A reader pinpoints another unintentionally revealing aspect of that Hollaback video:
The elephant in the room here that no one is discussing is the racial aspect. It’s pretty clear that the vast majority of men catcalling in that video, and the most egregious examples, are displayed by minorities – either African-American or Latino men. I’m not saying that harassment like this is exclusive to non-whites, as any women that has encountered a gaggle of drunk frat boys can attest. But whether intentional or not, the video presents a particular theme that people seem to be conveniently avoiding discussing. This is somewhat reminiscent of the inconvenient truth of minority support of Prop 8.
Many more readers comment along those lines:
The desire to criminalize catcalling is a classic example of two progressive causes heading on a collision course, because it would almost certainly have a disproportionate impact on young minority males, particularly African Americans.
I can’t be the only person to notice that a lot of the catcalling in that video was done by black males. I’m not claiming that we got a representative sample from the video, but it showed 23 encounters, of which I identified 10 of the males as black and 6 as white (the other 7 I counted as ambiguous, either because the male was off screen or his ethnic background wasn’t clear to me by his appearance). In an area of New York that is (according to Wikipedia) 13% black, 43% of the “assailants” I could identify were black. In the two creepiest cases, where the man followed the woman down the street for some distance, both men where black.
Mark my words, if Hollaback gets its way and catcalling becomes a crime, within 10 years we’ll be reading reports of how negatively the law is affecting minority youth. And the irony is that the people who are most the most concerned about that disproportionate impact will probably be the ones who are the most concerned about street harassment today.
Another cites the reaction of Hollaback:
The creator of the video has protested that, sure, they got white guys on camera doing this but there was always something wrong with the shot, like a siren blaring in the background, etc. But does that sound credible to you?
Unless this was a specific attempt to paint blacks and Latinos as particularly prone to this type of harassment, which I doubt, my bet is that based on the neighborhoods they chose to film in, there simply weren’t as may white harassers. So why didn’t they go into stereotypical white/middle to upper class areas? But what if they did so, or had done so – and also didn’t get as many catcallers?
In other words, is this a class issue? Are men from the lower economic rungs of society more apt to call out to women this way? If that’s the case, can we be grown-up enough to admit that, or do we instead ignore that and insinuate that “all men” do it, that catcalling is equally distributed along the spectrum? And if we do that, isn’t the message that this isn’t OK ultimately going to be too diffuse to really hit home where it needs to be heard the most?
The race/class issues inherent in the catcalling video is unavoidable – though I think liberals in particular will strain themselves to avoid it.
Another drills down on the class issue:
I fear that middle- and upper-class progressives are once again taking up a very difficult cause whose primary aim is policing the internal mores of working-class life, mores that offend the sensibilities of the wealthier and better educated because it occasions one of the few cross-class interactions where the middle classes don’t have a home-field advantage. As ever, it centers on different understandings of what is and is not acceptable to do in public space.
Living in working-class areas of south Brooklyn, I’ve been struck both by how common it is for a man to catcall and the fact that the women in these areas engage with it as a normal part of life. Something you often hear when this topic comes up is “What one earth are these guys thinking? This never works!”
But you know what: it does work. I’ve seen it often enough trudging back from the subway. A guy hanging with his friends outside of their building calls out at a girl. Often enough, she stops for a bit and has a laugh. Or she yells back a joke and keeps on. Or tells him to go fuck himself. But what I rarely see is anyone just completely blanking the guys and keeping their heads down.
This isn’t to say that women who object to catcalling just need to learn to grin and bear it, or convince themselves that yelling on the street is actually a charming practice. It’s not, and I’ve had to coach myself to not flush and feel intimidated when I, a 6’4″ man, gets yelled at when I’m waiting for a bus. But it is to say that changing this won’t be easy when what’s at stake here isn’t just a question of how men treat women, but also the differing understanding of how to act in shared spaces.
Another is more succinct:
She is walking through neighborhoods where the cultural norms don’t match those she grew up with, and she is demanding that those people change their everyday behavior, in their own neighborhoods, where she is a guest, because it inconveniences her. It all smacks of white privilege to me.