There has been a lot of conversation about the video titled “Hollaback” documenting the street harassment experienced by a young lady walking the streets of New York. Commentary on the video has created a backlash among some men ranging from the #NotAllMen hashtag to rape threats against Shoshana Roberts, the woman in the video. All of which point to a heavy ignorance over what harassment is and what it in fact feels like. A lifelong New Yorker, I have been harassed on the street by men. I can say for a fact that it is neither fun nor endearing. I have dealt with unwanted advances by men while walking the streets alone, with friends and with my wife. They ranged from the passive aggressive “You look nice” to full on catcalls from across the street including one incident where a number of men loudly proclaimed their amorous intent.
I feel there are a couple things I should say before going any further as to avoid the wrath of those of you reading this piece.
- I understand that this is not an apples to apples comparison. My few experiences with street harassment pale in comparison to what women endure on a daily basis.
- This is not a commentary on gay men, who by and large are neither harassers nor predators. If anything I am acknowledging that regardless of sexuality, men share some similar traits, both positive and negative. My comparison is for the sake of understanding the physical intimidation/discomfort of being harassed in the street by someone your size or larger.
Based on my experience, there are a number of things that men who defend street harassment or don’t see it as harassment at all don’t understand.
- It’s not just about what you are saying: As a matter of reference I am 5’11” and roughly 200 pounds I’m not a large man, but I’m big enough that the natural assumption is that I could defend myself if I had to. I have had men my size and larger than me harass me in the street and the concern about a physical altercation is real. I can only imagine being six inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter.
- Your compliments aren’t actually compliments: If you have ever had someone pay you a compliment and immediately ask you for a dollar you understand this. A compliment with an ulterior motive, especially a blatant one, neither makes the recipient feel good nor furthers your agenda. All it does is make you a nuisance.
- It’s not comical or lighthearted: As a man who has been harassed, the natural inclination is to make a joke of it. After all nobody wants to hear a man complain about harassment. Much the same as black people don’t want to hear about white people being discriminated against. That aside, being accosted is not a laughing matter. Instilling discomfort and fear is a one-way pleasure.
- It’s embarrassing as fuck: I have experienced a range of catcalls from you look nice to full on yelling across the street. I don’t know many people who want to be the focus of a random public spectacle. To paraphrase Jay-Z (yeah I’m going there) I don’t want to be engaged by fools because from a distance people can’t tell who is who. I’m not onstage, I’m walking to the movies.
- Don’t gotdammit touch me: I won’t get into details, but my experience with harassment has crossed beyond words and in situations where smacking a fool wasn’t an immediate option. Forgetting the legal and moral implications of unwanted touching, for the average woman a physical response is an invitation to being hit, beaten or worse. Wrist grabbing, ass pinching and the like isn’t romantic or endearing. It’s an invasion and an attempt to wield power over someone else.
This video is far from perfect. Questions have come up about the editing of the video and the lack of white male harassers despite claims from the director to have video to the effect. There likely will never be a perfect argument, less so a perfect representation of the issue. The search for or need for one detracts from the issue at large. Much the same as my viewpoint in this article is far from a perfect analogy. My experience is anecdotal and the incidents are few and far between. I’m sure that this piece will get its fair share of negative commentary and trolling. I get it, if being a harasser or a troll is your cup of tea this post, and in turn me, become an incredibly easy target. If, however, you are a decent human being simply making a bad decision when it comes to talking to strangers on the street, then let this serve as a moment to self-evaluate and maybe practice a little empathy.