In the week since Hollaback!’s “10 Hours of Walking Around NYC as a Woman” video debuted, the conversation has flown fast and furious — and given the splash it made, it’s not surprising that derivative works have already begin to appear. The latest comes from the New Zealand Herald, which decided to recreate the catcalling video in Auckland to see how their results compared to the original. Like the Hollaback! video, the subject of this one, model Nicola Simpson, is white, attractive, and wearing unrevealing clothing with sneakers; however, the results ended up being markedly different. I do think it’s worth looking at… but I also think we need to tread carefully regarding the conclusions we draw from it.
There’s a lot going on in the original New York video, and all of it is extremely complex. On the one hand, the catcalling itself is horrifying; the video definitely shows that it’s huge problem, a point that was driven home even more when actress Shoshanna Roberts began receiving death threats over it. On the other, though, the men seen harassing Roberts are pretty much exclusively men of color — and even more dishearteningly, it later emerged that the white men who catcalled her ended up on the cutting room floor without any thought being given to what effect such a choice might have on the video overall.
In contrast, here’s what happened in the New Zealand video:
On the Street:
When Nicola Simpson began the video, everyone just kind of went about their business as she went about hers.
Passing a Construction Site:
The guys checked her out, but didn’t say anything to her.
On Another Street:
Again, the guy behind her clearly checked her out — but he kept walking and he didn’t try to speak to her.
Here’s Where It Got Weird:
See that guy on the right? He walked passed Simpson going in the other direction, as you can see here…
…He turned around and started following her.
Not only that, but after following a few feet behind her for about half a block, he started jogging to catch up with her…
And then he actually came round front, physically blocking her way as he tried to start a conversation with her. Personally, I would find this extremely threatening; the video does note, however, that he asked Simpson if she was Italian and told her she looked nice. He apparently sounded European, and finished up by apologizing for stopping her. An apology? For bothering a random stranger? Unreal!
The Only Other Person Who Stopped Her:
…Asked her for directions. Watch the full video here:
Raise your hand if you want to move to New Zealand.
OK, so maybe that last comment was a little flippant; as is the case with pretty much everything, it’s not just that simple. It’s worth noting, for example, that there’s a lot we don’t know about this video: How long the filming went on, what areas of Auckland were covered, and so on and so forth. All we have to go off of is the results: In New York, Roberts was harassed 108 times in a video with questionable racial undertones; and in Auckland, Simpson was only stopped twice, neither of which was a catcall or incident of harassment.
It’s easy to draw conclusions from the comparison between the two videos, but I think what makes it tricky is this: There are a lot of things we could take away from it, but they’re all based on an awful lot of assumptions. Furthermore, I have a feeling that without more information, any conclusions we can draw will necessarily be overly simplistic. Here are just a few of them, along with why I think they might be problematic:
- “Catcalling is an American problem.” If it happened in one country but not in another, then clearly it must be an American issue, right? Trouble is, we only have one case study from each of two countries. We’d need a lot more research before we’d be able to prove or disprove this one.
- “New Zealanders are nicer than Americans.” It’s perfectly all right to think someone is attractive; we see this happening in a few instances in the Auckland video. The New Zealanders in the video, however, keep their thoughts to themselves and admire from afar, so maybe they’re just nicer, or understand personal space better, or have a more refined sense of politesse.
- “New Zealanders are subtler than Americans.” The two guys who stopped Simpson must be the most devious of masterminds — they found a plausible excuse to talk to her, rather than just yelling the first thing that popped into their heads at her. We can’t really make assumptions about why the guys talked to her without asking them directly, though.
- “Americans objectify women in a way people from other countries don’t.” Again, we just don’t have enough information from these two videos alone to make this claim.
So what can we draw from it? For the record, I do think there’s something interesting at work here, and it probably does have something to do with Americans and American culture in contrast with other countries and cultures. Maybe it’s that Americans really are all entitled jerks, or that American men are taught that they’re owed the attention of other people, or that American culture objectifies women in potentially unique ways, or any number of other possibilities. I don’t know. But although these are all possibilities, I still think we need to be careful about how talk about these two videos. Ultimately, I feel the Auckland video furthers the conversations, but doesn’t necessarily answer any of the questions that emerged out of the New York one — and indeed, might even bring more questions to the table. If we boil the many issues at play here down to sweeping generalizations based on two videos, both with their flaws, then we’ll just end up with reductive statements that don’t actually help anything.
What I’m taking away from the whole thing is this: It is possible to walk around a city without being harassed — and it’s also possible to find a random stranger attractive without expecting anything in return from him or her. These are good lessons, and they provide hope for change. Let’s make sure we learn them.
Images: nzherald.co.nz/YouTube (8)