If you missed the buzz on a Youtube video about so called “cat calling” then you’ve probably also missed the national debate about whether the practice of yelling at women as they pass on the sidewalk is flattery or harassment.
Based on the amount of heat and light on the subject from national news and talk coverage to newspaper articles written one might think it’s of huge importance. We decided to see what students here at Southern Oregon University think, or don’t think, about the debate.
On October 28th the video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1XGPvbWn0A headed by an anti-street harassment organization called Hollaback, went viral for two very controversial reasons: sexism, obviously and racism, inevitably.
The video shows a young, attractive woman, Soshana Roberts, walking through the streets of New York. The hidden camera following her records a number of men yelling at her.
For some this seems to cause confusion about appropriate behavior, for example Decoto Raider from YouTube says, “…since when is hitting on a woman wrong? Hell this lady should be proud she’s not even dressed slutty and she’s got the city in the palm of her hand…”. MissCreepyCute from the same feed states “Sexual harassment, sexual abuse,[is] all about reading body language. No Blurred Lines crap…The woman here is very clearly not wanting to start a conversation. And not all men are sex crazed idiots, but you have to admit that half of these men added beautiful or cutie on the hello, which is unwanted flirtation.”
A college graduate whom we spoke with but who is reluctant to get in the fray and wants to remain anonymous says, “The way that the guys were speaking to her was disrespectful, and whenever you approach somebody there should be an air of respect…but I think a lot of it has to do with their approach…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with paying attention to someone and respecting that somebody is attractive, and as long as you do that in a respectful way…I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that.”
So how can we know when a brief interaction such as a fly-by compliment is ok and when it is not ok?
According to Drew Cook, a business administration major at Southern Oregon University, “People inherently are hardwired to see things and act upon them, the difference is the intention.” Whether or not we can truly know a person’s intention without blatantly asking seems a bit difficult, a challenge Cook agreed exists. Jolayne McCartney, an anthropology and creative writing major, also at SOU, notes “intention” as well when she says the men in the video genuine or not were “…still objectifying her regardless, even if it’s kind of…in a socially acceptable way… even though they’re trying to be nice they’re still disturbing to hear because you know their intentions…the way they say it to her…”.
Other SOU students and members of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) on campus, Kendall Bartley a theater major with a minor in gender sexuality and women’s studies, and Rachel Blazinski an interdisciplinary major predominantly focused in Native American studies and education, believe the video acted as a good catalyst in sparking discussion about the issue as a way to spread awareness. Bartley shares “…I thought it was a good point that they were trying to make and that…it brought attention to a lot of people that don’t think about how that goes on…I think a lot of times when people talk about catcalling it’s…women and men saying Oh, well you should take it as a form of endearment…the video highlighted that it’s not a form of endearment for a lot of women it’s actually quite…disruptive and rude…”. To which Blazinski agreed with as well as adding that it is a “…very fine line between giving someone a sincere compliment and catcalling…” and it doesn’t necessarily relate to women solely, men have experienced the act of being called to in public as well.
As of recently, there has also been some heated debate on whether or not the video depicts racism due to the fact that the majority of the men interacting with the woman are ethnic (African-American and Hispanic ) and very few white men are seen throughout the entire video. This is something that Bartley shows a significant amount of concern for, she claims “…the problem I had with the video, or the one problem I can think of…was that it highlighted a lot of men of color and I felt like it was kind of targeting men of color, because it was really prominently only showing men of color doing that and I think that it’s complete bullshit…it’s all races, all groups of men…and women…you know it’s not just women that are affected by catcalling it’s a lot of different genders and races and abilities, and ages…”.
Bartley isn’t the only one questioning the message behind the video though. According to Dee Lockett’s article “White Men Don’t Catcall: They Harass In Other Ways.” Rob Bliss is a part of the firm that partnered with Hollaback, he claimed that ““We got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing or off camera.”. To which Glenn Harland Reynolds from USA Today, says, “Whether, in the 10 hours of filming it took to produce their two-minute video, there just weren’t enough white guys saying offensive stuff, or whether the producers just had bad luck or whether they edited out the white guys, the result was that they released a video about “street harassment” that was also, quite plainly, a video of minority men harassing a white woman”. As word spread about the potential scandal Hollaback responded with “…we regret the unintended racial bias in the editing of the video that over represents men of color. Although we appreciate Rob’s support, we are committed to showing the complete picture. It is our hope and intention that this video will be the start of a series to demonstrate that the type of harassment we’re concerned about is directed toward women of all races and ethnicities and conducted by an equally diverse population of men.”
As with a great many social issues when first discussed, there are initially more questions than answers. The confusion and frustration which arises from a complex system of interaction can cause some to become combative and draw lines that only serve to support an age old dichotomy as the quotes in this article and the debate around the video shows.
Right v wrong, men v women, white v black/brown. A consistent theme developed in interviewing both experts and people generally, keeping in mind that differing perspectives are valid and deserve the reverence of being heard will allow us to navigate this issue with the respect that is being called for. Many said it’s too easy to make grand statements such as no woman likes being catcalled, anytime a man addresses a woman he doesn’t know on the street it’s inappropriate or potentially “rapey”, black and Latino men call out to women more than white men do, the list continues of possible over reaching statements which emerge from this controversial video.
Like other social issues this appears to be part of an intricate and complicated human moil that will find no easy solutions that apply across the board.