Hollaback And Awareness of Street Harassment—What’s the Point?


If people who engage in specific unethical conduct know it is unethical and don’t care, does it serve any useful purpose to tell people who know it is unethical and would never do it or tolerate it that the unethical individuals are engaging in it?

I wonder.

From Vox:

Hollaback, an organization that wants to stamp out street harassment and intimidation (a.k.a. catcalls), produced a video in which it videotaped a young woman walking around Manhattan for 10 hours this past August. A hidden video camera was placed in the backpack of a man walking in front of her, catching every catcall, whistle, and even one persistent character who walked alongside the woman for five minutes.

The results are startling. According to Hollaback, there were over 100 instances of verbal harassment in that 10-hour walk, not including winks and whistles. In the video, the woman remains silent. She is dressed in a T-shirt and jeans.

Check the link to Hollaback, and you will see that the organization claims that “you have the power to end street harassment.” No, really you don’t. There can’t be a law against shouting out to someone ( to its credit, legislation isn’t one of the group’s recommendations), and the tradition of men harassing attractive women on the street is old and persistent. This isn’t an everybody does it excuse, this is an “assholes will be assholes, and there will always be assholes” statement of fact. I would expect that street harassment is getting worse, thanks to counter-productive muddled feminist efforts like the recent video with little girls repeatedly saying “Fuck.” Women killed chivalry by treating it as an insult—indeed, it was subordinating and condescending, but at least well-intentioned—and are surprised now that its polar opposite thrives? See, the chivalrous men, those with manners, were called pigs and made to feel guilty about being nice. The men who intentionally and openly harass women? They can’t be made to feel guilty. They do this because they like it.

Remember “the Hunger Project”? It was essentially a 1970’s scam that purported to seek an end to world hunger by saying that it could be ended without really doing anything that could possibly accomplish that goal. Gullible members gave money to the organization, and felt they were doing something to end hunger by giving, when all they were really doing was supporting a group that said world hunger could be ended. Is Hollaback any different? I know there is a long list of “actions” it recommends, but none of these  are likely to penetrate the culture that causes the problem. Basic ethics—the Golden Rule, mutual respect for others, manners, civility—already tells us that shouting at women on the street is disgusting and wrong, and civilized human beings don’t do it, ever. Nor do groups of civilized human beings engage in this conduct.

Men who harass women on the street are exactly like men who have indiscriminate and irresponsible sex, or men who drink so much they can’t hold a job, or men who cheat on their wives, or men who molest children. Nobody needs to tell them that civilized, ethical people think this is wrong. They know it’s wrong. They do it because they like it.

There is no chance, none, zero, that increasing awareness among the comparatively few people who don’t know this is a vile social behavior (I was surprised that the harassment in ten hours wasn’t worse) will do anything to end or even reduce it. So what’s the point?

This, in Vox’s last sentence…

“The video is a reminder that men asserting their dominance over women and intimidating them is simply all too common.”

That’s the message. The awareness campaign is designed to make sure everyone regards women as victims of men generally, and to group men who would never engage in this kind of boorish and threatening conduct with those who do. Then all men can be vilified and placed on the defensive. Dare you question whether a woman should have her contraception paid for, regardless of means? Why, you are just like those harassers on the street, asserting your dominance over women!

I will decline Hollaback’s invitation for the self-indicting trap it is.

Nice try, though.


34 thoughts on “Hollaback And Awareness of Street Harassment—What’s the Point?

  1. How does saying “Good morning” and “Have a nice day” constitute harassment? In the South (at least in my part of Virginia), it is customary to greet people as you encounter on the street, even if you don’t know them. So if I am walking down the street and encounter a lady, and as we pass, I say “Good morning” and keep walking, I’m sexually harassing her? Sheesh. All this time I thought I was being polite.

      • I say “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” to everybody I encounter as I walk down the street, not just women. I guess it’s something of a Southern thing.

        • Also, in my experience, a Great Northwest think, an Alaska thing, a Hawaii thing, and some of the Southwest too. Also small towns everywhere. I’m from the Northeast, and we don’t say “good morning” to anyone but the immediate family.

      • Yes, we have the usual hyping here, but remember the key is “unwelcome.” If it was George Clooney saying “have a nice day,” it couldn’t be called harassment.

        So, how are people supposed to know if it is unwelcome unless they ask?

        • That’s sort of the point, Michael. In most cultures (I hope), simple manners requires that I acknowledge your existence, with a nod, wave or “Good morning”. If you live in one of those cultures, you can either accept the societal mores or fight against them. On the face of it, it looks like a lot of people are simply exercising good manners to this young lady, but keep in mind where she is. How many people in New York City wish each other, especially if strangers, “Good morning”? I’d say damn few, again because it simply isn’t part of the culture. What we really need to know is whether or not “Hey, good looking” is part of the culture. If it is, then fighting against it, ethical or not, wanted or not, is likely going to be a losing battle. That said, even in New York this behavior is gauche. None of the vacuum tubes uttering the asinine comments were trying to be polite and exchange greetings, they were trying to prove they were “Men”. And, quite frankly, I think you may assume that this kind of comment is NEVER welcome, (and this is where Jack and I differ) not even from George Clooney (especially not now that he is married).

    • I think the problem is that most of those men wouldn’t be telling other men “Smile!” or “Nice suit!”. But I think this anecdote I read sums it up the best:
      “There was a blog I read a while ago where a guy was talking about how he didnt really get the street harrassment thing until he went to a country where, as an obvious tourist he was constantly being approached by street sellers.

      Now most street sellers will be polite enough, they have to be to get their foot in the door, but you rapidly realise that any acknowledgement on your part will result in them not leaving you alone. If you want to go about your business you have to shut down every “hello there sir!” before it can get any further. If you try to be polite you’ll get waylaid every ten minutes by someone who wants something from you.

      This is why she isn’t acknowledging all they “have a nice days” and so on, because a response, a smile or “thanks you too!” or whatever could potentially be construed as leading the guy on.”

      If each well-meaning guy was the only one a woman encounters that day, that would be one thing. But each invitation (and it is a sales pitch of sorts) is cumulative and wearying throughout the day. Not to mention the constant viligence about any one of those seemingly innocuous encounters turning bad, when the man in question decides that the woman did not respond to his greeting with enough enthusiasm for his liking.

      • “Smile!” drives me bananas. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten that — or comments on my clothes. The sales pitch ones are the worst and truthfully, they actually bother me more than the stereotypical cat call from the construction worker.

        But I agree this campaign is stupid.

        • Sales pitchers or even worse “chuggers” (people pushing some charity) are the worst. No, go away, I’m not signing up for a monthly deduction from my bank account, I don’t care if it’s just the price of this cup of coffee I’m drinking. I like my coffee.

          • At least they are targeting men and women alike. But yes, I agree. I even dismiss people if I already am giving to their charity or supporting their candidate — stop asking me if I have a moment while I’m trying to walk to my office. They are just as annoying as the perfume spritzers at the mall.

  2. Amen. The type of men who cat-call and harass are not the types to change their behavior after they hear some public service message or read a poster. You are absolutely right, that decent men are being lumped in with creeps. The type of guy who would read a poster and think ‘Yeah, that’s wrong’, isn’t doing it in the first place. Ditto for the usual targets of the ‘Don’t rape!’ posters on campuses. Your average decent man knows that rape is wrong, thank you very much, and sociopaths are not going to stop raping because you told them it offends you.

    In addition, why is it up to only men to change their behavior? Women can’t say ‘Leave me alone!’? I wouldn’t let someone follow or walk with me without saying something. With all I read about ‘trigger warnings’ for literature classes and other course work, the ‘intimidation’ of someone yelling ‘Have a nice day’, ‘eye rape'(being looked at too long in public), ‘virtual rape’ (mistakenly seeing nude images when you walk by a public computer) I have the distinct impression that women are becoming weaker, not stronger. Ignore the catcalls! Why let them intimidate you, frighten you, ruin your day? Speak up, tell anyone approaching you to leave you alone, if you feel you’re in danger, go into a store and get help. The video shows that 2 men out of 100 got close to her . That seems about what you might expect, and proves that your average catcaller is just that, they’re just making noise, and they have no intention of doing you bodily harm. Yes, they are jerks, but no, your little campaign isn’t going to do much more than alienate decent men.

    • It’s about control, and about fearmongering. The feminists love creating a climate of fear in which any man could be “Schrodinger’s rapist” so all men, except a woman’s hand-picked partner, are to be feared, hated, and made to fear they could lose everything for even the slightest deviation from the very strict standards of behavior feminists have put in place. It’s also about absolving women of accountability and the need to use common sense. If I walk into the West Ward after nightfall on Friday and end up robbed or worse, I’m not the victim of criminal oppression or any kind of oppression, I did a dumb thing and put myself in danger. But if a woman stays out partying until 2 AM and renders herself unfit to drive by consumption of alcohol or accepts a proposal from a strange guy to go back to his place and winds up a victim, it’s not at all her fault, it’s the patriarchal system oppressing her. The best bet for a woman being catcalled at is to just ignore it, or, in the alternative, walk with a male friend – the dirty little secret is that men respect one man more than 100 women, and won’t trespass on another man’s domain.

      • … the dirty little secret is that men respect one man more than 100 women, and won’t trespass on another man’s domain.

        Isn’t that the problem that feminists complain about? Perhaps women would like the right to walk around on their own the same way that men do, without having to be under some man’s “domain.”

          • It’s funny you say that. In some versions of sharia law, when women are called up to testify at trials (which happens, if rarely), jurists are instructed to give what she says only 50% weight to what a man says. I once heard a sociology professor say that although it was sexist on it’s face, it might have been designed to counteract a tendency among people to perceive women as the more trustworthy gender. I don’t agree with him, but it just highlights another way in which comparing anything related to women’s issues in Saudi Arabia to those in America is intellectually dishonest.

        • I view it less as only respecting men, and more of respecting a women’s apparent choices. A woman’s on a guy’s arm? She’s involved – respect that, and move along. A wedding ring? She’s involved – respect that and move along. A woman who intrigues me with no outward signs that she’s involved? Test the waters. How else would anyone have it? Matchmakers? Meat markets?

          • If I could answer that one, I’d tell you. It seems like most women want to be able to handpick their man and treat all the rest like dirt.

          • I wonder how many successful relationships start out with, “hey girl, nice ass!”? And of that minuscule amount, is it worth the bother, fear, harassment, and intimidation that the rest of the women have to put up with, who are firmly not in the market for picking up a strange man in the street?

            • And how many started with “How are you this evening” or “How are you today?” Of the 22 people quoted in the video, 12 – 13 of them could be read as completely innocent (if one can adopt the viewpoint that perhaps not all men are creeps.) If it is such a hardship for an attractive woman to be acknowledged, why must the ideal solution be to mute every man she comes across?

  3. This is all part of an ongoing narrative. “Don’t tell women not to ______, teach men not to ________.” I think the best (and worst) example is “Don’t tell women not to walk home drunk half naked through back alleys at 3AM, teach men not to rape” It takes blinders just to a new level, not only is the behaviour described dangerous and cripplingly stupid, but it suggests that 1) rapists can be educated not to rape and 2) that all men are rapists.

    There was a misguided, but morbidly amusing poster campaign in Edmonton a few years back that had a picture of a dumpster on a poster with the words “Just because they’re your babies, doesn’t mean they’re your garbage.” This wasn’t actually an anti-abortion campaign, Edmonton had just come off a Summer with five cases of infants found dead or abandoned in dumpsters. It hit me then, that this is a mirror campaign, and I’m not sure that was the intent, but it took a trouble behavior only committed by a very small minority of the larger group, attributed it to the larger group, and assumed that the campaign could do something about it. The difference is the baby dumpster campaign was immediately condemned.

  4. I thought I was done, but I’m not. It struck me after I hit submit that this is also part of a trend where feminism tried to put things under it’s umbrella that it is just absolutely ill-equipped to deal with. I sometimes wonder if they do it because they want to take credit if those issues somehow resolve, or if they really do think that feminism fixes everything. Go on twitter sometime and check out an “I need feminism” hashtag, They’re invariably full of things like “I need feminism because female genital mutilation” or “I need feminism because I want to wear skimpy clothing and not be looked at.” or “I need feminism because women get periods” like feminism is really the answer to those problems.

  5. I find it kind of funny that this is taking place in kind, gentle, caring, supportive, tolerant, liberal state. I have never seen that happen in the cruel, uncaring, bigoted, conservative states I have lived. Of course, in my state, chances are that woman would have a legally concealed firearm in her purse.

    • You have got to be living in Texas! You know, Texas, where people nod, smile and greet each other ALL THE TIME, and strangely enough, without feeling harassed. Still, there are idiots, even (or maybe especially) in Texas, but as you have pointed out Michael, being an idiot in Texas is not a survival trait.

  6. The lab I worked in during my 20s had a parking lot two blocks away.
    That meant every single day as I went to and from my car (coming, going and lunch), I had to walk in a busy area and listen to remarks shouted from men in cars.
    I wore scrubs to work and usually a coat as well so it wasn’t the type of dress.
    At first I sort of liked it because who doesn’t feel good when they are told they are attractive?
    But after a while and esp. when the comments got more sexual in nature I started to feel unsafe, creeped out and embarrassed that my superiors (who were all male) might hear it and think less of me.
    I’m older now, more confident and less rattled but I still remember the bad feelings of that time.

  7. I think the video has some value, because as guy, I simply do not get that much attention, and it would not necessarily occur to me that a women would; the same attention from women towards me would also not be necessarily be as unwelcome. There are numerous bystanders who might now have intervened, especially in some of the more sticky situations, like her unwelcome shadows, if they were previously unaware of this problem. (Of course, we all know how it panned out for a favorite Homeland Security agent…)

    I speak as a hypothetical ignoramus, as I am usually the one that will escort a female acquaintance if she asks for one. Even so, one would need his head buried in the sand to not know this is an issue. I thus agree with your point that donating to the organization is pointless. All we would be doing is paying them to walk around in circles (assuming they do anything at all with the money), to point out behavior we mostly already know about, and mostly ignore as the safest option (for both genders).

  8. As a young woman, I can’t help but comment here on my personal experience. I don’t think this is typical behavior of all men. I notice that men who make comments to me are exclusively men who are in a different socioeconomic status than I am. I wonder where that impulse comes from? It’s not to say that at times the comments aren’t perfectly friendly or welcomed comments because they are kind in nature (which I appreciate and enjoy!), rather than overtly sexual or aggressive. Nonetheless, there is a marked difference in the way I am treated by my socioeconomic ‘peers’, as opposed to those in a lower status. I myself cringe at my own use of the terms “lower”. (however, there is some part of me that is frustrated with how PC we all have become that recognizing that is perhaps unfair and will invite criticism) I would be curious to hear others’ insights on this.

    • How on earth could a law as vague as the one she supposes pass constitutionaly muster? Who is to be the arbiter of what constitutes harassment? [Of course, I have been fighting for years an ordinance in the City of Hampton, Virginia, that prohibits, among other things, unseemly noises–which, I have argued, would include excessive flatulence, so I guess anything is possible. Doesn’t make it a good idea, though.]

      • Oh, she’s not thinking about that, or about reality. It’s just more “I don’t like this, so let’s pass a law against it, because we can’t just sit there and do nothing.” Sometimes such laws actually get passed. See: Hate Speech

        • Reminds me of the old poem:

          “When there’s trouble, do not doubt.
          Run circles, scream, and shout!”

          Could also apply to this year’s election campaigns, which, thank heavens, are almost over.

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