A recent video has gone viral for its depiction of one woman’s encounters with catcalls in New York City. The results are reprehensible, and the video appears to be a good way of showing the reality of what women face on a daily basis. In addition to highlighting the problem of catcalling, the video inadvertently exposes severe racial biases associated with catcalling. In the video, actress Shoshana Roberts—a white woman—is seen stoically walking and is subjected to intrusive comments from passersby. The comments, however, come from men almost exclusively of color .A recent video has gone viral for its depiction of one woman’s encounters with catcalls in New York City. The results are reprehensible, and the video appears to be a good way of showing the reality of what women face on a daily basis. In addition to highlighting the problem of catcalling, the video inadvertently exposes severe racial biases associated with catcalling.
It seems unlikely that in 10 hours of walking in New York City, the only men to catcall Roberts were men of color. In fact, the video’s director Rob Bliss addressed this problem. “We got a fair amount of white guys,” he said. “But for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing or off camera.”
Omitting white men from the video due to getting poor shots is at best lazy editing and at worst perpetuates harmful stereotypes of men of color.
There is a long legacy regarding men of color being viewed as lascivious threats to “pure” white women. National anxiety over cohabitation between black men and white women was a major factor in the passage of legislation banning interracial marriage. Furthermore, these anxieties made even speaking to white women dangerous for black men at that time. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy, was famously killed in 1955 after allegedly whistling at a white woman in a Mississippi grocery store. An all-white jury later acquitted his killers of all charges.
Even if the director’s aim was not to eliminate white men, it is conceivable that his own implicit biases—like what he determines to be “extreme” forms of street harassment are—shaped the result of what was kept and what was erased. Discussing feminism and street harassment in a context that privileges whiteness, however, does not help women. In fact, racial and gender stereotypes often work in tandem to create a greater threat to women of color when they are viewed as sexually available or promiscuous, more so than white women.
This is why discussions about any sort of equality warrant an intersectional perspective—that is, one that takes into account various factors that change both power dynamics and popular perspective. Even if white men were to harass women in different ways, it is still discomforting and worth talking about. If we only focus on the most extreme cases, we risk erasing many women’s stories while simultaneously reinforcing racist stereotypes.