Wednesday, November 5, 2014


I generally try to stay out of the fray on hot-button topics, but sometimes I just can’t help myself…
Unless you live under a rock, you know that a young woman named Shoshana Roberts spent ten hours walking the streets of New York City while being filmed for a public service announcement for the anti-street harassment group Hollaback!  The resulting video - which pared the experience down to a two-minute glimpse at the catcalls and intimidating behavior - went viral.
Ms. Roberts has been inundated with everything from messages of support to criticism to threats of rape and murder.  On Fox News, Bob Beckel said, “She got one hundred catcalls, let me add one hundred and one. Damn, baby, you’re a piece of woman.”
Way to underscore the point, buddy.
But look, the only thing that surprised me about the video was that people found it surprising.
Well, that, and the way a fair number of my male friends seemed to feel compelled to apologize for the behavior of the men in the video.
Some of the posts from guys on Facebook:
“Well, now I need a shower.  Is that really my species?”
“Wow.  Totally embarrassed by my gender.”
“Shocked and disgusted.”
There are so many ways these well-meaning comments miss the mark.  That the video went viral is telling - there are things we need to talk about, folks - but I’d hate to see it devolve into an exercise in man-shaming (or man-self-shaming, as the case may be).  Let’s discuss some important points, shall we?
I’ll start with the much-discussed race issue.  The Hollaback! video makes it look as though all the men harassing Ms. Roberts are black or Latino.  Whether this was a case of poor editing or something more sinister, I can’t say.  But any woman can tell you catcalling and street harassment know no racial boundaries.  It’s equal-opportunity ugliness, and yes, what you see in the Hollaback! video is actually pretty mild.  If you want to see a better, more well-rounded, and waaaaay funnier treatment of this issue, check out this video by Jessica Williams of the Daily Show.  The very end of it cracks me the hell up - and when you can do that on a serious issue, amen.
Next let’s talk location.  When I walk or jog around my little New England town, I smile and say hello to everyone - even the guys whose remarks may be cringeworthy or make me uncomfortable.  Maybe especially so in those cases.  I make eye contact in a way that could be saying, “I’m friendly and appreciate that you are, too” or “I can identify you in a police lineup.  Have a nice day!
But when I go to the Big Apple?  Bitchface all the way.  Stone.  Cold.  Bitchface.  Why?  Because I’d prefer not to end up raped and dead in a gutter somewhere.
Which brings me to my next point.  Women have to move differently through the world, and we know it.  We are aware that, in some environments, ending up raped and dead in a gutter is a real possibility.  We have to wear the bitchface and screen out the catcalls while simultaneously calculating whether or not there is any real threat.  We have to be aware of our surroundings in a way men rarely do.  Is that right or fair?
Hell, no, but (here’s where I offer a little dose of tough love) welcome to life.  Suck it up, sisters.  Gender is but one of the lines along which unfairness and injustice occurs.  That deserves attention, yes, but personally, I feel that all the progress that’s already been made practically guarantees we will get to a better place.  The ball is rolling in the right direction.  There’s no stopping it.  I’m aware, I’m proactive, I am proudly feminist - but I hope I am never so busy being outraged at the crap I and my contemporaries endure that I miss the sweetness in life hard-earned by the women who came before me.
And men?  God, I love men, and I hope all the great men in my life know just how awesome they are.  Those men who make catcalls, who harass and intimidate women with their words and their body language - just like those trolls threatening Ms. Roberts in the wake of her video - those are not the men I know.  Those are small, ignorant creatures.  I suspect there’s a lot of pain and hurt going on in the world of any man who enjoys bullying women and making them uncomfortable in the public sphere.  Those are men who don’t know how to be real men.
To my guy-friends who feel compelled to apologize on their behalf, I say: don’t.  I am grateful that you are dismayed when you consider some of what women put up with in this world, but you’re already doing your part by empathizing, engaging in dialogue, raising your sons to be kinder, your daughters to be bolder.  Don’t apologize for lesser men.
Whatever your take on her video, Shoshana Roberts did something she clearly felt was important and hoped would help to make the world a better place.  Too often those are the very sorts of actions that are misunderstood.  I hope she’s not discouraged by the fallout.  I believe life is best lived by taking risks.  She did that.
And if she needs a laugh - or if you do - here’s one I’ve shared before and probably will again: Wanda Sykes’ ‘Detachable Pussy’ standup routine.  Because sometimes this world is so frigging crazy, the best we can do is just laugh at it.

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