I thought I could just sit back and keep my opinions to myself… but when does that ever work?
After the swarm of comments and rage about the 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman video has simmered down a bit, now is the best time to really go in on this topic. Now, this won’t be a research paper. I’m not going to break down any statistics, analyze race ratios, or break down the places she went to. However if you must, please refer to this. I want to talk about the underlying reason to why this video has caused so much controversy.
In the video, an actress by the name of Shoshana B. Roberts walked around the streets of New York where she was “cat-called” and “harassed” by various men. Before even clicking play, I knew where it was going. I knew the video was going to include men trying to catch a woman’s attention. I knew it was meant to go viral. I knew the kind of comments the video was going to receive. Every woman; intentionally or unintentionally, from New York or not, has experienced something similar to what Shoshana went through. Even if it wasn’t as open as “cat-calling”, you see the looks they give you. And as annotated in the video, there were various instances in which it did happen. But one of the main reasons so many are fussed about this clip is because of the terms associated to the situation: “Cat-calling” and “Harassment.” It’s a problem, because some people don’t believe what was said and done are actual issues or fit the terms stated. In a sense, they are right. There is no problem with men calling a woman beautiful. There is no problem telling someone “God bless” or “have a nice day.” There is no problem giving someone a smile. There is no problem trying to start a conversation with people.
But to say there is absolutely nothing wrong with what’s going on in the video disturbs me, because you missed the message.
It is the intention that determines the action. Whether it was Shoshana, a blond-hair blue-eyed goddess, a plus-size beauty, or an oompa-loompa, it proves that your intention is not stimulated by the subject itself. Whether she is fully clothed or half-naked, you have an image of what you want to see. You react to it. I get it though, certain situations will call for different stimulations. One might be more responsive to Adriana Lima in a bra and underwear than when she is in an oversized sweater, baggy sweatpants, and shades that hide half of her face.
Guys get a bad rep all the time when it comes to complimenting women because there’s this misconception that 100% of the time, they are just sweet-talking her to hit “Third Base.” It’s never going to be because they actually think someone is beautiful. When you watch the video and read the men-bashing comments, you see where it all comes from. Because if you just hear the statements said by the guys in the video, take it out of context and place it on a blank sheet of paper, they are just a set of words and simple phrases. They are harmless, positive statements. But how do we read the sentences in a book? How do we understand what someone is saying if we don’t get the sense in which they are coming from? How do you differentiate terms that have more than one meaning without a context? The context is found in the intention. So simply saying “hi” in its formal context of greeting someone is fine. Add some intent in getting their number to potentially stir up a steamy rendezvous to that simple “hi” and you get a whole different story.
Still don’t understand? Let me give you another example, in the form of sarcasm:
Your neighbor says, “Your mom’s cakes are delicious.”
What it means (the simple meaning): her baking skills are on point and she should put up her own bakery because her cakes are that good.
Sarcasm (with the intention of lying): your mom’s baking is complete trash and I want to barf up what I just ate. But we are friends and your home is literally right beside mine, so telling your mother the truth can potentially mean the end of our friendship… and death threats plastered on my door.
Sarcasm (with malicious, humorous intent): I don’t mean your mother’s baking skills. I’m not even talking about actual baked goods. I’m talking about her goods. Basically, your mom is really hot and I’d like a piece of her [body part].
Three different meanings, but the same phrase.
There are genuine men out there, but they are obviously not any of those in this video. A real man would know how to approach a female with respect. That one guy who says, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more” did not respect her. He followed up with, “for real?” as if the woman owed him something and he deserved to be responded to. The next man says, “God bless you mami” and checks out her butt like she was a piece of meat. Even with his face blurred out, we all know he was checking her out. May he find the true meaning of a blessing and I hope he knows the God he mentions. Oh, and let’s not forget the man in purple! “Hey look it there! I just saw a thousand dollars.” Really? How dare you. He not only deserves a major slap to the face, but a whole entire lecture of how wrong it is to put a price on a woman (or any person for that matter).
You better believe that I was pretty upset with the men in this video. I felt bad for the guys who are put into the same category as these idiots, just because they share the same anatomy! Some of you guys still give us hope. We know how it is to be generalized and ridiculed because of these horrible stereotypes. For the handful of us who still believe in things like chivalry and a good guy, we are cheering you on. And I urge you, on behalf of humanity, to teach these boys how to act like real men. As a female, I feel for Shoshana. Although she is an actress, she represents the women who are put in such situations (no matter one’s ethnicity, body size, or clothing choice). To be looked at or talked to in a particular way because you are a woman, is a problem that has been ongoing since before we were born. It is relevant and will always exist, because although the human mind has contributed to so many advances in our modern-day society, we cannot control the things that it creates. We don’t control someone’s mind. There is no flipping of the switch, but if there was, that person is responsible to exert any effort in making the light bulb work. As consumers, we are the decision makers. You have the freedom of choice in buying into a product (that is also the idea of its use and how you value it). Often times, we buy into the things we know isn’t particularly good. So, knowing that hollering at a woman is not a necessary good, but doing it anyway because of whatever reason, is a similar concept.
Now, let’s address the notion that “calling someone beautiful is not harassment.” You social media butterflies are right. But when you make someone uncomfortable, it is. Harassment Laws say that first degree harassment is “engaging in a course of conduct which places another person in reasonable fear of physical injury.” So, following a lady and trying to talk to her when she clearly doesn’t want to, is harassment. Since we can’t read each other’s mind, how the hell will you know that she isn’t in fear of physical injury? Exactly. To be seen as a threat is a close call to harassment. It’s best to just back off. Now, you can say it’s a kind of paranoia. We don’t know what you’re going to do, which is exactly why it is fear. If a woman engages you, and gives you the time of day, go for it. Maybe she is interested. But please ladies, make sure a ‘no’ means NO and don’t put these guys in a trap. If he violates you in any way, make it known that it is wrong; don’t wait until it escalates into something much bigger. Speak up and make sure that voice doesn’t go silent. Guys, respect a woman’s “NO” and don’t let it hurt your ego. If you were being a jerk, then you probably deserve it! But if she was being really weird, then it’s beneficial to you anyways. You’ll find someone better. Just give them the courtesy you would give the women in your family, because if a guy was to ever disrespect your mother or sister wouldn’t you be upset? Let’s all practice what we preach.
Harassment is a major claim. It is not to be taken lightly, which is why others look at this video and roll their eyes. However, I think that the bigger message is to see the reality of harassment. It comes in so many forms and although it is not as serious as people think it is in this video, it expresses the gravity of much larger cases out there in the world. What about the cases where women are being pulled aside or groped? What about those who aren’t women, yet go through this? What about those who do go through severe cases of harassment? People can get ugly and most of the time a camera doesn’t capture it. A camera can’t reflect the actual fear a person feels. And here’s some food for thought: a camera shows you a certain thing it wants to reveal, where the person recording it has a choice of angle and subject. It’s a projection of already happened events, pre-recorded, edited, and uploaded for you to view. It is only one story, one point of view. Still, it allows you to question “what more?”
I’m a person who can come up with major come-backs. I’d like for everyone to know that if you catch me during the wrong time, my response could potentially hurt your feelings. So, let’s dive deeper to this notion of “silent” walking, because I definitely would have given some of these men a piece of my mind. Why couldn’t she have said something or the video be more responsive? Well, thanks to my analytical skills, I’ve come to a conclusion: Harassment is often put to the side. Not many report harassment, nor do people actually know they are victims of it. Harassment is silenced by our society. We don’t know what to do when it happens to us and we don’t know what it looks like when we are faced with it. It is tuned out, because “it’s not that bad” or is seen as a minor issue. There is simply not enough action being put forth to solving it. This video shows how insensitive people can be to an issue that is sensitive. I want to point out that I am not only talking about those in the video, but everyone commenting on it. It shows a wide array of people using words and action to target an individual who isn’t doing anything wrong. It makes you question how much longer until someone doesn’t have to feel like they are walking in silence? How much longer doesn’t it take for people to realize it is not just about women or the individual in this video, but those who are actually “cat-calling” or harassing them? Yes, Hollaback created a viral clip; but it isn’t just something you watch for entertainment… it’s to educate you. It is to provoke thought on the larger issue. It’s to help you realize that something is wrong. It makes you question everything else that the lens didn’t capture.