In our tech-obsessed world, it seems like we’re being inundated by new “viral” material almost every day. Therefore I didn’t blink once when a new controversial video kept cropping up on my newsfeed, despite being accompanied by increasing hysteria. However by the time I’d seen four different headlines claiming that the video was racist, three claiming that it was discriminatory towards certain sexual orientations, and roughly eight billion claiming that it was sexist, I caved and watched it.
In case you haven’t guessed yet this video is “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman.”
My reaction was predominantly one of perturbation. I have been in the situation that the woman in the video finds herself and it’s upsetting, infuriating, and, frankly, scary. So imagine my shock when I scrolled down to the comments and found an appalling amount of misogyny, condescension, and far worse. I realized that the intended effect of this video was not evident to a lot of people – especially guys. In an effort to create more understanding I will explain what is wrong with the reactions I read in the combox.
Comment 1: “She is being more rude than the men. She just ignores them when they talk to her!”
This, my friends, is what an attitude of entitlement looks like. A man is not entitled to anything from a woman, most especially a woman he has never met and with whom he has no established relationship. The girl in this video does not owe a response to any of the comments thrown her way. In fact, a great deal of those comments would be rude even if you said them to a friend. Those men have no right to be ogling that woman or to tell her to “smile more” and “say thank you.”
Comment 2: “They are complimenting her and she posts a video complaining about it? Oh, it must be sooo haaaard to be a girl.”
I wanted to get a man’s perspective on this one, so I picked the brains of a couple of guy friends whose opinions I respect. I asked them what the difference is between a catcall and a compliment.
They answered: “It’s all about context.” One of them mentioned that there have been situations when he saw a woman with whom he would have liked to compliment or even strike up a conversation, but he knew that the situation wasn’t right for that kind of encounter. How did he know? “You have to be aware of what she’s getting out of it,” he said. “If you’re complimenting her in order to make yourself feel macho then you’re doing it wrong. Even if you’re polite as hell, it’s going to make her uncomfortable if you approach her on a dirty sidewalk at twilight, not to mention that you’re going to look like a creep. Lose-lose situation.”
Another friend chimed in some basic advice: “Even though some of the comments in that video were not offensive, we unfortunately live in a world where that woman needs to be very wary of strange men approaching her. Physical and sexual assault are very real possibilities, and more often than not a man can overpower a woman. The men in the video were being threatening to her whether they intended it or not.”
As someone who’s barely 5’1″ and loses arm-wrestling matches with my grandma, I wholeheartedly agree that safety is almost always the reason that women feel uncomfortable being catcalled.
Comment 3: “Maybe some comments were creepy, but she can’t ignore a ‘Good morning!'”
As mentioned above, yes, she can ignore it. Nonetheless, the commentators are correct in one thing here: “Good morning” is not a creepy comment. However, it was clearly directed at that woman specifically, so it was not just general politeness. The woman was walking, minding her own business, and provided no indication that she would be receptive to a conversation with a complete stranger. Again, it is about context. If a man and woman were at the same cocktail party it would not be odd for him to politely approach her. A New York sidewalk is not the place to spark friendships. “Manners” do not eliminate the need for social cues.
Overall, I’d posit that the people who commented on the video did not think deeply enough about what was happening, whereas those who watched it and swore it was racist, sexist, and homophobic all at once were thinking about it too much. The bottom line is that this is a video of a human being who’s being treated in a disrespectful manner by other human beings.
If we can’t see people anymore because we’re too blinded by our own political agendas or personal opinions then that is a real tragedy. I hope that we, the next generation, will watch this video and realize that we have the power to change a society where a woman can’t walk down a street without being harassed; a society where harassers are defended; a society where the woman is blamed for every negative interaction. My fellow twenty-somethings: It’s up to us.