Walking While Woman

To the categories of Driving While Black and Flying While Muslim and similar ones that highlight the way some groups are targeted for engaging in activities that would pass unnoticed if done by others, we now need to add Walking While Woman. The secretly recorded video of a woman dressed in ordinary street clothes walking through the streets of New York for 10 hours in one day, and the various types of unwanted attention she received has garnered much notice providing evidence, if anyone still needed it, that the world inhabited by women can quite different from that inhabited by men, as is the case with people of color versus white and rich versus poor.

Because the video was so widely discussed, I felt any additional commentary on my part would be redundant because it should go without saying that what she experienced was terrible and shameful. But as we have sadly come to learn, just exposing this behavior has resulted in the unleashing of attacks against the actor in the video, even to the extent of rape threats against her, even though she says and does nothing at all and just walks looking straight ahead. What is the matter with these people?

However, Hanna Rosin picked up on one point that many commenters (including me) had missed on a first viewing and that I think is worth bringing to wider attention. So first here’s the original video for those who may have missed it.

As Rosin says:

[I]t’s a video of a young white woman who is harassed by mostly black and Latino men as she walks around New York City for 10 hours. 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.

It turns out that this impression that it was mostly black and Latino working class men who did this was because all but one of the white people who behaved that way had been edited out. Rob Bliss, the person who produced the video, says this was not deliberate.

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.”

Rosin rightly says that while that may be true, it takes a certain kind of blindness to not realize the implications of what he was doing. She says that the resulting distorted perception will undoubtedly color the reactions of the kinds of people who are absent from the video, enabling them to think that this kind of behavior is done by a different kind of person, ‘those other people’.

This is not the first time Bliss has been called out for race blindness. In a video to promote Grand Rapids, Michigan, he was criticized for making a city that’s a third minority and a quarter poor look like it was filled with people who have “been reincarnated from those peppy family-style 1970s musical acts from Disney World or Knott’s Berry Farm,” as a local blogger wrote.

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.

Jessica Williams already did a better job of demonstrating the widespread nature of this behavior on The Daily Show in a video I linked to a month ago, showing that it covered all manner of men but her report did not get this level of attention, maybe because of its comedic angle.

Meanwhile, the comedy site Funny or Die staged a similar walk with a man on the streets of New York. This was done with actors, of course, but it makes the same point ironically. But you can be sure that the male actor in the video won’t get rape threats.


  1. says

    It turns out that this impression that it was mostly black and Latino working class men who did this was because all but one of the white people who behaved that way had been edited out.

    Wow, way to shoot self in foot. Now anyone who wants to sidetrack the message of that video can turn it into a discussion about class or race instead of sexism. Well done. 🙁

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