Many more readers have their say on the controversial video:
You know, I wish this could be supplemented by videos of what it’s like for women to walk down the street who don’t conform to “pretty” norms. Quite frankly, plain women, or ones not compliant with “available chick” visual norms, get just as many cat calls – often more aggressive because “ugly women should be both available and grateful for the attention” and have added in an equal or greater load of criticisms. Dog barks, bitter comments about how ugly they are, suggestions where they should go and what they should do – many obscene, and many suggesting that a man approaching them would be doing them a favor screwing them or letting them go down on the idiots.
If you’re beautiful, it’s bad. If you’re NOT beautiful, it’s hell: all the come-ons, then a layer of vicious critique, all of it from sulky men insisting on their entitlement to women: their bodies, their attention, their sexual favors, even the right to insist on the “right” appearance. Jeez-Louise, it gets old.
Another references the above image:
The reader who wrote “It all smacks of white privilege to me” might be interested in Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art project “Stop Telling Women To Smile.” Would that reader tell her portrait subjects (who are largely women of color) that they’re in neighborhoods where they don’t understand the social mores?
Much more commentary below:
I think a very important point has been missed, thus far, in the discussion of the catcall video.
The problem (for many women, at least) is not with the words themselves. The words themselves, as other commenters have pointed out, are First Amendment expression whether we like them or not. The problem is the context in which they are being spoken. I’ve never bristled at a “Looking good today, baby” or “Smile, honey!” comment when I’m at the post office or walking through a mall.
However, catcalls are incredibly threatening (or at least feel that way) while walking by myself or in a sketchy area or at nighttime. In those situations, my goal is to move as quickly and as unnoticed as I can through the environment. Being noticed brings with it the threat of assault, violence, or something worse. In those situations, therefore, a “Looking good, baby!” is not just a “Looking good, baby!” It’s implicitly saying, “You have been noticed. I am watching you. I am looking at your body.” The communication has a very predator-prey feeling to it regardless of how it is intended by the speaker.
Another remarks on the complex mix of feelings involved:
When I get catcalls on the street, I’m not reacting to the actual interaction most of the time. What I am reacting to is the power dynamic that is happening and the possibilities of future violence. My stress levels rise when I imagine what is going to happen next, whether I ignore the words or whether I engage. I feel powerless and afraid. I feel pissed off at them for bothering me and at myself for “letting” them. I feel a flush of pleasure at being complimented, and then guilty that I should actually like that kind of attention. I feel afraid of opening myself up to the guy who really does just want to say “Good morning” because then the next guy I smile at will take that as an opening to talk about my big juicy tits.
And this happens to me ALL THE TIME. It’s a whirlwind of fear, anxiety, relief, pleasure, and mindlessness.
Another turns to the “elephant in the room,” as our reader put it:
In response to those worrying that the catcalling is mostly done by black men: The first catcall I ever received was from a white man in a suit. I was twelve years old, wearing a miniskirt, on my way home from a party in lower Manhattan. I was also lost, and I was grateful to find a subway station. As I walked into the subway, a man in his 20s or 30s coming up the stairs whispered, “Sexy.” I had no idea how to react. I was so alarmed at being sexualized by this adult that I turned around, left the subway, and took a cab home.
I have been catcalled countless times since then. Sometimes it’s truly offensive, and occasionally, rarely, it’s flattering. (A man once yelled at me, “This is why I love New York! The most beautiful women in the world, and you’re one of them!”) Mostly, it’s just tiring. It becomes one more thing to deal with: Should I respond to that guy, or ignore him? Is he honking because there’s an emergency, or is he just trying to get my attention? Is he scary or just a nuisance?
The value of the flawed Hollaback tape is that it shows men how pervasive catcalls are. For a lot of women, they are just a fact of life – and we forget that men don’t see that. I don’t think catcalling should be criminalized (would that even be constitutional?) or that it’s anywhere near the most serious issue facing women. But it’s worth noticing how often catcalls happen.
More on the racial angle:
Your reader who is concerned about the “inconvenient truth” revealed in the video – that the majority of the catcallers were Black and Latino men – needs to confront an inconvenient truth, as well: he or she (despite the caveats that were offered) is overreading it. First of all, a number of the white guys were edited out of the video. Second, let me tell you something: Right now, I live in South Dakota, and the men who have catcalled me, to a person, are white. If Hollaback had shot a similar video here, and if the overwhelming majority of the woman’s catcallers had been white, I wonder if your reader would have characterized the problem along racial lines. I suspect that the answer is “No.”
As a mixed-race woman, living in NYC for over 15 years, I can testify from personal experience it is the United Nations of Perverts out there. I have been harassed in similar ways (and worse) as the woman in the video, by men of EVERY race. So have most of my female friends in this city. Where I lived previously (Florida), I was also unfortunately harassed by men of all races (from white rednecks to white men in sportscars to Latin and black men). But in New York, the incidence of harassment is higher because it’s a walking city, and our population is more diverse than most public spaces in America.
This is probably a good moment to post a trailer for the classic documentary of street harassment, “War Zone.” It’s filmed in Chicago. Plenty of white harassers on the video, which makes sense given the population there:
I worked on a garbage truck for the County Parks Maintenance Department one summer when I was in college. All the guys in the shop were Archie Bunker types, and I worked with two drivers – one Irish, one Italian (the Italian guy assumed I was also; when I told him I’m Jewish, he thought about it and said “there’s nothing wrong with that”). The Irish driver would whistle and call women from the truck as I was riding shotgun while I’d squirm, since the last thing I wanted was to call to the attention of pretty women the fact that I was riding shotgun in a garbage truck.
During one whistle/catcall event towards the end of the summer, he turned to me as I was sinking down in my seat and said, “What’s the matter with you, don’t you like girls?”. It was just kind of taken for granted that this is what you do if you like girls. Clearly this man in his 60s with a strong brogue, who’d been a laborer all his life and looked it, couldn’t have hoped for any kind of positive reaction from the women, and I don’t think he meant to harass or threaten. It’s just what you do to express your appreciation for the female form.
He and the other guys had no idea how dumb they made themselves look doing this. Telling them how threatening they are is probably futile, since they don’t see themselves as threatening and would say that you should just lighten the F up. A better strategy might be to help them realize how completely ridiculous they look.
It seems to me that part of what women are saying is the constant everyday-ness of the catcalls. It’s like African Americans who say it’s not the OPEN discrimination, it’s the thousand tiny cuts, i.e., being followed in stores, being asked for ID along with your credit card when your white friend does not get asked, being stopped by cops for no seeming reason, etc etc. It just wears you down after a while and I suspect young women feel the same.
I haven’t read through all the commentary, but as a woman I naturally am very glad to see it being discussed. I’m not sure if this has been sent your way, but rather than catching the catcalls on camera, a Brooklyn artist found another unique way of catching them – she does it in cross stitch:
And it’s really discomforting to see the “compliments” or the insults captured in this medium. Sort of perverse folk art.
You know, Andrew, your female readers are reacting to racial aspect of the video (by insisting that white men catcall too, which I’m sure is true) but utterly and completely ignoring the class aspect – or in some cases, as with the story of the Irish guy on the garbage truck, actually making the case that this may indeed be class thing.
I live in a middle class/upper-middle class suburban (and yes, mostly white) neighborhood, and women are not being catcalled here. It’s just not happening. My 13-year-old son has several friends who live in a newer neighborhood with sidewalks and lots of pedestrians about a half-mile away; women are not being catcalled there, either.
The suggestion by your readers seems to be that if a woman were to walk around these neighborhoods she’d get just as many “Hey, baby” catcalls as the woman in the video did. I’ll tell you right now, that suggestion is false.
What we have, then, are women who legitimately feel creeped out or even threatened when something like this happens, but who in turn attempt to suggest that “all men” are either guilty of such behavior, or at least responsible for it in some way. And I reject that; I don’t do collective guilt. I don’t teach my sons to behave this way, the people I hang out with tell their children that this behavior is wrong and offensive. I’m responsible for my behavior, for my kids’ behavior, maybe even to an extent my neighbors’ behavior. But the guys in that video, catcalling the woman? I’m not responsible for their behavior. It’s not my responsibility to change it.
Or should it be my responsibility to tell them they’re wrong – me, the upper middle class white guy, telling impoverished blacks, Latinos and whites that they’re being boorish? That’d be received real well, don’t you think?