Unveiling Street Sexual Harassment: Analyzing the Complexities
Throughout the YouTube video, 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman, an actress is harassed by various men while she silently walks in different neighborhoods. This actress appears to be white and in her early twenties. As noted by the video, they recorded over 100 instances of what they classified as harassment, as well as whistles and winks. I can see how some individuals would question why polite greetings or compliments were considered menacing. Some of the greetings could have been perceived as friendly encounters and not as harassment. Since we can’t fully understand the mind or intentions of another person, we rely on behavioral cues to determine the interaction.
The Complexity of Street Harassment
This can also be affected by our preconceptions and biases. Although the comments did not seem threatening, the context, as well as how they were said, was inappropriate and unwanted. Comments such as “Good morning ” were only directed towards the actress and not other males in the area. She was not inviting a conversation with them, nor did she look their way as to encourage it. She gave clear signals that she was not interested in not responding and walking away.
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Many of these men seemed to feel entitled to salaciously comment at her, stare, and follow her. As such, I would classify these behaviors as harassment. As a woman commuting in NYC, I have also experienced verbal harassment and sexual objectification while walking the streets. It can be an uncomfortable and dehumanizing experience having a stranger comment on your body or demand your attention. Often, these interactions have the potential to lead to a dangerous situation and question how safe it is to walk alone.
The Impact on Personal Safety
The actress in the video has her personal space invaded and threatened at several points. Regardless of her attempts to avoid harassment, such as shifting eye contact or deeply sighing, she was still subjected to these intrusions. In two instances, the men stalked her for several minutes and got very close to her. It seemed as though they were trying to assert themselves over her so that she would respond. I also noted that several men were shouting comments towards her as she walked by.
There was an instance in which a man made a comment referring to the logo on the back of her jeans. I also noticed that they looked at her body up and down. Some men invaded her personal space and were engaging in objectifying language. For example, they would use words such as “damn” while speaking about her body and walking closely behind her. Similarly, I have been followed for several blocks, called vulgar names, and grabbed. This has led to me changing the way I commute and carrying pepper spray in my bag.
As I watched the video, I noticed that the majority of the men depicted harassing her were people of color. Notably, they were either African American or Latino. However, the film makers claimed that they had recorded instances of the actress being harassed by individuals of all racial backgrounds. Yet, they did not include many of these exchanges in the final cut of the video. I also noticed that many of the shots included men of color lounging around.
This can give the impression that people of color engage in predatory behavior and street harassment. This perpetuates the harmful belief that these men are dangerous. While watching the video, I also found it odd that the majority of the neighborhoods she visited are known for being associated with people of color and a certain SES. This made me question why they chose these areas and if there was some bias being depicted.
Overall, I think that this video brings some awareness to the issue of street harassment and, through its widespread views, has society discussing what it means to be harassed. I appreciated that they highlighted this issue as it is often normalized as part of city culture and seen as something that individuals should accept. It also highlights how threatening these alterations can get even when the individual is not engaging or refusing advances.
In particular, it notes that regardless of how a woman is dressed or acts, they can be harassed and sexually objectified. As a society, we should shift away from victim-blaming and address why these acts are viewed as harmless. This, in turn, leads to education on these behaviors and interventions on how to combat them. After seeing this video, I was left conflicted because of the racial bias and noted that the message of the video was not fully getting across as a result. I would be interested in seeing a similar video of street harassment with a male actor as well as different sexual orientations or gender identities. I would also like to see the results of a video like this one with a woman of color. This would also highlight that other groups experience street harassment and the differences between the responses as well as sexual undertones.
- Video Source: Coby Persin. (2014, October 28). 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1XGPvbWn0A
- Discussion on Street Harassment and Behavioral Cues: Street Harassment. (n.d.). Stop Street Harassment. https://www.stopstreetharassment.org/
- Understanding the Impact of Street Harassment:C. J. Brooks, S. M. Cleveland, & S. S. Kamat. (2018). Coping with Street Harassment: Implications for Psychological Well-being. Sex Roles, 78(11-12), 817-828. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0852-5