There's been an ongoing and wide-ranging conversation about street harassment over the past few weeks, sparked by this now infamous video of one woman's catcall-filled journey around NYC—the same catcall-filled journey that many women experience every day.
Similar videos had previously circulated without attracting as much attention, perhaps because none cut to the root of the problem with such stark elegance. Men were surprised to learn that the same streets they traverse unmolested each day are often a battleground for women; women, in turn, issued a collective grimace of recognition.
Now that we've all established definitively that street harassment is a widespread problem for women in NYC, it's time to look at its underlying psychology—why do men do it and what effect does it have on women? In partnership with the production company Marabigo, we endeavored to find out. Watch and learn/cringe!
Debjani Roy, deputy director of the advocacy group Hollaback, said the issue with street harassment stems from its unpredictability—what guarantees, she asks, that what starts as a catcall won't lead to an arm-grab or an attempt to follow a woman home?
"There are some people who might say, 'back in my day, you would just say 'thank you' and move on,' and it wasn't such a big deal—and some people nowadays will say it's not such a big deal," she said. "That's for you to decide. But our philosophy and stance on the issue is that this is something that happens in a culture that has normalized it for such a long time, in a culture that is patriarchal and misogynistic and has taught women and girls to deal with it."
Roy said a large part of Hollaback's mission is to educate young boys on the detrimental effects of street harassment, and that the results are gratifying. "I've seen, you know, the light bulb go off in someone's mind," she said.
The virtues of respecting women and their bodies aside, Roy has another point. "It's not effective," she said. "According to all the stories we've read and people we've spoken to, it does not work."
Gothamist Films is our semi-regular original video series; check out our past entries here.