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Hollaback!'s '10 Hours’ Video: Is This How We Define Harassment?

"10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman," YouTube screen capture.

“10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” YouTube screen capture.

If you're a regular Internet user, there's a good chance you came across the viral video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman.” The clip, which is the work of Hollaback!, a movement against street harrassment, features a young woman roaming the streets of New York City, encountering over 100 catcalls and various kinds of unwanted attention from random strangers in a single day. The video captures an experience familiar to women all over the world. The woman in the film is whistled at, catcalled, and even followed silently by one particularly insistent guy.

Internet users have hotly debated Hollaback!'s video. Many people writing on YouTube (generally men, it seems) are unsympathetic to the notion that the video depicts harassment. For this crowd, the catcalls in the video are mostly innocent compliments. 

Jobu Matthew, for instance, writes:

So..that's it? 2 minutes out of 10 hours of footage and the worst you got is some random guy trying to get your number and a couple of “unwanted compliments”.

Jorge Gonzales went even further:

Feminism is a hate crime. It makes idiots do stupid things like make this video.

Darryl Wayne implied that it was alarmist to describe the behavior in the video as harassment:

And why would she walk 10 hours, and where are the 100+ cases of harassment they're talking about. Winks and whistles aren't harassment. 

For those who agree that catcalling amounts to harassment, Hollaback!'s video presents an opportunity to share their own experiences of feeling threatened when walking the streets alone.

For example, NicFem 24 wrote:

In certain people's eyes it may seem that someone is complimenting a woman, but for most women who experience this its very, extremely uncomfortable, especially when someone decides that its ok to point out her ass, or her boobs.

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Photo by Flick Michael. Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Gender hasn't been the only sensitive issue with the video. Some journalists and activists have pointed out that most of the men depicted in the video harassing women are black or Latino, raising concerns about racism. In response, Hollaback! said it “regret[s] the unintended racial bias in the editing of the video that over represents men of color,” and promised to correct the error in future projects.

Questions of equality are always a source of debate—especially when it comes to viral videos that attract more than 137,000 comments. Hollaback!'s “10 Hours of Walking” video was a tremendous viral success. For all the harassment captured in the film, however, the footage pales in comparison to the sexist commentary found below the video on YouTube today.

  • What often seems to pass unnoticed about that video is the part that says “in New York.” East coast US cities in general, and New York in particular, are very much “in your face” culturally – interaction with random strangers in largely negative ways happens a lot more because there are so many people there you can count on never seeing that person again. If you live in New York, you get New York. BBC just posted a list of response videos, including one of a woman in hijab getting no catcalls at all.

    • BillinDetroit

      Additionally, if you don’t make yourself noticed by that other person, you can almost be certain of never encountering them again. So folks tend to say “Hey, I’m over here. You’ve made a good first impression … what do you think about me?” They aren’t insulted if you keep walking … but delighted if you don’t.

  • Tommy Peters

    Critics have a point. They define the line where harassment ends and self-flattery begins. Not unlike the animal world, she is caught between her vulnerability as a female and her need to be protected. A woman’s gut feeling is that the ‘pleasant’ ones who ignore her would be apathetic to her plight when it really matters. Conversely, her gut feeling is that the cat-callers she disdains would be the first responders when she is struck down and helpless.

  • Pingback: Hollaback!’s ’10 Hours’ Video: Is This How We Define Harassment? | Freedom, Justice, Equality News()

  • BillinDetroit

    Hmm … dress so as to appear attractive and then complain when you succeed. Makes sense to me.

    A wink or a whistle only means that you managed to distinguish yourself from the crowd … that’s all. Few, if any, of those men want matters to escalate beyond, perhaps, a smile in return. From our perspective, we’ve flattered you. It wouldn’t hurt for women to recognize and acknowledge a compliment when one comes your way.

    I’ve been whistled at by women and took it as a compliment, not as an act of sexual aggression. I took it as a “well done” and nothing more. On those rare occasions when I’ve whistled at a woman, I’ve meant it as “well done” … and nothing more.

    If a whistle leads to a conversation with a receptive person, then okay … that might be the start of something more substantial. But if a woman doesn’t give any cue that she’d appreciate further dialog, then things end there and we guys are (generally speaking) content to go about our business.

    There are, of course, some pretty “out there” people of both genders … but not enough to justify painting with such a broad brush.

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