“10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” created by anti-harassment movement Hollaback!, is supposed to be a depiction of what it’s like to be a woman walking in public. The video has its flaws, of course—it’s a video of a pretty white woman getting catcalled by a lot of men of color. That’s a problem, to say the least, especially when the ad agency that helped create the video publicly admitted to editing white men out of the video.
Furthermore, for a video that purports to be about women in general, it neglects the narratives surrounding women from other marginalized groups, defaulting to that of white women. The woman in the video does not face the same race- and sexuality-provoked harassment that a lot of other women do; here is an able-bodied, pretty white woman, and here she is being followed around by a creepy black guy for six minutes while her white boyfriend videotapes her. This is hardly a rejection of the white male gaze; if anything, it is the manifestation of it, complete with a white male savior. But that doesn’t mean the video is invalid, because what this woman faces is disturbingly similar to what millions of other women face every day.
That’s why commentary surrounding this video has been so troublesome: It neglects the fact that what we see and hear in this video is actually what a lot of women see and hear in real life all the time. In a discussion of “10 Hours,” CNN hosted stand-up comedian Amanda Seales and writer/men’s rights activist/Mario Lopez ghostwriter Steven Santagati (on his Goodreads page, you’ll find cleverly titled works such as The Manual: A True Bad Boy Explains How Men Think, Date, and Mate—and What Women Can Do to Come Out on Top) argued about the accuracy or relevance of the video.
It’s easy to make a straw man argument when it comes to Santagati. He says things to Seales like, “You would not care if all these guys were hot,” and notes that the men in Hollaback!’s video “don’t have a lot of class.”
So it’s difficult not to read a degree of classism and racism in a lot of the responses to Hollaback!’s video, as well as in the video itself, which seems to say that white women spend all day being pestered by exclusively men of color. “It’s maybe part of their culture,” Santagati says, as if nonwhite people are raised in some sort of cult of sexual harassment—we are, of course, but that cult is a lot more universal than either he or the video seem to think.
The video was made by an ad agency, so it’s possible that the agency has kept the faces and the bodies in the video that will least alienate the donors to whom it’s trying to appeal–donors who are apparently white. I guess that makes sense from a marketing standpoint, but it also does something dangerous: It lets white men believe that they are exempt from its message, that somehow white men have developed better manners because of their “cultural upbringings.” We know from experience that this isn’t true, but if we use this video as evidence of street harassment, then it also becomes fair game as evidence for men of color’s apparent lower level of respect for women. But even Santagati admits this is ridiculous. “We all look,” he tells Seales.
He goes on to declare that women actually like this sort of attention from men—and when Seales disagrees, he insists, “I’m more of an expert than you—and I’ll tell you why: because I’m a guy, and I know how we think.” He claims that, were the men in the video attractive, they would be “bolstering [her] self-esteem … there is nothing more that a woman loves to hear than how pretty she is.” Meanwhile, Seales looks on with the kind of shock and disgust you might feel if someone had just started spouting sexist nonsense next to you and calling it flattery.
Here’s the deal: Men, especially cisgender, straight ones or those who pass as such, don’t get what it’s like to be catcalled on a near-constant basis. As with all discussions, the problem does not occur when someone like Santagati takes part—the problem occurs when Santagati claims to speak for the marginalized group in question, especially when in doing so, he dismisses their experiences. Here, he dismisses the experiences of the woman in the video as well as the two women talking to him—not that you wouldn’t expect that from the guy who wrote The Manual: A True Bad Boy Explains How Men Think, Date, and Mate—and What Women Can Do to Come Out on Top.
I’m all for dialogue, discussion, all those words we use to talk about talking about stuff. No one thinks Santagati shouldn’t discuss catcalling, or sexual harassment, or any issue he wants—we only think Santagati and those like him shouldn’t try tell us what to feel about it, how to perceive it, and what to do about it. Sorry, Steve—but you’re no expert.