Access: YouTube (See also this supplemental video documenting the testimonies of women who have been street harassed)
Summary: Street harassment has been a hot topic ever since the activist organization Hollaback! posted a slick new video, which records the catcalls aimed at a woman who walks for ten hours in New York City. While many men have described the video as opening their eyes to the harassment women face each day, many more men it seems have chided the video as little more than staged feminist wailing. They claim that in fact most women love compliments both on and off the street, and men have every right to simply say what's on their minds. For starters, the video can be used to recreate this core public debate in the classroom, thereby engaging students and communicating the relevancy of the material for their lives. Once the contours of this debate have been roughly defined, it is useful to bring both legal definitions and empirical evidence into the conversation with the aim of causing students to reevaluate their stance on street harassment and what they think they know about "most women" or "most men." In terms of legal definitions, it can be pointed out that street harassment falls under the CDC's definition of sexual violence, which it defines as any "sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given." Crucially, the CDC adds that not all forms of sexual violence "include physical contact between the victim and the perpetrator...for example, sexual harassment, threats, and peeping" (my emphasis; Stop Street Harassment offers a comparable definition). A second point to make is that whether women secretly love to be catcalled is an empirical question, and the evidence suggests they do not. In a recent nationally representative survey of 1,000 women and 1,000 men (age 18 and older), 65% of women reported experiencing at least one type of street harassment in their lifetimes. About 57% of all women had experienced verbal harassment, and 41% of all women had experienced physically aggressive forms, including sexual touching (23%), following (20%), flashing (14%), and being forced to do something sexual (9%). By comparison, only about 25% of men reported being street harassed. The majority of women who experienced harassment were at least somewhat concerned the incident might escalate. While the video is a vivid illustration of street harassment, it is not without fault. Writing for Colorlines, Akiba Solomon notes that although she likes the video as a teaching tool, one rather glaring problem with it is that the vast majority of men bothering the woman are black and Latino. The ad agency responsible for editing admitted that most white men who catcalled the twenty-something woman didn't make the final cut because the audio was less clear, Solomon rightly points out that by posting the video with the white perpetrators erased—whatever the justification—Hollaback! is engaging in "a dangerous lie of omission and implying that black and brown men are particularly predatory." In my view, Solomon's intersectional critique of the film needs to take centerstage in any discussion involving this video, for if we're not careful, the fight to end sexist harassment will come at the expense of establishing new justifications for racist harassment (Check out other posts on street harassment from The Sociological Cinema here, here, and here, and explore the topic on our Pinterest board here).
Submitted By: Lester Andrist