If you’ve been paying attention to social media for the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen a video of a woman walking around New York City for ten hours. The video captures over a hundred events of street harassment of various degrees, from all ages and ethnicities (though everyone doing the harassing is male). And while women watching it probably weren’t surprised by any of the intrusions of this woman’s personal space and time, it caused quite a stir online.
Many people were rightly angry, though some who weren’t women or weren’t as familiar with city life asked why she didn’t speak out. It’s easier to lash out on social media, and those who were angry got even madder to see the people who asked what was wrong with men “who just wanted to say hi”.
Of course, they didn’t just want to say hi. The millions of women who face catcalling and street harassment every day and the decent human beings who don’t send it their way know this. A few video responses to this notion spread through social platforms, but one of the best might have been the creation of the hashtag “#dudesgreetingdudes”, created by Elon James White. After seeing the gaping hole in the defense of the people who supported catcalling, he took to Twitter to make some changes.
Elon’s hashtags and tweets are hilarious, but his message is sincere. “A woman was just killed for not accepting a man’s advances,” he says, “But we’re going to pretend that our right to engage women unsolicited outweighs their right to feel safe? No.”
Whether his perspective has changed the minds of anyone is uncertain—he gets messages every day from men lashing out angrily at his ideas. He doesn’t regret it, however, because of the grateful responses coming from women happy to have their concerns heard. Many people like the catchiness of the hashtag, and want to use humor to spread awareness to the contradictions set up by catcallers.
The question presented by this, and the viral videos aiming to promote gender equality, is how much of an impact social media can have on a tangible, real-life problem. I haven’t noticed a decrease in street harassment, but what I have noticed is more conversations on the subject. Once discussion is lent to a subject like this, especially on a platform so pervasive as Twitter, or Facebook, it grows in value. People are communicating, stating their opinions, and sharing their ideas.
Women who face this every day may push it to the back of their mind, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them. But when they see masses of people saying that their discomfort matters they might stand a little taller against their harassers. They may say something (if it makes them feel better), or at least know that it isn’t their fault, and their outfits aren’t to blame, for this unwanted attention.
While videos and social media hashtags may not stop the root of the problem (those who harass), they can validate those people who have to deal with harassment every day. These ideas can spread beyond the barriers of gender—they may help racial and sexual minorities stand up to the comments thrown at them while they simply walk down the street. Empowering victims of encroached privacy is worth so much, and it’s truly amazing that such a high value can be gleamed from such an accessible platform.
To interact with the people featured in this story, follow Elon James White on Twitter (https://twitter.com/elonjames) and look up the organization Hollaback, specified by city (http://boston.ihollaback.org). The latter is the group that made the original video, and it provides an outlet for women to tell their stories of catcalling and get support from members. And if you want to see what it’s like for a white man walking in New York City, watch Funny or Die’s contribution 😉
by Charlotte Chapin (@charlottechapin on Instagram)