A new PSA for Hollaback!, an organization pledging to end street harassment, shows what happened to one woman as she walked around New York City by herself this August wearing jeans and a crewneck tee shirt.
Director Rob Bliss walked in front of volunteer Shoshana B. Roberts for 10 hours with a camera in his backpack while Roberts held a microphone in each hand to capture what people said to her. The result is this two-minute video where we see men wishing her well ("have a nice evening"), commenting on her body ("Damn!"), calling her rude ("Somebody's acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more"), and, frighteningly, walking alongside her in silence for 5 entire minutes after she didn't respond to his greeting.
The video went viral shortly after being posted to YouTube on Tuesday, and although the reaction has largely been positive, there has already been some backlash. YouTube commenters point out that no one touched Roberts, and that many of the men called her beautiful or simply wished her a good day. Technically they're correct, but as Bliss told Gothamist, he created the video "because I think a lot of men don't understand the collective weight that this harassment causes. They see it as just an innocent 'compliment' but are missing the forest for the trees."
The bigger issue is the fact that complete strangers feel entitled to share their opinions on a woman's appearance in the first place. Hollaback! defines street harassment as a form of sexual harassment that happens in public. "It exists on a spectrum including 'catcalling' or verbal harassment, stalking, groping, public masturbation, and assault," they wrote in a post on their blog. "At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces."
As a woman living in New York, I experience street harassment on a regular basis. But catcalling, kissing noises, and other "compliments" aren't unique to women living in the Big Apple, or even in other big cities. In fact, my sister and I were followed by a man while we were on vacation in Bermuda. And as I was writing this story, my coworker told me that she used to have to prepare herself for honks and hollers every time she suited up for a bike ride while living in rural Pennsylvania. Chances are, if you ask your friends, they'll have similar stories.
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