By now, you've probably seen anti-street harassment organization Hollaback's new viral video of actress Shoshana Roberts walking the streets of Manhattan for 10 hours and being hit on, catcalled or even followed by random men throughout her day of what could best be described as stranger danger for adult women.
While it's sad and disheartening, it's also not that surprising that many of my fellow men across the nation responded to the video with outrage and mockery. In conversations with some of my guy friends about the video, I was glad to see sympathy from some of them who understood just how disturbing it was to see a woman be heckled and followed for simply walking by herself. But what I also heard and felt from comrades and strangers alike on the internet was a strong resistance to the idea that Roberts, and every other woman who has experienced street harassment, had a right to share their fear and frustration with the world.
All across the web, I saw responses such as "we men only do that because women respond to it" or "what those guys were saying wasn't that bad" or "this is just another feminist attack on men." It seemed as though, to these angry men, the idea that a woman would question how they aggressively hit on them was a greater act of disrespect and unfair judgment than visual proof that women are literally being harassed in broad daylight.
However, any so-called "attack" or critique against men doesn't at all compare to the response Roberts got after starring in the video. In a recent interview with Anderson Cooper, Roberts shared that she's received everything from rape threats to death threats for her role in exposing the terrors of street harassment.
Another argument against the video was the editing of the footage, which seemed to leave out much of the catcalling from Roberts' white suitors and left mainly jst the catcalling from her black and brown suitors. Clearly, such a racialized omission just adds to the stereotype that men of color are sexually aggressive beasts and Mandingos. And that in and of itself is a cause for outrage and concern.
But it also doesn't negate the fact that women, whether black, white, Latin, Asian, etc., are falling victim to street harassment that's being perpetuated and protected by the misogynistic and patriarchal mindsets of men of all colors. And that point was made clear in a recent CNN panel discussion between CNN anchor Fredericka Whitfield, comedian and TV personality Amanda Seales, and Steve Santagati, the author of "The MANual."
In the discussion, Seales, who is a black woman, explains why street harassment is disrespectful, oppressive and disturbing, and why men should be receptive to women telling them this fact. However, Santagati, who is a white man, trivialized her concerns and, instead going along with the idea of better educating men about women, explained that violence and aggression are tools women should use to respond to these men who are "obviously" of a "lower class."
And the deflection and mockery from men has continued throughout the week as videos have popped of about "10 Hours Of Walking Around In Skyrim (While Wearing Skimpy Armour)," in which a gamer seemingly mocke the original street harassment video. Or, "3 Hours of 'Harassment' In NYC," which shows an attractive male model getting hit on by women and even more so aggressively by other men - which, ironically enough, shows another way to look at the aggressive and sometimes inappropriate way in which many men catcall and harass people they find attractive on the street.
However, unlike the 27-year-old Detroit woman, Mary Spears, that Seales spoke of, who was gunned down for turning down a man's advances, we doubt that this male model, or most men for that matter, have to consciously worry about the idea of being physically threatened, raped, or even killed for turning down any of the women who tried to hit on him on the streets.
But getting back to my original point, street harassment is a real issue and I don't have to look far or look at the news to see it. All I have to do is look at what my female friends and relatives have to deal with on a daily basis. All I have to do is look back on the many times my sister asked me to accompany her to the store during her late-night grocery runs because she was afraid some man may approach her sexually or attack her. Or I can look at the numerous times I've been out dancing with my female friends and I've literally had to act as an intimidating physical barrier between them and other men who just won't take no from them as an answer because, in their minds, these women don't have a voice; they're just an object to be claimed. But when I tell these men to back off of my friends, they respond with regret, as if they're sorry for trying to take my "property," all the while still ignoring the fact that my female friends are really the ones they have disrespected and mistreated.
I understand that most men don't want to think of themselves as sexist or misogynistic. They don't want to see themselves as "that guy" violates women. But hate and oppression doesn't have to be manifested as violence to be real. Sometimes, often times, it's manifested through privilege and willful ignorance. And for men to continuously ignore and diminish the concerns of women and try to vilify and attack them for speaking out about their oppression is nothing short of an act of privilege and sexism.
To think about it another way, it's the same hate and oppression that black people complain about when we say that white people ignore our problems and then attack us for speaking out against racism.
it's the same hate and oppression that LGBT people complain about when we say that heterosexual people ignore our problems and then attack us for speaking out against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia.
It's the same hate and oppression that Native American people complain about when they say that the rest of America ignores there problems and then attacks them for speaking out against racism and systematic oppression.
At it's core, it's all essentially the same thing and it all screams of privilege. And privilege is comfortable and it is blinding and it is unequivocally reserved for men in this nation when it comes to gender roles.
But it s also a trap that keeps men and women of all backgrounds trapped in this seemingly endless cycle patriarchy that has left women targets for disrespect and violence for simpy getting out of the bed in the morning and walking out onto the streets to get along with their days.
So can we men PLEASE stop shirking our responsibility in this matter, stop trying to make it seem like our problems are worse, stop trying to attack and vilify women for speaking out, and finally just listen to them when they tell us that how we act and speak has an effect on them and that it hurts them? Can we finally try to walk in their shoes and try to make things better for all of us?
Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK