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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Isn't the viral catcalling video too short to prove that street harassment is a legitimate problem?

Gabriel Seah's answer to Isn't the viral catcalling video too short to prove that street harassment is a legitimate problem? - Quora

I have read many accounts of women experiencing street harassment and I do not doubt that it is a legitimate problem that some women face and have faced.

However, all this particular video suggests is that "street harassment" is a legitimate "problem" in some parts of New York (Harlem and Times Square).

I use the qualifiers advisedly, for more than its brevity, there are 2 main flaws of the video:

1) The definition of "Street Harassment"
2) Its geographical specificity

In turn,

1) The definition of "Street Harassment"

The most striking point here is that the bar for "Street Harassment" is incredibly low.

Certainly, some of the things the men did are problematic. For example the man who walked alongside her for 5 minutes.

Yet, many others are really innocent, like "How are you this morning?". Jon Groubert tallied all the instances of 'street harassment' (Jon Groubert's answer to Viral Catcall Video (October 2014): What was the exact path walked by the woman over the ten hours?)  and concluded:

Counting  them up, this is 20 incidents out of the supposed 108.  And if these  are the "worst", then I call BS on the other 88 incidents.  Because 3 of  them are either people just saying "How are you?" or "Have a nice  evening." or they're on they're phone.  Those other 17 incidents are the  worst they could find? 

As such, some people's takeaway from this video is that Black And Hispanic Men Should Be Banned From Chatting Up White Feminist Women (New York Catcalling Video Says More About Ms. Roberts Than The Men In The Video) (as an aside, the racial politics of the video and its response are interesting but I shall not address them in this answer)

Alternatively, the moral that I take away from the video:

Men should never talk to women in public that they don't already know.

Seriously, if telling a woman "Have a nice evening" counts as "street harassment", then it's quite impossible for me as a man to talk to new women (as in women I don't already know) on the street without "harassing" them.

Ironically this video demonstrates a view of female virtue reminiscent of Saudi Arabia, where women must be accompanied by male relatives when out in public in order to protect their virtue, which is so fragile that the slightest male attention is enough to rupture it.

2) Its geographical specificity

In science, replication is important for your results to be valid (i.e. "proof").

Attempts to replicate the catcalling experiment in Mumbai and Pune (India; Page on, Auckland (New Zealand; That Catcalling Experiment Went Very Differently in New Zealand), Sydney (Australia; Sydneysiders are a far cry from the New Gawkers) and Riga (Latvia; 10 Hours of Walking in Riga as a Woman • /r/europe) have all failed.

It is notable that large amounts of 'street harassment' didn't even happen in other parts of New York - 59% of 'street harassment' took place in Harlem, and 21% in Times Square (That Catcalling Video and Why “Research Methods” is such an Exciting Topic (Really!))

Indeed, it is even possible that if this experiment were repeated in Harlem and Times Square, one might not get the same results.

Ironically, it's a good bet that a large proportion of people who claim the NYC 'Street Harassment' video shows that 'street harassment' is a problem all women face are otherwise against 'stereotypes' and 'generalizations'.

(xkcd: Significant)
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