By Dean Leibowitz
By now, I have no doubt you have all seen the viral video of Shoshana Roberts walking through the streets of New York for ten hours. The “harassment” she was subjected to has become a huge talking point among the feminist movement. The airtime the video received was overwhelming, to say the least. I heard it on the radio, saw it on TV, there were several satirical video responses that went viral (some a lot funnier than others), and the topic sparked debate amongst all my friends and family in the days that followed.
Click here to see Shoshana’s video.
Don’t get me wrong, I can totally understand and empathize with why so many women were horrified at the results of this social experiment. In ten hours of walking, Shoshana, who intentionally was not dressed to impress, was exposed to over 100 forms of “harassment”. Viewing the five minute clip, I can safely say that the word ‘harassment’ is somewhat of an overstatement. Most of the catcalls that came her way were harmless, complimentary call outs. But that’s not the point!
What horrified women across the world is the fact that they are still, even in our progressive society, objectified as sexual objects possessed by men. From this standpoint, I get it. No one wants to be treated purely as an object of men’s instinctive sexual gaze. No longer are we in the times of Neanderthals, where the alpha-male will mate with as many women as he pleases; no longer are women used purely for breeding purposes. Society has long, long, evolved past those times.
This video set out to prove that men still objectify women and it was extremely successfully in doing so.
On behalf of Men, here is my counter argument (this may not be received well). Someone who walks through the streets of New York for ten hours will pass well over 200,000 people. Of that 200,000, it is safe to say that approximately 50% will be men. So, let’s say Shoshana passed 100,000 men in that day and received roughly 100 comments.
Stay with me here. From my calculations above, Roberts’ social experiment suggests that 1% of men in New York will holla at a lady as she walks past.
With little study to back up this up, I feel it is completely safe to say that 1% of women, do in fact, enjoy the attention of this small percentage of men. It validates their hard earned efforts at the gym; it validates the outfit choice they spent so long putting together and ultimately, it allows them to feel desired. Something everyone enjoys once in a while.
Looking at a supply and demand model, the numbers add up here.
There are enough women out there who would enjoy an equal amount of men, who for some stupid reason, feel they can pick up women by shouting at them on the street.
Like I said, I completely understand the outrage here. What I don’t understand, and what really annoyed me, was the audacity of The Daily Telegraph’s columnist Sarrah Le Marquand, whose personal tagline reads “Columnist. Talking head. Peacemaker. Troublemaker” (When someone claims to be both a peacemaker and troublemaker, chances are they may just be full of shit).
Fair enough, The Daily Telegraph ran the same social experiment using a different landscape, Sydney, and in my opinion, a far more seductive subject choice, model Roelene Coleman. To no surprise, the men of Sydney passed with flying colors. Having their experiment blow up in their face, The Daily Telegraph published an article that was spun with so much venom that it is ultimately one of the most detrimental articles to the feminist movement I have read in recent years.
Click here to read Le Marquand’s article.
The headline reads, “Sydney men… you’re just spoilt, arrogant and rude too!” When I opened to the article, I was expecting the title to be ironic, presenting Sydney men as the gentlemen they proved they are. No! The article was written exactly as the title suggested. It was an all out attack on the men of Sydney for doing exactly what the New York video said they shouldn’t do. How can we win? How can men be expected to live up to the feminist dream if we are faced with such conflicting ideals? To the women reading this article, please help my fellow man by answering the following questions:
Are we supposed to open doors and offer up our seats for women? Do we still have to pick up the check at the end of a date? Are we allowed to compliment you on your physical appearance?
On behalf of men everywhere, we are confused!
Upon finishing this rant, I realized that what I have to say may offend some people. To maintain my strong belief in my own personal ethical code and my journalistic integrity, I invite anyone who feels it necessary to email me at Director@allmyfriendsaremodels.com. I really do wish to open to the floor to any further discussion and will take on anything you have to say (within reason, obviously).
I received an amazing email response to this article that gracefully articulates one woman’s concerns with my lack of knowledge when it comes to feminism. Although the author asked me not to mention her name, she was happy for me to publish her email. Her email provided me with some really great insights and I hope it inspires our readers too.
“I just read your article in response to the hollerback street harassment experiment and felt compelled to write in and give my answers to the questions you asked at the end of the article. I am a twenty something Canadian woman and self identify as a feminist. I am also a frequent victim of street harassment and unsolicited comments about my appearance, I fit into what western society would classify as “beauty ideals” so a lot of people feel the need to commend me on the way I look. Because of my appearance most of the comments I receive could be classified either as “complements” or sexual remarks, but according to most men should be taken positively. For a long time I did take them positively, as a teenager I would go searching for such affirmations and felt grown up and sexy when I received them. I was slow to realize these comments weren’t so great, until the point when I was terrified to learn that I derived all my self worth from the opinions of men around me. Having that kind of a mindset, especially at such a young age is incredibly damaging. I began to understand that the catcalls and sexual glances I received weren’t for me, I wasn’t more special, more interesting or more beautiful than anyone else, they were seals of approval from the men around me for existing in their space and submitting to their ideas of beauty. I followed their rules and am constantly being reminded of that fact. Conversely just as frequently, people are harassed for breaking those rules, for being old or fat or gay or whatever other infraction the harasser is uncomfortable with. Belief that public space is your space and especially women in that space is a calling card of misogyny. As someone who has been both a victim and a supporter of street harassment I believe I can provide an interesting lens to answer your questions.
1. Are we supposed to open doors and offer up our seats for women?
Both of these gestures stem from the concept of chivalry, it’s been said before and it must be said again, chivalry is dead, or at least it should be. Kindness however, is not. Are you opening the door for a woman just because she’s a woman and that’s what you’ve been taught to do? Do you only give up your seat to women and wouldn’t for a man? Cast in a historic light these actions send the message that women are incapable of caring for themselves and need a man to make the big wide scary world easier for them to exist in. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing but we hold the door open for everyone, and I mean everyone! My boyfriend always opens the car door for me, that’s a way he shows kindness and I love it, but I also reciprocate that kindness in other ways, it’s not a one way expectation that you are a man and need to do this for me. If it’s in your nature to be kind and helpful and watch out for those around you then opening the door for someone who happens to be a women is not archaic or sexist, it’s nice. However if your on the bus and you give up your seat to a woman who really doesn’t need it, while someone with two broken legs stares on longingly… Well I think you get the picture. Kindness comes from recognizing the needs of those around you and helping them even in really small ways. Chivalry is the assumption that women have hinderances that they really don’t and it’s incredibly belittling.
2. Do we still have to pick up the check at the end of a date?
A good rule of thumb for the first couple dates if you’re really uncomfortable having the cheque discussion; the asker pays. Yes I know that men are typically the askers, but you can help change that by smashing the “desperate” stereotype, because hey, everyone loves being treated to dinner. Once you know each others financial situations a bit better then you can work something out together, but it should feel equal. From a heteronoramitive perspective, the man doesn’t always pay, particularly when the woman is financially fully capable of picking up the cheque. Women have jobs! Woohoo, sometimes even jobs that pay better than yours. Ignoring that fact and insisting to pay time and time again is denying yourself one of the perks of modern feminism, while downplaying the achievements of the woman sitting across from you.
3. Are we allowed to complement you on your physical appearance?
This seems to be an area where a huge number of people experience a lot of illiteracy. There is no easy answer but if you really think about it it’s fairly simple to figure out. Lets examine a common scenario. A woman is sitting waiting for a train, a man who she does not know approaches and tells her she is gorgeous. He has made two very large very egotistical assumptions through his actions, firstly that her appearance is intended for him, that she woke up this morning, got dressed put on makeup left the house, all so she could be seen by some stranger at the train station. He assumes that because he is the intended audience that he also has the right to evaluate the “performance”. This brings us to assumption two, he believes she values his opinion, because praise from a man is obviously the highest praise that can be bestowed upon a woman so of course she should give a shit about what he thinks of how she looks. This also means he expects a positive reaction from her and will likely be offended if the opposite occurs. So when can you complement a woman on her physical appearance? The safest bet is when both of those assumptions are confirmed. You must know that the way she looks right now is intended for you, for example you’ve arranged a special date together and can tell she’s put in an extra effort to look nice. Secondly when you know she values your opinion, it should be fairly clear, if you are an important person in her life then you can tick this box. It’s important to be aware that women in particular are constantly evaluated on their appearance, it’s exhausting and frustrating to exist in that kind of space. Especially when the women around you have so many other wonderful attributes that are never complemented. It send the message that “this is all I care about, and is all you should care about too”, a message that is far too often internalized. Think about when you compliment your male friends, how are those scenarios different from when you complement women? You should feel no discrepancy in appropriateness when the scenarios are reversed.
If you made it through all of that I commend you. Feminism is all about equality, use the goal of equality to guide you through unknown social waters and questions like yours will be less and less confusing and common. Thank you for taking time to be current on feminist issues and being brave enough to ask questions and participate. I would also like to acknowledge that this is written from my own experiences, a very heteronormative, cisgendered perspective, and is in no way applicable to the experiences of all women or a universally shared point of view.”