-street harassment campaign. Most women just want the objectification to stop, and to be able to walk down a public street without the overwhelming feelings of discomfort and fear that most men will never have to feel.

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