Opinion: The Dark Side of the Catcalling Video

When the anti-street harassment organization, Hollaback!, posted a video depicting a woman being catcalled while walking through New York City, many heated responses ensued via social media sites. The video showed snippets of actress Shoshana B. Roberts being catcalled by men 108 times over the course of 10 hours. Its release prompted responses varying from support from the multitude of women who experience street harassment every day to CNN’s Steve Santagati’s suggestion to “carry a gun” (really?) to avoid being harmed by harassers. However, amidst the fiery debate of gender roles and sexism, another point of contention was raised: race.

It is hard to ignore the fact that in the 20 scenes showing various forms of catcalling--ranging from the seemingly friendly “What’s up beautiful?” to deeply disturbing stalking--the majority of harassers are black or Latino. Notably, the most unsettling and aggressive forms of harassment do not come from white men. The display of racial bias in this video, directed by Rob Bliss, is damaging to both the video’s original intention, street harassment education, and to the depiction of minority males in today’s society.

The negative portrayal of minority men in media is an all too familiar concept. Bliss’ video is no exception. Why edit out the white guys and make blacks and Latinos the main target? Bliss said in defense, “We got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera.” Whether intentional or not, this video pins minority men against a white woman.

Photo courtesy of Youtube

Photo courtesy of Youtube

The targeting of minority men in this video not only questions Bliss’ intentions in respect to race, but also to culture. There is a fine line between being friendly and harassment when it comes to street interactions. This line is further blurred when taken in the context of different cultures. Classifying intersexual behavior varies across cultures and races--cordiality to one may be harassment to another. With many of these fine-line interactions being displayed in Bliss’ video, it is easy to classify all minority men as “rude” by associating them with a white woman, and therefore, white culture. The white-washed nature of this video only further harms its legitimacy.

Hollaback! apologized for depicting “unintentional racial bias," but the repercussions of the video discredit the issue of street harassment. Fostering hate toward one social issue doesn't benefits another. The video’s intent was to educate people about the perturbing harassment that women face on a daily basis; it could have done so without furthering another stereotype.

It’s a shame racial bias was prominent in a video that had potential to be an effective tool for promoting respect for women. Chances are, every woman has felt uncomfortable due to strangers harassing them on the streets. In order for this issue to be taken seriously, however, it must be presented in a way that presents the truth, rather than the assumption.

Photo courtesy of Will Hopkinson / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Will Hopkinson / Flickr

Though Bliss missed the mark with this video, it still effectively shows one of the many ways women are treated inferiorly on a daily basis. Until Bliss can figure out how to be politically correct, take a look at “Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere," a hilarious catcalling video featuring Jessica Williams of the Daily Show that delivers the issue in a satirical, yet powerful way.

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Emma Powers