No One Is a Bystander to Street Harassment

Monthly Archives: October 2014

By now, I’m sure many of you have seen Hollaback!’s Street Harassment Video where they secretly filmed a woman in NYC and the harassment she copped from 10 hours walking through the city.

Street Harassment Screenshot 1

Now, firstly, I really like Hollaback!. The organisation was the one who taught me the term ‘street harassment,’ who showed me that it was something that was experience by women all over the globe, and that I didn’t have to take that shit.

I also really respect the fact that on their website, Hollaback! does make an effort to discourage the racial stereotyping of men of colour as sexual predators.

Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, Hollaback! asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary.

With that in mind, I’m very disappointed that their cat-calling video edited out most incidents of street harassment involving white men– leaving the video with predominantly Black and Latino men, all of whom seemed to be of low-income. If this video was meant to show the prevalence of street harassment, and how it comes from men of all backgrounds, it missed its mark.

The marketing agency who worked with them, Rob Bliss Creative, has stated that their reasons for leaving so many white men on the cutting room floor was because of video and audio problems. While I believe there was no malicious intent in this, I question the fact that no one from Hollaback! brought this up upon review of the edited film. Maybe Rob Bliss isn’t aware of why this is an issue, but Hollaback! should know better. There is already exists the belief that street harassment is a cultural thing, that the men doing it are yelling in AAVE (e.g. lemme holla at you!), that it’s the forte of construction men and other low-income workers.

Street Harassment Screenshot 2

Why is it always ‘hey mami,’ or ‘hey shorty’?

Where are the white collar workers getting pissed off when you don’t respond to their ‘smile, beautiful!’ Where are the groups of college-age white boys snickering to themselves as the yell at women across the street? As Roxane Gay tweeted, you didn’t walk through any white neighbourhoods? 

Look, everyone’s experience with street harassment is different. As a young Asian woman in Sydney, I predominantly get harassed by old white men asking if I want a ‘companion’ to ‘show me around the city’ or white men who yell sexual, racial terms at me. While other women may have a similar set  of experiences, it’s not indicative of what all women experience. even other Asian women in my town might experience.

Similarly, this video is not indicative of everyone’s experience with street harassment- but it’s presented as the ‘average’ woman’s experience with street harassment.

I think this video is a good, but flawed start. You really want my attention? Make another video showing a black woman walking down the street for ten hours. And a Latina woman. An Asian woman. A trans woman.  Someone walking down the street holding hands with their girlfriend. Fill in the blanks. These things cost money and time, yes, but if the anti-street harassment movement is meant to be a feminist movement, it should support all women. And if these videos do get made, then we, as a community, should make sure they get the same amount of coverage as this video did.

Hollaback!, I hope you address these racial issues soon. I want no part in a movement that will demonize men of colour just so white women don’t have to feel guilty about clutching their purses tighter when they pass a black man.

I want us to do better.