Ana Veciana-Suarez

Viral catcalling video an example of street harassment

Surely by now you’ve seen — or heard about — the two-minute video that depicts what a young woman endures while walking the streets of New York City. It is, in one word, disturbing. No one of any sex or age should have to put up with such harassment.

Little wonder it has created a ruckus.

To raise awareness, advocacy group Hollaback! teamed up with Rob Bliss Creative to show what is surely not a rare experience. Director Bliss used a hidden camera to follow and record actress Shoshana B. Roberts for 10 hours. She was dressed in black jeans and T-shirt, an urban getup that would blend in anywhere, except for the fact that Roberts was holding a microphone in each hand.

If you’re a woman, what happens next will be all-too familiar. If you’re a parent or a grandparent of a girl, be prepared to be shocked.

In that day of wandering, Roberts receives more than 100 catcalls (winks and whistles aren’t included) as she makes her way through the city. Some of the greetings seem friendly enough — Have a nice evening — while others are on this side of pushy — Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more. A few are downright creepy, such as the segment in which a man follows her. Though obviously edited, the video shows the extent of harassment women sometimes suffer in public places.

But like all things that involve sex, gender and race, the video has created some unintended reactions. Which is too bad because this kind of response misses the point of a public service effort, a point important enough that I sent a link to my four adult sons in hopes of reminding them of the value of respect.

Some of the pushback is to be expected, and I suspect that the creators of the video were hoping for a bit of that. In a crowded online world packed with clever public service announcements, one has to get attention somehow, someway.

Some claim the recorded comments are innocuous, ignoring the fact that remarks, piled one atop another, can be offensive. Other critics are plain disgusting, and prove that some men, who can stroll the streets without incident, just don’t get it — and unfortunately never will. Bob Beckel, who is famously offensive for, among other things, calling Bachelorette star Andi Dorfman a slut on live TV, said this on Fox News: "I just think she got 100 catcalls. Let me add 101. Damn, baby, you’re a piece of woman.”

Oh, please. Is that supposed to be manly? Sexy? Romantic?

Sadly some of the pushback to the video is justified. Most of the men depicted are black and Latino — as if white men were somehow immune from the centuries-old practice of catcalling. Both Bliss and Hollaback! have publicly expressed regret for "the unintended racial bias in the editing of the video." Acknowledging the obvious, however, shouldn’t interfere with the viral clip’s vital message: In this time and age women are still pestered, hassled, badgered, hounded and stalked when doing something as simple as using a public right of way.

Unlike what the old children’s rhyme suggests, spoken language can leave scars and wound deeply. Sticks and stones hurt bones, we know, but so do words heckled on a city street.

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