Women of Color Respond to that Catcalling Video

by Aria Bendix

By now we've all seen Hollaback's viral catcalling video of a white woman experiencing street harassment by a variety of men while walking in New York City. But this is only half the picture, according to a video Jezebel created, wherein women of color respond to the original. The pervading question throughout the video seems to be best expressed at the beginning by a woman named Cille: "Where are the white men? Did they [leave] with the dinosaurs? Are there no white men left?"

Obviously not. So why, then, did the original Hollaback catcalling video exclude white males from their representation of street harassment? According to a statement from Rob Bliss, the producer of the Hollaback video, it wasn't for lack of white male responses. He tells reddit that there was "a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera." (The post has since been deleted.)

I'd love for Bliss to define what "in passing" means, since this seems to be the way most, if not all, street harassment is delivered as a woman is walking by. But whatever his justification may be, the fact that there were a "fair amount" of responses from white males and no representation of these males on camera suggests a serious case of racial politics.

After all, as Collier, one of the women being interviewed for the Jezebel video, notes, "All we saw over and over again was the black brute, and the macho, leery Latino." There was one white man in the original Hollaback video that said, "Nice" to the female subject as she passed by, but that seemed to be about it. Thanu, another woman from the Jezebel video, explains the problem with this glaring omission:

It gives the impression that the only predators in New York are men of color, and that's false.

Adds interviewee Jenna:

When I watched the video, I was so uncomfortable, because it's such a specific dynamic, and it reinforces so many specific stereotypes about men and black men in particular. I feel like that's kind of missing from the discussions.

All of these statements couldn't be more true, and were enough to illicit an apology from Hollaback (an anti-harassment organization) for only representing a specific demographic . But the conversation isn't over. Where I start to have a problem is when the Jezebel video turns the tables and tries to argue that "it's usually white guys that make me feel the most uncomfortable."

While this statement comes from one woman's valid personal experience, I think there's danger in calling out specific races for being the greatest source of discomfort or street harassment. If anything, this is the lesson we learned from the extreme "oversight" of the Hollaback video. Without the statistics to back it up, it's not helpful to the current discussion to point the finger in any direction.

I also find it unconvincing that the Jezebel video tries to use the one white male who approached them while filming as way to prove their point:

As (bad) luck would have it, while we were shooting a video about how women of color were affected by street harassment, one of our interviewees was approached — totally unsolicited — by a white man who asked her for a kiss.

Seeing as the video makes explicit that this was the only man who approached them, this doesn't seem like an accurate representation of the general culture of street harassment.

And this is what matters most: that videos rendering street harassment take care to accurately represent the experiences of individuals of all races and genders. As the Jezebel video notes at the end, "Issues of catcalling and street harassment are 'more than black and white'", and we would do well to avoid stereotyping or characterizing street harassers without the proper supporting data. Still, it's important to consistently advance and refine the dialogue concerning street harassment in the hopes of demolishing the very patriarchal climate in which we live. The more women band together and have these types of conversations, the more we will feel empowered to speak up against street harassment should we have the misfortune of being catcalled.

Head to Jezebel to see the video in full.