This is the video that has been going viral. The anti-street harassment PSA made by a non-profit activist organization called Hollaback, which make videos aimed at ending street harassment. Or at the very least, making the general population aware of what a dangerous and distasteful thing it is.
Actress Shoshana Roberts was filmed walking around New York City for 10 hours, and wore simple clothing: plain black t-shirt, black jeans and flat shoes. She wasn’t really wearing makeup, and her long dark curly hair hung loose. Filmmaker Rob Bliss who teamed up with Hollaback for this PSA, walked in front of her the entire day and stashed a hidden camera in his backpack to film Shoshana behind him.
The 2 minute video below is a condensed version of the day she had, which consisted of over 100 instances of men saying crude, sexist and sexual statements to her, while Shoshana ignored them.
So why has this video gone viral? Because for us, what was captured certainly didn’t surprise us. We have written about countless other women who are trying to tackle street harassment in a public way because they are sick of being leered at by men, and being told not to complain because it is a “compliment”.
The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams recently brought to light the absurdity of cat-calling in New York City also, albeit it in a more humorous way. But the message was the same, especially when she gathered a group of everyday women from the big apple and asked them to share about their experiences.
Photographer Caroline Tompkins, based in New York (hmmm are we seeing a familiar pattern with street harassment in this city?) decided she was sick of being harassed by men on her daily commute to work, that she started turning the spotlight back on them. She would whip her camera out and take photos of the guys, some of whom were instantly angered by her actions (doesn’t feel good does it lads!) but sadly others had no idea and gladly smiled for her camera, as if they were oblivious to the problem they were contributing to.
Street Harassment was also the reason behind the art series ‘Stop Telling Women To Smile‘ by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Her work addresses gender based street harassment by placing drawn portraits of women, composed with captions that speak directly to offenders, outside in public spaces.
Over in the UK, Laura Bates was sick of the same treatment and instead of just letting it slide time after time, she started an online project called Everyday Sexism which asked other women to share their stories of sexism, harassment and even verbal abuse. The project was launched in 2012, and to date has over 50,000 stories, and Laura’s message has gone as far as being used to help local authorities and law makers to understand why legislation needs to be created to tackle this issue.
Rob Bliss spoke to the Huffington Post about why he wanted to make this video with Shoshana, saying no one has really shown what it’s like to experience street harassment from a personal point of view.
“No one has — from a third-party perspective, on the outside looking in — been able to step back and look at it and watch it happen in front of them.”
“It was completely intentional that she wore what she wore,” he said. “I wanted to fight back against the ‘Oh, she’s wearing blah blah blah.’ I didn’t want to give ammunition to anyone who may detract from this video. If she wanted to wear something that showed more skin, I definitely think that guys would have been louder and more vocal about this.”
The video was made without any voice-over or messaging, just an edited version of the raw footage so that there was no influence from the organization on people’s opinions. Audiences will be able to see for themselves what is happening and form their own judgements.
Hollaback says street harassment disproportionately impacts women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and young people. The reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence. These forms of harassment are not just sexist — but also racist and homophobic in nature.
What’s worse is that now many people have seen the video, some of the extreme reactions show how important this is. Newsday reported that Shoshana has been getting death and rape threats from appearing in the video, despite the fact that she says and does nothing to the men harassing her.
These are men who were asking for her phone number, commenting on her body, and one man even silently followed her for a whole 5 minutes after initially trying to hit on her, but with no response. Seriously?!? Who in their right mind does that?!? For anyone to have a reaction of anger toward Shoshana, and not to the idiots harassing her, just proves that street harassment is not a small issue.
On the flipside, comedy site Funny or Die created a male parody version of this video, which was both hilarious and reiterates the glaring bias between women and men. Men are seen as respectable beings, whereas women are viewed as sexual objects. At the end of the video the slate reads “If you want to help, do nothing, leave the patriarchy in place” in a show of solidarity of how offensive it is that women are treated unequally.
The heart of the issue is that street harassment is a dangerous gateway to many other more serious forms of harassment. If we tolerate the small evils, then how are we going to complain and wonder why the bigger evils are allowed to prevail? Videos like this are important and go viral for a reason: they hit a nerve with a lot of people.
It is not enough to “just ignore it” or take it as a compliment. If you want a compliment, seek it from someone you know or love, because it will actually mean something. Men should never feel that women owe them something just because they want to yell out something obscene to them. Newsflash: a random stranger telling us we are beautiful isn’t exactly a compliment, it’s creepy.
We implore all men and women to watch this video because street harassment isn’t just a female issue. It is something that needs to be tackled from all angles, and the more awareness and education we bring to the conversation about our experiences and why no one should have to put up with it, hopefully it will enlighten these perpetrators what they are doing is nothing but blatant sexism.