Catching Catcalls On Camera

This video is making the rounds:

The backstory:

In August 2014, Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative reached out to Hollaback! to partner on a PSA highlighting the impact of street harassment. He was inspired by his girlfriend — who gets street harassed all the time — and Shoshana B. Roberts volunteered to be the subject of his PSA. For 10 hours, Rob walked in front of Shoshana with a camera in his backpack, while Shoshana walked silently with two mics in her hands.

Megan Garber admits “there are approximately 5,000 caveats here”:

Among them: This is an ad (for the Hollaback campaign). It is produced by a “viral advertising” agency. It is not science. It is unclear whether it is even pseudo-science. Could the whole thing have been staged? Yes. Could it have been selectively edited? Certainly.

Still. There’s a reason that the video is currently going viral on YouTube—the way similar videos have gone viral on YouTube—which is that, sourcing questions aside, the experience it records will resonate with pretty much any woman who has ever walked down a street. (Or, for that matter, who has been online.) What is it like to be a woman? Sometimes, sadly, it’s uncannily like this.

Amanda Hess gauged some reactions from guys watching the video:

“I knew this stuff happened—I see and hear it every once in a while—but the frequency of the remarks was astounding,” one colleague told me. “As a (fairly obvious) gay guy, I like to think I know something about being surveilled and self-aware in public, but this style of direct confrontation is pretty rare,” another said. The video is a “great reminder of how even the most ‘innocuous’-seeming comments pile up over the course of an hour, day, and life to feel oppressive and awful,” added a third.

Emily Badger looks though a “a 302-page guide to state laws that may be applied to street harassers”:

New York’s disorderly conduct law bars obscene language or gestures in a public place. Its harassment law bars someone from making alarming or seriously annoying comments to you at least twice (both violations: a $250 fine and/or up to 15 days in jail). Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to follow people (as happens to the woman in the video twice). In the District of Columbia, it’s illegal to engage in abusive language or conduct that disturbs a person’s path through public space.

Though she strongly disapproves of street harassment, Lizzie Crocker rejects criminalizing it:

According to Hollaback’s mission statement, the group is interested in modifying the law to punish offenders (and raising significant First Amendment concerns). Because comments such as those documented in their latest video, they explain, are the “most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against.” The group 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 catcalling is a “gateway crime” that ultimately “makes gender-based violence OK.”

Hollaback is right to shine a light on these creepy comments from creepy strangers. We should be offended. Such behavior should be considered socially unacceptable. But let’s not get the law involved. Because while calling a passerby “sexy” may be uncouth, it shouldn’t be illegal.