The video also unintentionally makes another point

Hanna Rosin at Slate takes on the glaring flaw in that street harassment video: the shortage of white guys doing any harassing.

The one dude who turns around and says, “Nice,” is white, but the guys who do the most egregious things—like the one who harangues her, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more,” or the one who follows her down the street too closely for five whole minutes—are not.

This doesn’t mean that the video doesn’t still effectively make its point: that a woman can’t walk down the street lost in her own thoughts, that men feel totally free to demand her attention and get annoyed when she doesn’t respond, that a woman can’t be at ease in public spaces in the same way a man can. But the video also unintentionally makes another point: that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break.

Because they just didn’t happen to find any white guys harassing? Nope.

At the end they claim the woman experienced 100-plus incidents of harassment “involving people of all backgrounds.” Since that obviously doesn’t show up in the video, Bliss addressed it in a post. He wrote, “We got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera,” or was ruined by a siren or other noise. The final product, he writes, “is not a perfect representation of everything that happened.”

So include some imperfect shots, then.

Activism is never perfectly executed. We can just conclude that they caught a small slice of catcallers, and lots of other men do it, too. But if the point of this video is to teach men about the day-to-day reality of women, then this video doesn’t hit its target. The men who are sitting in their offices or in cafes watching this video will instead be able to comfortably assure themselves that they don’t have time to sit on hydrants in the middle of the day and can’t properly pronounce “mami.” They might do things to women that are worse than catcalling, but this is not their sin.

Yeah not true. A broadcast tv show – What Would You Do? – did a memorable segment once in which some very expensive Wall Street guys aggressively harassed a woman at a food truck. They were nasty – frat boyish – bordering on scary.

A really good video about catcalling actually already exists. In “Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere,” Jessica Williams of the Daily Show covers the whole range of street harassment, from construction workers (of all races) to security guards to Wall Street “douche bags” to teenagers hanging on the corner. She and a group of women lay down pins on places in New York to avoid and by the end, the entire map is covered. There are race and class issues latent in her video, too. She is black, and the women she gathers for her discussion group are all races. But you don’t leave with that icky impression of a white woman under assault by the big bad city.

It’s a great pity the Hollaback video isn’t more like that.


  1. themadtapper says

    Yeah, I’ve already been seeing that kinda crap since the video came out. People claiming that it’s just blacks doing the harassing and that if they’d just shot that vid in a nice upstanding white neighborhood none of it would have happened. Nothing like a nice big racism cherry to top that sexism sunday.

  2. Fred McVittie says

    It’s a real shame that Bliss recognised that the edited footage wasn’t representative of the event but went ahead and posted it anyway. It doesn’t detract from the overall message but it definitely offers an opportunity for a racist reading.

  3. quixote says

    Okay. We finally have something that makes clear to the world, by which I mean men since women already know, what it’s like to be unable to move without insults, humiliations, harassments, and worse.

    Yes, racism is a bad thing. Yes, it’s a problem that they edited the video the way they did without explanation. (Ten hours down to two minutes means lots of things got thrown out.)

    But. The racism in this case is a footnote to the main point. Which is that women are cattle in the world in which we live. And how that feels.

    But no. Let’s spend all the available attention on racism. Because half the human race being classed as chattel is a problem that can wait.

  4. Cassidy McJones says

    @quixote, #4

    But no. Let’s spend all the available attention on racism.

    All the available attention is not being spent on racism. The majority of the attention this video got is directed towards the intended subject of the video – the daily harrassment women face just existing. But it is entirely appropriate to note and draw attention to the fact that the nearly all the men shown are men of color. That absolutely feeds into racist sterotypes encouraged by a very toxic part of American culture. It’s not a matter of one problem making the other wait, it’s a matter of both problems existing in our society.

  5. moarscienceplz says

    quixote #4

    But no. Let’s spend all the available attention on racism. Because half the human race being classed as chattel is a problem that can wait.

    Oh, for Pete’s sake! Are you completely ignorant of “Dear Muslima”? If you are, go read up on it before spouting off any more. Pointing out problem X does NOT imply problem Y should be ignored.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    The racism in this case is a footnote to the main point.

    No. The racism in this case works against the point the video is trying to make.

    Consider: imagine for a moment what a white guy, maybe one who doesn’t live in New York, or even the USA, thinks when he watches that video. Which of the following is the reaction the producers were going for, and which do you think is the likely actual reaction?

    1. Wow, I didn’t realise harassment of women was so bad.
    2. Wow, I didn’t realise people in the USA/New York are so horrible. Glad I don’t live there.
    3. Wow, black people (in New York) are horrible. Glad I’m nothing like them.

    The entire point of the video was to elicit reaction number (1), but because of choices the editor made, reactions (2) and (3) are predictable and, worse, defensible*. And it’s inconceivable that the producers didn’t know that before they put out that video.

    I see one upside to this: now the idea is out there, it will be repeated. It will be repeated elsewhere, in other cities, in other countries. Imperfect as this first iteration is, like #everydaysexism, it will spread. And the next version will be done better, and will address and correct the criticisms this one has had pointed at it. And the next, and the next, and with any luck there’ll be a tide of them. Fingers crossed, eh?

    * making the reasonable assumption that the average person’s exposure to this will be just the video, and not any of the post-hoc excuses the producers offered for the apparent racist bias.

  7. johnthedrunkard says

    Why didn’t the videos of the Tarhir square sexual assaults include demographically correct proportions of Copts and Christians?

    It is conceivable that street harassment IS more prevalent among non-white men. The frat boys and corporate slime probably do their worst indoors. It would be worthwhile to take the raw footage and count and catalog the incidents. It still wouldn’t really be all that scientifical…

    If you want to collect video of white men harassing women, how about taping customers at a high-end restaurant/bar? I’m sure one could gather

    Collecting evidence like this is an entirely worthy project, and should not be diminished by knee-jerk PC complaints. Squeezing the evidence down into YouTube dimensions, or TV soundbytes is always going to be problematic. I’ve read of several projects document street harassment that seemed better organized, and less slanted toward dramatization.

  8. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    Fred @3,

    On other boards posters have been asserting that the same director has made similar curious editing decisions in the past and they don’t appear to be exactly accidental.

  9. says

    Johnthedrunkard @ #9

    Need a video of how white men react to a well dressed black woman in a working class neighborhood.
    Bets on whether they view her as a prostitute?

  10. chigau (違う) says


    Racism just compounds the problem for women of color. People should read up on it.

    Do you read what you type or just click the Post Comment button?

  11. nathanaelnerode says

    Everything I know about Wall Streeters says that they are among the *worst*, especially in their “home territory” (many may code-switch when they leave Wall Street). It’s like a toxic mix of the worst sort of fraternity or football team with a complete lack of solidarity or loyalty of any sort; the common and encouraged attitude is “steal what you can, trample over everyone you meet on the way, people exist to be abused for your entertainment”. This is unsurprising in firms many of which are set up primarily for the purpose of bilking people. The military might be worse in some ways, but only because they train them to hurt people physically.

    I wouldn’t trust a Wall Streeter. Ever. I wouldn’t accept a glass of water directly from one. The culture there is toxic to a degree which is hard even to imagine, though there have been quite a few exposes over the years.

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