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Can one street harassment experience speak for us all?

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October 31, 2014

Earlier this week a video entitled 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman was released and immediately went viral on the Internet.

The almost two minute PSA was produced by a non-profit organization called Hollaback! whose mission is to end street harassment. The film features Shoshana B. Roberts in a black t-shirt and jeans walking silently through New York City for a total of ten hours as she receives over 108 harassing comments.

The comments ranged from catcalls and whistles to men following Roberts for minutes at a time. The intent of the video was to start a conversation about street harassment and have people realize that Roberts experience is not unique when according to the website, between 70 and 99 percent of women are harassed while walking down the street at some point in their lives.

The video did lead to some thoughtful conversations on the Internet, but unfortunately it also led to more violence when commenters started posting threatening remarks on the video itself.

In order to combat that Hollaback! requested help in policing the comments and released a smart phone app  that allows victims of street harassment to report their incidents. Although the app will not file a police report, it does keep record of the information and it can then be sent to the city council member of the person’s specific district.
Although Hollaback’s intention was a positive one the video itself did create some questions in regards to the specific men that were highlighted in the video. It only showed Roberts getting harassed by men of color. Slate points out that:

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.

Rob Bliss, the film’s creator, said that it wasn’t that white men did not catcall Roberts, they did, they just did so off camera or their comments were distorted by background noise.

Hollaback! did respond with a statement yesterday  about the video and said that they regret the underlying bias the video portrayed and offered a solution in the form of a street harassment guide.

In the end it’s just important to remember to maintain a critical eye when consuming media, even media within activism communities. Because no one is perfect and even those with the best of intentions can unintentionally misrepresent things.

Al-Jazeera does a great job of analyzing the videos outcomes.

You can watch the original video and continue the conversation here:

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One Response to “Can one street harassment experience speak for us all?”

  1. Tristan

    Great job on this article, Caitlin! You make a lot of really interesting points. Also, Shoshana went to my high school.