No One Is a Bystander to Street Harassment

Category Archives: race issues

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.

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It is entirely possible to have nice, respectful interactions with people on the street. I’ve actually had quite a few nice interactions with strangers- at least, up until they ask me, “no, where are you really from?”

Hmmm.

I think the problem a lot of (usually white) people have with interacting with POC (people of colour i.e. non-white people) is that there are certain seemingly innocuous things lots of people ask that bug the hell outta us.

It gets much worse when these people try to flirt with us.

To make your life easier, and more importantly, to make the lives of the POC you will later interact with easier, here is a list of things to avoid when conversing with strangers of different races.*

1.) Don’t compare them to celebrities

Being compared to celebrities can sometimes be really flattering, but it’s really easy for people to tell when you only know about three non-white celebrities.

If you compare an Indian girl (or worse, a non-Indian South Asian girl) to “that chick from Slumdog millionaire,” even if you genuinely think she looks like Freida Pinto, her first thought is not going to be, “wow, they must think I’m really pretty”; it’s going to be, “wow, you don’t know many Indian people.”

On that note, try to also avoid Disney characters. As Roxi Grace said on our fb page:

Have you liked our fb page yet? Check the link below!

2.) Don’t ask them to cook for you.

I won’t ask you to throw me a shrimp on the barbie or whatever, you don’t ask me to cook you chicken adobo.

And yeah, the cute Chinese girl you’re talking to probably does know where all the best Chinese restaurants are. So does the Internet. Ask them.

3.) “No, where are you really from?”

Our ethnicity is not a guessing game. If a person says they’re from Australia, this might mean they were born here. This might mean that they’ve lived most of their life here. What it always means is, “I am from Australia, please don’t ask further questions.” If they want you to know their whole ethnic background, they’ll tell you.

4.) If your compliment is specific to a race, stop using it.

“Spicy” and “fiery” describe dishes, not Latina women. “Exotic” describes tropical birds, not Asians. Yellow fever is a disease, and jungle fever should just not be used, period.

And I don’t care when you watched Full Metal Jacket, “me so horny, me love you long time,” is still such a tired reference. Stop.

5.) Unless we ask, we don’t want to know what you did during your gap year.

I think it’s great that you worked with a charity overseas, but when you talk about these people, please talk about them as people, not charity cases.

If a person tells you they’re Khmer, and you start spouting off about your time in Cambodia, and how “strong” and “persevering” they all were despite their poverty or whatever, that Khmer person is allowed to hit you.

6.) We’re not impressed that you’ve learned something about our culture.

I love it when people are excited about learning about other cultures. I like it less when you mention is just to look worldly and cultured. I like it a lot less when you try to simplify that culture to one specific aspect (see: every Korean person and Gangnam style).

And don’t try to teach me about my own culture.

7.) Just talk to us like you would anyone else.

That’s it. Doesn’t need explaining.

Of course, a lot of these points are guide lines. For instance, it makes sense for you to break point #2 if you’re both passionate about food and cooking. Just use your common sense, and be respectful. I know y’all can do it.

A lot of my experience comes from being an Asian woman. If you’ve think I’ve missed something, tell me in the comments, and I’ll add ’em in another blog post. 🙂

Cat Calls Called Out – The Facebook – The Twitter

*And if you are a POC, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook! I’ve heard black dudes say that all Asians look the same; I’ve heard Asians say that all black people look the same. None of us are exempt, y’all.