Opinion

Why I’m Not Buying That New York City Street Harassment Video

Ameena Schelling Freelance Writer

In the past few days, a video of a woman getting catcalled on the street has gone viral on the internet. Released by Hollaback, a group that bills itself as “an international movement to end street harassment,” the covert footage documents a woman walking the streets of New York for ten hours as she claims to be the victim of 100 instances of harassment.

Many liberals have claimed this is definitive proof that all American women face routine harassment and are daily victims of a patriarchal culture. However, as a woman, I have some serious issues with this video — and the crusade the feminist left is trying to rally behind it.

First, I have never seen or experienced anything bordering on the “harassment” liberal women claim to experience. Even accounting for the fact I could just be unattractive, I find it mind-boggling that women are pushed to complain about such a widespread, visceral issue that I have never seen. Aside from the occasional compliment on the street, I have never seen aggressive catcalling. I have rarely had unwelcome advances. I have never felt anything but absolutely safe — a feeling backed by a recent Thomson Reuters survey that named New York’s subway system the safest out of the world’s top capitals.

I’ve lived and worked in Philadelphia and D.C., and spent enough time in New York (including the neighborhoods visited in the video) to have been exposed to any issues there. I have walked by myself late at night, taken public transportation, and spent my share of time in bars and nightclubs and other places where people aren’t always on their best behavior. I can’t say I dress modestly. And in nearly 25 years I’ve experienced a grand total of two — yes, two — negative experiences, which I only remembered because I was racking my brain for examples.

Yet the left claims that every time a woman leaves her house she’s subjected to sexual impropriety. But what could account for the serious differences in accounts between the experience of the feminist left (and all the young college-aged women they’ve brainwashed) and the experience of myself and the more rational women I know? Well, if you’re determined to find a problem you’re going to see one.

If you watch the video, you’ll see that it plays fast and loose with what’s considered offensive. I would never count someone wishing me a good day or telling me I was pretty as harassment — simply because I don’t indulge the feminist fairy tale that every interaction a man has with me is tainted by patriarchal oppression. Most of the phrases in the video are just harmless ways for men to respectfully show their interest or, in the case of older generations, just — gasp — be polite.

It takes someone with a caricature of Victorian feminine sensibilities to file “Have a nice day” under sexual harassment. Even if there are sexual undertones to wishing a beautiful woman a good day, or telling her she’s pretty, such remarks are a perfectly respectful way to show interest. She can take it or leave it, and while there are a few inevitable creeps in the video, the other 98 percent or so of the men just left it at that.

It’s one thing to ban disrespectful, in-your-face harassment; it’s another to ban compliments or any indication of interest. The real issue with these comments is that they’re not reciprocated; if a tall, handsome, well-dressed guy said these same things to a woman while out at a bar, she’d have a very different response. But while we might not want to reciprocate someone’s feelings of attraction, we can’t stop them from having them if they conduct themselves respectfully.

It’s a basic fact of biology. Men are attracted to women. Unless you want to live in some sort of asexual Arabian morality where women walk around with paper bags over their heads it’s going to happen. You can try to make these interactions respectful, but you can’t demand that they disappear — which movements like Hollaback are doing.

And herein lies the hypocrisy of the liberal view on sexuality. For all the left’s talk of making every traditional sexual vice a laudable family model, they seem to be Germanically opposed to every facet of traditional male-female sexuality. You can be as outlandish and outspoken as you like about being gay, using sex toys, having an open marriage, loving BDSM, and any other previously private sexually outlying activity you might enjoy. You’ll be praised and uplifted for embracing your sexuality. But being a straight guy and verbalizing your appreciation for a woman gets you the same reaction as if you’d tried to rape her.

Like it or not, conventional sexuality and the male-female interactions that ensue are conventional for a reason; it’s how we’re designed to propagate the human race. But the problem with modern women’s advocacy is that, even while maintaining women are the same as men, they’ve turned a woman’s body into such a sacred space that commenting on a woman’s body, let alone being attracted to it, verges on sexual assault. They’re so intent on dismantling this supposed patriarchy that the very physical fact of having a penis and being hardwired to find women attractive is viewed as proof of your support of an oppressive society; your very chromosomes are an affront to women’s liberation.

As one friend put it, the left’s agenda isn’t just about making outlying sexualities acceptable and spreading tolerance. It’s about making conventional sexuality unacceptable so their own values have room to take the forefront. For all their talk about oppression and societal norms, the sexuality-driven left is worse than the system they think they’re replacing.

In fact, the bullying of the feminist left is worse than any sort of control the social patriarchy supposedly displays. A woman would be hard-pressed to find offense or impropriety in a compliment unless she were brainwashed into viewing every interaction with men as an offense. But I have no problem with such interactions, and find it hard to believe that a woman without an agenda or serious hang-ups over her sexuality would view them as anything but kind and flattering. As a straight woman, which I have every right to be, a guy telling me to have a good morning or telling me I’m pretty is always going to be accepted as a compliment. Even if it were to come from an unwanted source, I’d just brush it off and go about my day; because that’s what a polite, rational person does. I’m not going to go against my natural instinct and declare such statements offensive because the NOW mob is demanding I do so.

If sex is the first taboo issue brought up by this video, the second is race. I counted around 25 men “shamed” by this video. The vast majority were black, with a few that looked Hispanic. I only saw three white men — and their contributions included such horrifying comments as “Have a nice evening.”

A similarly lauded project featured a woman from Philadelphia — my native city — taking photographs of all the men who catcalled her on the street. The photographer, Hannah Price, describes herself as African-Mexican-American. Of the two dozen or so images from the collection I could find online, all but one of the men involved were African American. The remaining male looked like he could be either Hispanic or white.

I refuse to pretend most of these comments were “harassment.” But supposing you were so easily affronted you wanted to stop all male attention; how could you pretend this isn’t an issue of race and culture? If you wanted unbiased proof that “street harassment” originates disproportionately from certain races, this is it.

The fact is, the liberal feminist left has a largely unfounded problem with black culture, or any culture that’s traditionally more expressive toward women, and to avoid mentioning race they’re pretending it’s a problem across the board. A culture that vocally expresses heterosexual attraction is affront to their Brave New World of inverted sexual norms. Note that they chose a curvy, vaguely ethnic woman to do their walk. I have a feeling they’d get different results if they chose a skinny, Waspish blonde.

Perhaps that’s why my personal experience differs so much from the woman’s in the video; I don’t look the part.

I personally see nothing wrong with a friendly greeting, even if there are sexual undertones. In today’s day and age, where we’re expected to shout every detail of our sexuality from the rooftops, I find it ridiculous that similar expressions of heterosexuality are supposed to be repressed. Men are perfectly welcome to compliment me if they see fit, and I am perfectly free to enjoy it. For all their talk about “staying out of the bedroom,” I wish the left would just stay out of my daily life. And considering the feminist movement claims to stand for women’s strength and rationality and independence, they need to stop finding every last action of men so offensive. I, for one, refuse to be scared of men every time I leave my house.