Whenever I bring up the topic of street harassment with men, they tell me they just don’t see it. Literally: When they’re walking down the street with a woman, other men don’t make a noise. Enter Hollaback, an anti-street harassment organization, which recently teamed up with the video marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative to show what it’s like to walk down the street alone as a woman: totally exhausting, reliably demeaning, and occasionally, terrifying.
To film the video, Rob Bliss outfitted a backpack with a hidden camera and walked across New York City streets for ten hours in front of actress Shoshana B. Roberts, who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and holding a microphone in each hand. Bliss’ camera caught men approaching, leering, and trailing Roberts’ movements; the mics recorded their comments, which ranged from ostensibly friendly greetings (“Have a nice evening!”) to unsolicited commentaries on Roberts’ body (“Sexy!”) to absurd commands (“Smile!”) to pure expressions of entitlement (“Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more!”). The ceaseless chatter (plus some light stalking!) adds up to a constant reminder that, just for walking from point A to point B, some men believe that women’s bodies and minds should be made accessible to them on command. “How are you this morning?” doesn’t sound so sinister. But when a male stranger shouts it, it’s just another unearned claim for a woman’s attention—one that could escalate should the woman so much as bat an eyelash. Roberts didn’t; she still got harassed at every turn. Bliss recorded more than 100 instances of verbal harassment in all, and that doesn’t include winks and whistles.
I sent the video around to some men in my office to gauge their reactions. “I knew this stuff happened—I see and hear it every once in a while—but the frequency of the remarks was astounding,” one colleague told me. “As a (fairly obvious) gay guy, I like to think I know something about being surveilled and self-aware in public, but this style of direct confrontation is pretty rare,” another said. The video is a “great reminder of how even the most ‘innocuous’-seeming comments pile up over the course of an hour, day, and life to feel oppressive and awful,” added a third. And he noted that the harassment caught on Bliss’ camera only catches one half of the equation: “In the wild,” he told me, “I pretty much only see the once-over from behind, which is legion, and is often accompanied with meeting another dude’s eyes like, amiright?”
Some men, though, still aren’t seeing it. On Twitter, some are pushing back against the video, claiming that it’s not harassment, it’s just annoying, and that refusing to reply is, frankly, impolite. Of course, it’s largely women who are singled out for constant annoyance just for stepping outside, and are dismissed as rude for not accepting it graciously. If you don’t get it after watching this video, the problem isn’t just the guys caught yelling at Roberts. The problem is you.