I am certain by that by now most of us have seen the viral catcall video the iHollaBack organization released to illustrate what women endure when traversing city streets on a daily basis. iHollaback.org (in case you are unfamiliar) is an organization committed to bringing awareness to, and ending the street harassment of women and LGBT individuals, which is both an important and underrepresented issue. Kudos to them, personally I am grateful. Where I can appreciate ihollerback.org’s work, I think it is clear (at least it is now) that this particular video is a marketing strategy less a true documentation of what happened to this woman on a single day. Seriously it is safe to say, that no matter how fine you are, 100 catcalls in 10 hours is excessive even for the “hottest” of women. Clearly there has to be an element of “production” and planting going on in this demonstration. Let’s say that ihollerback.org was intending this to be example of what happens to women daily, often multiple times daily, and give viewers the sense of harassment that women can feel when being cat called. Obviously it was effective, we are talking about it.
Now having gotten the desired effect and the attention, iHollaback is coming under scrutiny for the perceived “racial profiling” of their cat callers 9be they real, planted, or edited) because the offenders are primarily African American or Latino. Now the Brothers and the Cholos do have a very specific style when it comes to letting a female know that she’s “got it going on” however walk past a construction site (we all know it’s hard to find a person of color at one of those) and you will get some Caucasian hard hatters giving you the time of day in their* very special way. Here I have to agree with some of the critics, the video opens itself up to scrutiny in its lack of diversity, and the excessive amount of catcalls this one* woman gets in a 10 hour period (really who could even walk around for ten hours straight). iHollaback might have faired better had they done a compilation that took place over a period of time, using a diverse group women to illustrate their point with more believably. It would have been more realistic, and might have cut naysayers off before they got started. In situations like this sort of aggrandizement can work against you in terms of creating validity for your cause.
I, like countless other women have been the recipient, dare I say the victim of unwanted catcalls and comments whilst walking down the street. As a woman, if you walk anywhere (down a street, through a mall etc.) catcalling is a basic and almost guarenteed reality. Personally this reality has informed the way that I move through the world. There is not a day that goes by, that while getting dressed I do not consider the potential ogling or the verbal comments that an outfit might draw (especially in warmer weather). The contemplation of one’s daily outfits can go deeper than merely wanting to be “on trend” often it has a great deal to do with staying out of the firing line of unwanted male attention. Walking the streets can be akin to walking the gauntlet, which is a sad and horrifying truth when all you really want to do is look nice. We all know the facts, and are aware of the studies, it has been proven that if women dress for anyone other than themselves, they dress for the approval of other women, not men. Women want to t want to feel good in their bodies, and in their clothes. When most women they are not actively trying to solicit comments from random, anonymous men on the street. Let’s be clear, when women go out on the town, that’s a different story all together.
My personal desire to be not be acknowledged by the peanut gallery in the streets has resulted in the creation of very clear rules of dressing:
I will not wear shorts that are too short
I do not wear shorts or skirts that are too tight
I will not expose my legs and midriff at the same time.
I do not wear anything tight around my buttocks and hips, unless I have a flowing cover up over it
Camouflage is my friend, not the print necessarily but in the way of fabric that can conceal or shield my figure (that for the most part I work hard to keep) from onlookers. You would think that with the money and time that I spend on keeping my body tight and right I would want to show it off. Well, in a way I do, however not at the expense of being verbally accosted on the way to work as I am traversing the streets of New York City, or during the too close for comfort subterranean travel in the Metro.
This brings us back to the idea of women dressing for themselves, women also take care their bodies for themselves as well. We like to look in the mirror and think that we look good or sexy. We like to, we need to be, and feel attractive to ourselves before we can ever hope to be attractive to someone else. If men find us attractive as a by-product that is a bonus. Sure we want to attract men, and yes we want men to acknowledge us, of course, but in a why that is honors who we are, not makes us a piece of meat they are deciding how to carve up. There are those who would argue that we [women] can’t have it both ways, we can’t have our cake and keep our waistlines too, however I would counter that the actual “attraction” of men is not the issue, that is a good thing, it’s the way some men choose to express that attraction that can be problematic. Making lewd, sexually explicit comments to a stranger on the street is not a socially acceptable response to a person’s attraction to another. It will almost assuredly cause the object of you desire to quicken her pace away from you.
It would be nice if as a woman I could dress however I wanted and walk with impunity through the streets unmolested, but since I know I can’t I follow my rules. They make me feel safe, this is the only thing in the equation that at can control. I am not a fan of provocative dress, but I am an advocate of a woman having a right dress the way she wants. That having been stated, there is a harsh reality at play, and the stakes are high and the penalties can be severe. Mothers and aunties of young girls warn them against presenting themselves a certain way as they might “attract attention that you don’t know what to do with”. We teach young girls who are starting to develop their womanly figures and look more mature than their ages, not to “flaunt” their new assets because men, GROWN men might not be able to control themselves in their words and actions towards them, not as a child, not as women, not as a human being deserving equal respect.
We teach the young girls that their femininity will not be respected and honored, it might actually endanger them, so they should cover it up. We teach them that they must learn to be adroit in the deflection a man’s unwanted advances or comments, preferably without bruising his ego for fear hat he might lash out. We teach the GIRLS that they somehow have to mute their budding womanliness to keep themselves safe from men who have no self control. At a time when they should be learning to empower themselves as women, to be bold and brash and live out loud…we teach them to fear, and reduce themselves, in the name of survival, and sadly enough we as their elders, and protectors are right do so. At times these catcalls, if gone unacknowledged by the woman can escalate in to verbal and sometimes physical assaults. A woman must walk a fine line at times, choosing her battles, using her instincts as to who she can safely “holllerback” at. Mothers, and aunties, and sisters and godparents teach the young girls in their charge this valuable lesson….What are the Fathers and Uncles and Brothers teaching the young boys?
This is the key to the issue. Women can holler back but until men stop catcalling we will just be making noise, we will always have to be on the defensive. It places the onus on the women, dare I say the victim in this scenario, not the perpetrator. Men must take responsibility for their actions by respecting women, their bodies and their right to be in a space and feel safe. They must teach young boys that women should not be not put upon in this disrespectful manner. The answer is not simply to holler back, although it is important that girls and women know that they have a voice, which gives them a choice and that should be exercised. As a tall strong woman most of the time I feel safe deflecting cat callers, there are times when I have even engaged them. Most times these men wait until you pass, then talk to your ass, they never look you in the face and comment, it’s cowardly behavior. If it is a young boy/man I will often stop, double back and do some “reeducation” my lesson plan is as follows:
“Hey, you saw me a half a block away, you walked right past me and didn’t speak. Why did you wait until I passed to speak? My ass doesn’t talk, my face does.”
Most of the times they mumble their apologies. I give them a stern and grandmotherly look and finally say, “ Now, Good Morning” and walk on.
There have been times when I have been so perturbed that I have FULLY engaged them in conversation about their actions to which some will reply that they were just acknowledging that I looked nice, to which I will let them that “I am a lady and I would appreciate being addressed as one, and I will respond to you as a gentleman” but these are interactions with men whom my gut tells me are not crazy. Crazy men you keep your head down, or earphones in and keep walking.
I don’t know what the solution is short of creating a society where men respect and honor women, and that begins in the home, and elders leading by example but until then… I guess we all have to just Hollaback.
This interview is high-larious!!! The guy is just clueless but so gets schooled!!