If there's one sexist experience that almost every woman goes through and wishes more men understood, it's street harassment. No matter how frequently we say that it's not a compliment, that it's often frightening, and that we honestly just want to be left alone, we're often ignored or mansplained away. But a new video from Cosmopolitan might help bridge the gap between hearing and understanding. It shows men reacting to their girlfriends being catcalled, proving how much more seriously society needs to take street harassment that it currently does.
If you need a refresher as to what street harassment is and how it happens, the organization Hollaback! defines it as sexual harassment that happens in public. This can include a range of behaviors, from verbal comments ("catcalling") to public masturbation, all of which revolve around making the victim feel vulnerable and sexualized. Along with Cornell University, Hollaback! recently conducted the largest cross-cultural study about street harassment ever performed. According to the study's results, 85 percent of women in the United States report experiencing street harassment before the age of 17. Even more disturbing were the findings that 40 percent of women in the United States have been groped or fondled on the street, and 77 percent have been followed by a men or group of men in a way that made them feel unsafe — in the last year alone.
Since street harassment involves gendered power dynamics, it typically happens when women are alone. That means that men rarely see street harassment happen from the perspective of their female partners and loved ones, which leaves a huge barrier as far as awareness goes. As is the case with just about everything, it's one thing to hear about it and quite another to see it for yourself.
Breaking down this barrier was the idea behind this video, which follows women walking around the city while capturing the street harassment they experienced on tape. Then, the women and their male partners sat down together to watch the footage of the harassment in action. How did the men react? Like this:
1. "I'm Getting Pissed Off"
Seth and Olivia have been together for eight months. As he watches many different men say things like, "Woo!" and "She is gorgeous, what's up?" he starts to get angry. Interestingly, she tells him not to get mad, which confuses him, as he sees the harassment exactly for what it is — harassment. This sadly illustrates how normalized street harassment is in our society, to the point where many women have come to accept it as a part of life.
2. "Those People Are Scary"
The second couple, Tessa and John, have been together for a year. Tessa notes that people comment on her hair "all of the time," but that the compliments aren't genuine — they are a "way in" for random men she doesn't know to talk to her. We clearly see this happen, as one man compliments her hair on the street and then asks for her name instead of just walking away. John doesn't look very shocked by what he is seeing, which suggests he's educated about street harassment and glad that activism around it is increasing. "I'm glad that people are making it an issue and not standing for it anymore," he says.
3. "I Hate When People Tell You That"
The third couple, Miguel and Amy, have been in a relationship for seven months. One of the first harassers Amy encounters tells her that he "likes her tattoos," to which Miguel immediately responds that he "hates" when people tell her that. This incident also highlights the recent attention around what writer Melissa A. Fabello calls "#tatcalling," wherein men use a woman's tattoos as an excuse to harass her on the street.
I'm glad that these men all take issue with street harassment. Watch the full video below:
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