It’s a little surprising someone didn’t think of this before.
But here it is: hard evidence, irrefutable proof, upwards of 100 undeniable examples revealing just what kinds of casual, routine harassment await any young, “normal” American woman strolling around the city by herself, in a single day.
Do you think you already know? Think you have a clue what it’s like? Let me just suggest this to you right now: You have no idea.
I’m talking to the guys, of course (women are already nodding). No matter your feminist quotient – and I like to think mine’s pretty high – men simply have no way of knowing what it’s like to endure the endless stream of leers, catcalls, insults, profanities, groping, stalking, public masturbation, sexual innuendos, unsolicited offers and smarmy “compliments” coming at the typical young female from all manner of bros, dudes and street-corner douchebags as she attempts to walk from point A to point B.
Why don’t we see it? Because when a man walks around with a woman, he acts as a sort of douchebag repellant, fending off the bulk of the lurches, whistles and dumb, macho grunts. Hence, we can’t ever fully know what a woman experiences in the average solo urban stroll.
Until now. Here is a video all men should watch. It was made by Rob Bliss Creative forHollaback!, an anti-harassment group.
The idea is simple enough: Install a videocamera into a backpack, strap it to the director’s shoulders as he walks a few paces ahead of actress Shoshana B. Roberts for about 10 hours in a single day in NYC.
Roberts is dressed plainly enough, in jeans and a crew-neck T-shirt. She’s carrying a microphone in each hand. They simply walk around and record what happens.
All told, they caught upwards of 100 examples of harassment in 10 short hours, ranging from smarmy, offhand “compliments” to full-blown leers, not to mention accusations, entitlements, pleas for attention running from creepy to gross to downright dangerous, not a single one of them free of the sense that this is merely normal guy behavior, that the male has some sort of obvious right to say, do, act however he wants. Because America, bitch.
(Side note to all dudebros, right now irritated about this video and itching to argue that notall douchebag behavior constitutes harassment: If you think hurling some smarmy, unsolicited compliment at a women as she walks to work isn’t more than obnoxious, you’re not paying enough attention. What’s more, you’re conveniently ignoring the tone, the expectation of reply, the not-at-all subtle sexual charge – not to mention the gross cumulative effect. You don’t get it, because it doesn’t happen to you. Put another way: Those aren’t compliments.
Watch the video a few more times. Watch this Daily Show segment again. Read Elliot Rodger’s “manifesto.” Read this article on what women have to deal with on the Internet. Catch up on GamerGate, or the Jian Ghomeshi story. You think it’s not all of a piece? You think there’s not a thread of ugly male cultural conditioning linking them all together? You think women don’t feel slimed and demeaned after a walk like that? No? You’re part of the problem).
Note to guys: It’s a safe bet that every young woman you know understands this experience, in one form or another. I asked my own girlfriend, who walks to her office every day from the center of the City to the Embarcadero (nearly and hour), and who I already know puts up with all sorts of creepy BS on the way, if this video matched her experience. She didn’t even hesitate:
"Yep – that’s my morning walk. Less so when I get past Montgomery Street [SF’s Financial District], but only because at that point everyone’s totally self-absorbed, staring into their cellphones. But yes, I experience that every day. And a fair amount of ‘compliments’ are immediately followed by crude insults, like the guy who was smiling at me with creepy intensity, and said ‘good morning’… when I didn’t respond he spun around and yelled, “C–NT!”
How does she handle it? She gears up. She dons the familiar posture you see on nearly every young female traversing the City: Headphones, purposeful walk, no eye contact, gaze fixed straight ahead and “unavailable.” It helps – a little.
I cannot image what this must be like, and neither can any man reading this. No male has a commute like this. No guy anywhere has to avoid eye contact on his walk to work, keep his head down and tune out people around him lest he be stalked, catcalled, threatened, whistled at or propositioned by a gender that, statistically speaking, offers an extremely high probability of rape or death.
Obviously, Hollaback’s goal of stopping this kind of harassment is noble and good. But to my mind, the problem isn’t just street harassment, which seems a bit like trying to stop gun violence by cracking down on shooting ranges.
The problem is far more deeply ingrained, a weird culture of male entitlement and casual, offhand sexism wrought of media, video games, Tindr, “F–k bitches get leid,” sports, politics and music videos et al, all shot through with the perverse message that young men are simply not supposed to be anything but insensitive, sexually aggressive, overbearing lions, lurching around and taking whatever they want.
There’s a dark problem with the messaging, from boyhood forward and from the ground up. Hey, you’re either the butcher or the meat, right, bro?
© 2014 The San Francisco Chronicle
Mark Morford's new book, 'The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism,' is now available at daringspectacle.com, Amazon, BN.com, and beyond. Join Mark onFacebook and Twitter, or email him. His website is markmorford.com. Mark's column appears every Wednesday on SFGate.