Monday, 3 November 2014


So the latest video to go viral features a woman walking around New York getting catcalled; apparently some people have found this surprising. (Perhaps they didn't read my recent take on feminism.)

Her outfit of dark jeans and a plain t-shirt was obviously meant to be inconspicuous; most women learn in their teens that wearing a t-shirt with any kind of writing on it will only encourage leering men who "want to read what it says". No doubt if she'd dressed in the style of a footballer's wife with false eyelashes, waist-length hair extensions and a glossy pout, it would have been even harder to get through to those who wish to dismiss the ogling in the video as an anomaly.

Unsurprisingly, the popularity of the video has resulted in the featured actress Shoshana Roberts being threatened with rape; it's become the catch-all response to anything internet trolls don't like. (By the way, can we not call the crackdown on internet abuse "Chloe's Law"? Rather than naming it after someone whose mum aired controversial views on Loose Women, we could use the opportunity to honour Caroline Criado-Perez, who was persecuted by trolls after campaigning for bank notes to feature a woman.)

US "entertainer" and Conservative Rush Limbaugh weighed in with his opinion that the men were just being polite (another way of saying women should "take it as a compliment" when men shout at them in the street). Although few of us would agree with a man who claims "no means yes if you know how to spot it", you might be wondering why women wouldn't respond to such harmless greetings as "Good morning" and "How you doin' today?" Wouldn't that be so much nicer, if everyone greeted their fellow humans as if we were living in a 1950s movie? 

Well, women don't respond to overly friendly men for exactly the same reason you always rush past the chuggers with clipboards who try to get your attention on the high street. Because we know that engaging in any way – even just a "thank you" or a reciprocal "Good morning" will mean getting sucked into a conversation that we didn't want to start. 

The only people who have the luxury of watching this video and seeing nothing but "compliments" are the people who don't understand the context. That context is that the guys saying "Hey, beautiful!" could turn nasty in a nanosecond if you don't respond the way they want you to. Websites like Bye Felipe have the full array of sugary sweet nothings which changed into shocking aggression when girls took longer than 15 minutes to text back, or dared to say "no thanks".

I think this is my favourite. Question asked, question answered.

As we've learned from sites such as okcupid's nice guys, we have a generation of young men who are full of "You're so gorgeous" and "I'm a real nice guy" unless you disagree with them in any way, at which point all hell breaks loose. Lesson learned: when a strange man starts chatting you up on the street, it's just safer not to engage.

The video has been criticised for editing out the white men; it's not that they didn't contribute to the mass of "compliments", it's just that "for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera." I'm guessing this means they fell into that particular category of men who wait until you've walked past and then mutter something under their breath about what they'd like to do to you. (My MO has always been to ignore street harassers so hard that they begin to doubt their own existence, but one day I might just confront one of these "shy" boys to see if they'd repeat themselves while making eye contact.)

In YouTube's comments we see sentiments such as: "She's wearing really really tight jeans, with a tight t-shirt. She is very curvy and her clothing draws attention to her voluptuous assets. If women don't want unwanted attention, then wear looser, baggier clothing. I guarantee if you do this, men will stop ''harassing you'." (Why do I get the distinct feeling that this person would also profess hatred for Muslims and disapprove of anyone wearing a hijab in public?) 

I actually think this guy's take on it is hilarious: He's trying hard to empathise with women but can't shake the belief that he would love to get plagued by ladies saying "God DAMN!" at the sight of him.

"When men say 'God bless you' when you walk by, you know you got a big ass".

Even though this dude has seen guys in real life doing "everything" shown in the original vid, he still wonders if it was staged. Interestingly, he mentions having a female friend who changed the way she dresses because men in her neighbourhood "won't take no for an answer"; he then guesses that probably some other hypothetical girl would happily swap places with her. That's the funny thing, people keep talking about all the women who would love to get catcalled all day, but wherever these ladies are hiding, they're certainly not making their presence known anywhere on the world wide web. Hmm...  

Meanwhile a well-muscled young man makes the point that he gets harassed too; one astute commenter notes: "Yes, he was gawked at. Yes, people made comments that he did not ask for. That's about the only part of this video that aligns with the original. But, at any time did he seem threatened? When he ignored someone, he was never told to be grateful for the compliment. Instead, the only girl who actually approached him ACCEPTED HIS SILENCE AS BEING UNINTERESTED AND WENT ON HER WAY. No one challenged his silence or got upset with him for it. If the men in the original video did the same, I'd call that a step up."

For the average man, rather than trying to picture women chasing you with wolf whistles (which turn into "Well, you're fat anyway" abuse if not acknowledged), perhaps it will make more sense with this scenario: imagine you're popping into town (wearing jeans even though it's summer, because you don't want anyone to see your legs and think you were asking for it) and some guy who's twice your size and would clearly have the upper hand if it came to a physical fight, starts yelling about what a nice butt you have. Then another dude a little further down tries to get your number: "You don't wanna talk to me? Screw you then!"

Do these sound like delightful, day-brightening compliments? Really?

Saying you have a boyfriend has long been considered the get-out-of-harrassment-free card; I used it just the other day when a friendly cyclist decided that I must be "lonely" because I was walking on my own though the park in glorious October sunshine. I now feel vaguely guilty for reinforcing the unspoken rule that only being owned by another man is an acceptable excuse for getting out of an unwanted conversation. (Let's face it, not using the line isn't necessarily going to create a dangerous situation, but it feels more polite than saying "I don't find you remotely attractive.")

So what's a boy to do if he wants to make the acquaintance of a pretty girl on the street? Being charitable, I think the guys in the video who offer a simple "Good evening" are at least saying something that a women could respond to if she wished, which is more than I can say about "Hey look it there!" or the many repetitions of "Day-um!" Even telling a girl she's looking lovely MIGHT work if you look her in the eye while you say it and then make your exit immediately so she knows you're expressing sincere admiration rather than being a stalker who's going to hassle her for a phone number. 

Some pestering is more entertaining than annoying (I sometimes walk past an elderly gentleman who literally rubs his own knees and says "Ooh, lovely!" at the sight of a female) but NOBODY likes the kind of plonker who yells out random orders to "Smile!" So why do all these men persist, when it's clear that heckling women isn't an effective method of getting their attention?

This awesomely helpful cartoon raises an interesting point: are women who dare to walk about unchaperoned in public "fair game" because men consider the street their "territory"? I've noticed that a group of teenage boys in an otherwise deserted street will ALWAYS feel the need to speak to women walking past them; it's almost as if the presence of a female is a silent challenge and by not acknowledging it, those fragile teenage egos could be damaged in some way.

They're more afraid of you than you are of them...

So is it really so terrible if men relentlessly congratulate women on their looks? One commenter over at Jezebel put it like this: 

"One of the many ironic and rage-inducing aspects of some men's response to this video, is that if each of these guys were pan-handlers, or street performers approaching them (some with a polite "excuse me" ... and some others following them while persistently asking or yelling "look at that suit! I know you got $5 to spare, stop being stingy!!"), they would be RAILING about how someone can't even walk the streets in NYC without getting "harassed." 

When you point out that "Hey, all you have to do is say 'no'" or "How will someone know you aren't interested in buying an umbrella if they don't ask?" or ..."So I guess capitalism is dead now" They would steadfastly assert that this is not at all the same, and no one ever wants to be approached like that on the street. They would say there are stores you can go to where it is reasonable to approach people for sales... and that they should be limited in their solicitations to appropriate times and places and not when individuals are trapped on the subway or so obviously just trying to go about their day unaccosted."

You know how your heart sinks when you see a chugger? 
That's how women feel when they have to walk past a building site.
If you're not a regular internet dweller the recent shenanigans of #Gamergate may have passed you by; in a nutshell, some of the men who play video games want to put up a big sign saying "No girlz allowed." Although we'd like to think that such overt sexism is rare, videos like this one from Always show that the anti-female messages are so insidious that they're often just laughed off as harmless.

Meanwhile, the Daily mail has been clapping its hands in glee (This is what a chump looks like! Lol!) at the Schadenfreude-tastic news that the "This is what a feminist looks like" t-shirts were actually made by women in a sweatshop. Earlier a writer deriding the campaign claimed "a man can’t be a feminist", because apparently they don't allow Daily Mail columnists access to dictionaries. I know I keep banging on about this, but a feminist is someone who believes that men and women should have equal rights. Despite all the people who think it means "feminazi" (because of course nazis were all about equal opportunities), the original meaning hasn't changed. So if you find yourself thinking that all this "feminist" talk has got out of hand, remember that if you and the dictionary disagree on the true definition of a word, it's not the dictionary who's got it wrong. 

For all the men who think women's rights = misandry, we can call feminism "egalitarianism" if it makes you feel better but let's not pretend that we've already reached the heights of equality.

ETA: The best internet response to the whole debate began with this Twitter exchange:

Elon James White (CEO of This Week in Blackness) took this suggestion and ran with it, spawning the #dudesgreetingdudes hashtag and a million hilarious scenarios which could change the world in an entertaining-yet-passive-aggressive way. Let's do this, boys.

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