“I don’t see race” and “Not all men.” – That Street Harassment Video

Yesterday, a video on catcalling went viral. Today, Hanna Rosin at Slate wrote a piece on how the editor edited out the white guys, making it a long string of black and Latino men harassing a white woman.

The video is a collaboration between Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment organization, and the marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative. At the end they claim the woman experienced 100 plus incidents of harassment “involving people of all backgrounds.” Since that obviously doesn’t show up in the video, Bliss addressed it in a post. He wrote, “we got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera” or was ruined by a siren or other noise. The final product, he writes, “is not a perfect representation of everything that happened.” 

I see this a lot. I hear it from the “Oh, I’m a humanist, not a feminist crowd.” I hear it from the “I don’t see race, just humans, crowd.” I hear it from the “We need equality, not special treatment or affirmative action, just equality” crowd.

Such positions deny the inherent power dynamics at play in society.  Only those who are dominant can afford to be blind to them. Only those who are dominant can afford to shrug off editing out all the white guys and saying – well, what matters is the message about street harassment.

This video enables all the men who harass women in other ways to look at this and to feel smugly superior. It enables the cry, “Not all men,” when the answer is Yes, all men.

All men. I am a feminist. I define feminism as a critique of the gendered power dynamics that govern our societies and then commitment to actions based on that critique. But I am not perfect. I am raised in a sexist culture. I am steeped in sexist media and messages. And sometimes, I do something sexist. Maybe I turn to look at a woman walking by. Maybe I don’t intervene when “the guys” are chatting about a woman in a social space. Maybe I act in sexist ways in which I am not even aware.

I try to own it, to think hard about my actions, and to apologize if appropriate (often, the apology becomes another form of microaggression). I try to be intentional and aware and to do better, acknowledging the problems and the challenges.

That’s why this video, though effective, may do more harm than good. Through editing, surely not intentionally, it suggests that street harassment is not a white-guy problem. Intentional doesn’t matter. Only results count.

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