When I watched the street harassment video titled 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman, my first thought was, forget 10 hours, that is my experience as a woman walking the 10 minutes distance to my gym!
Catcalls and street harassments are daily experiences many women have learned to live with. Many of us have spoken out against this experience many times. However, are we ever taken seriously? No. Instead, trolls invade such posts with excuses like “Not every man”, “I am not your kind of feminist”, “This is why I hate feminists”… blahblahblah
Therefore, I was actually happy just to see a video documenting an actual experience of catcalls and street harassment going viral. In all honesty, I was not looking at the skin colour of the guys in the video, I was more about their words and often I went, oh, I have heard that or oh that is a popular one. I guess to me, my street harassers have one thing in common, they are men, they say the same shit, they want control, they treat me like objects, and they feel entitled to my body. They are men that feel entitled to my time, who feel they must compliment my body and they get annoyed when I don’t beam at their validation of my beauty. They get angry when I don’t smile when they command me to smile on the street while going about my errands, some even get violent when I don’t reciprocate their unsolicited attention. They do all these regardless of their skin colour. So nope, I was not watching out for skin colour of my everyday street harasser in that video because what binds street harassers together is not their skin colour but their male identity, male privilege or better put, misogyny.
However, I was glad when people started pointing out the racial aspect of the video, especially when the maker of the video was exposed for a similar racist editing he had done in a previous ad video and also a homeless man makeover ad video. The discussions were good and enlightening.
However, as a woman who is very much affected by this catcalling, street harassment culture, I am worried that in an attempt to call out racism, focus is being taken away from the important subject of the documentary; sexism. And in some cases, men of colour are at the center of taking this attention away from sexism in the name of crying racist foul. While I do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to call out racism, (in fact, I welcome it), It would be great if my angry bros get as much angry about sexism as they are about the intended or unintended racism in the video. Can they at least muster as much outrage they have shown towards racism and direct it to the blatant sexism and misogyny portrayed in that video?
It is good that we call out racism but as a black woman who not only battle racism but experience sexism daily (remember intersectionality?), I must confess that:
I do not want sexism swept under the carpet because well… racism.
I do not want my experience of misogyny dismissed under the guise of calling out racism.
I do not want my woman concern dismissed as not important enough especially since I understand that it is very possible to prioritise and multi task.
I don’t want another black brother to use racism as a means of silencing the genuine concerns of women especially women of colour, just because some men of colours were called out on their sexist behaviour.
I do not deny the racism in that video, heck I am happy it was called out , but can we at least direct same outrage towards the blatant sexism in that video?
As I said, I am glad the producers of that video were exposed for their intentional or unintentional manipulation of that video footage, but at the same time, I am tired of people dismissing that video as if men of colour need not be called out or men generally need not be called out on their sexism.
Do men of colour catcall more than white men? I cannot answer this question as I can only speak from my own experience while taking into consideration the many experiences of other women including white women.
Some few weeks ago, long before the viral street harassment video, I wrote a blogpost titled Everyday sexism; Catcall and street harassment, in the post I narrated some cases of catcalls and street l harassment I experienced. I would assume the reason the majority of the people that harass me on my street are black is that I live in a neighbourhood which demography consists mostly of people of colour. I would think if I lived in a mostly white populated area, the street harassers would be mostly white. I think the fact that I am also black contributes to the unsolicited street attention I get from black men. Which I assume is why most of them starts their conversation with ‘Hey empress, where are you from?”, and might go ahead to let you know the African country they are from. Some see it as a way to start a conversation with a black woman minding her own business on the street. Many of them also see it as a black woman on the street owing them a conversation. You look good, You are black, I am black, we are both in a foreign land, You owe me a conversation or better still, let’s get fucking. Cos well… you are a woman, I am a man and we are both blacks. No guys, it does not work that way.
I believe white women experience this same shit from white men in their neighbourhood. If I moved into a predominantly white neighbourhood, I would probably get catcalled, booed, have drinks thrown at me by the white men in the neighbourhood. I already experience this when I venture into predominantly white areas. It is about the demography not the skin colour.
Also, in more affluent neighbourhoods, street harassment might take on other shades. When I was living in a relatively quiet neighbourhood in London, I had the luxury of taking long walks in the beautiful flowered streets without encountering as much catcalls as I did when I moved to a less affluent place. Mostly, the streets were quiet. I had the beautiful flowers, and tree lined streets for company. Fast forward to when I moved to a less affluent place, I quickly learnt that taking walks is now a luxury i can no longer afford. The catcalls and street harassments in my new neighbourhood are more overt with people sticking their faces in my space, asking for a smile, or insisting on walking with me.
Does this mean I did not experience street harassment in my more affluent neighbourhood? Of course I did! When I take a walk in these affluent areas, the street harassment could come in the form of a white person shooting suspicious look in my direction while hiding behind their beautiful well-groomed flower garden. You know, the kind of look that says, “Hey, you don’t belong here or “Are you here to pick up men?”
Women and I dare say, women of colour, must be used to that look when you walk into a hotel, especially a five star hotel. This is not even just a race thing; I experience such back home in Nigeria. Whenever I had to lodge at five star hotels for official engagements, I made sure to always hold my room cardkey in front of me in a way that is visible to everyone, especially the security guys and business men hanging at the bar or lobby. Or else, the next thing you know, you will be accosted by a security man who wants to know your mission in the hotel, or be solicited by randy rich men who assume the only reason a woman appears in a five star hotel lobby is to be picked up by guys. Even when I am lodged in hotels, I still hesitate to venture into hotel bars alone unless I am ready to kick some ass and have an angry night. Another thing I learned the hard way is, If you are picking a cab to drop you outside your hotel, never get into argument with the cab man, because next thing you know, you will be called a whore. It is assumed that the only reason a woman asked to be dropped at a hotel is for commercial sex work. So really, street harassment comes in all colours , shapes and sizes.
Catcalls and street harassment are about asserting power, control, and dominance. It is about a sense of entitlement, entitlement to a woman’s time, a woman’s body, and the entitlement to be a woman’s hero. Every patriarchal sexist misogynist has this sense of entitlement. Therefore, it is not just about low-income black men or low-income white men living in poor neighbourhoods. The rich, upper class, upper middle class men, be they white or person of colour, engage in this assertion of power or male dominance.
The poor man who does not earn a 6 figure salary or have a luxurious office building to leer at women from, might feel the need to asset his dominance on the street where he is lord. Regardless of skin colour, his rich male counterpart has his way of asserting his dominance in the luxury of his office behind his powerful desk.
Also, workplace sexual harassment does not just come from the rich guys, it permeates the workplace from the highest paid male worker to the lowest paid male worker. Those men who catcall and engage in street harassment do not necessarily stop being sexual harassers when they step into the workplace. Most often, they carry their sexual harassment attitude into the workplace although they might learn to be more subtle about it cos of workplace sexual harassment policy.
If I stepped out of my house on my way to work and some random guys decided to comment on my looks and demand an acknowledgement as I make to catch the bus, it is not compliment, it is street harassment.
If, as I stepped out of the tube to walk the few blocks to my office, some construction workers or men in suits started catcalling or used the opportunity to tell me how lovely my boobs are, that is street harassment.
If I walked into my office and my male boss or male colleagues greeted me with “Hey your ass looks great in that dress” or “those boobs are popping,” I can file that under sexual harassment.
If a guy I hardly knows came into the office and started a running commentary of my body, that would be inappropriate behaviour, which comes under sexual harassment.
It is not OK to dismiss catcalls or unsolicited attention on the street or in the workplace as mere compliments. I don’t want my male colleagues to give me a run-down of my body, I don’t want any random guest in the office treating me like an object for his entertainment, and I also don’t want random strangers on the street leering at me and making me feel like I am a meat on display for their pleasure.
I think in that video, we have to take into account the targeted neighbourhood the woman was walking through. If we are agreed that it is about power, we will understand why people of colour who are most probably low-income earners, feel the need to assert dominance through catcalls and street harassment. Rich men do it behind their desks and sometimes from their tinted car windows. Rich men do not need the validation, power, or control on the street; they already have that covered via their expensive looking cars, rich houses, choice holiday locations etc. They have nothing to prove on the street. They save the harassment for the boardrooms and bars. Rich men regardless of colour are no less sexist, misogynist, or patriarchal than the ordinary bloke on the street, they just have other avenues and outlets to enjoy their male privilege and be misogynist jerks
Walking on the streets can be a daunting task for women. To some, cars are means of moving from one place to another but as a woman, having a car represents much more than a means of transportation, which is a major reason i miss having my own car. To some extent, having my own car is my safety net from catcalls and street harassment. With a car, I could put on my shorts, drive to the shopping mall, park in the car park, and do my shopping in peace. Without the luxury of my own car, to walk to the shopping mall, I would have to take into consideration how safe I would be wearing shorts, the catcalls I am likely to get, including people taking it as an invitation to call me a ‘slut’ derogatorily. When attending parties or going clubbing with friends, without the safety of my car, I have to think carefully about my wardrobe, all because of catcalls and street harassments. Men do not have to worry about these things, but as a woman living in a patriarchal society, these are issues I have to deal with and navigate in my daily existence as a woman. I have to brace myself daily for the repercussion of being a woman in a man’s world.
Women have been talking about catcalls and street harassment for a long time. It is a pity that it takes the anger or manipulation of men to bring this issue to the forefront and not even in a way that solely focuses on street harassment. After reading about the shenanigans of the video producer, I would hesitate to honour their call for donation, even though it is a cause I care about. In fact, I have my doubts if my cause is really the cause of the video producer or if like many profit driven organisations out there, they are only after sensationalizing my plight as a woman just as they sensationalised the plight of African LGBT for profit.
I understand that some of those men who are calling out the racism in this video also identify as pro women’s rights or even in some cases as feminists. I just wish they would have it in them to actually be as indignantly angry about the catcalling and street harassment as they are about calling out the racism in the video.
Don’t be a feminist with a BUT. Don’t be an ally that hesitates. You can be angry about that racism in the video and still be very angry at the street harassment and catcalls. You have the right to be angry at that racism in the video as I am. You also should have the decency to be outraged at the sexism. Call out the catcalls and street harassment with no But.
Street harassment follows us everywhere, regardless of skin colour. Our sexual harassers can be of any colour or class. All you have to be to be harassed by a man is to be a woman walking in a public space. Moreover, all the harasser need is to have a dick. That is all the entitlement they need to justify invading the privacy of any woman. I look forward to a day when misogyny would be a thing of the past.