The people behind a viral video that shows a woman getting harassed more than 100 times during a 10-hour walk through New York City hope men will see how damaging their words can be.
The anti-harassment group Hollaback! commissioned director Rob Bliss and actress Shoshana B. Roberts for the video, which shows clips of men verbally reacting to her silent city walk while she's dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. During the September shoot, captured via a camera hidden in the back of Bliss’ shirt, Roberts heard a variety of comments from men, including:
- “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more!”
- “Hey, baby!”
- “If I give you my number, would you talk to me?”
Some of the words and actions are even more aggressive. One man is heard calling out the brand name of Roberts’ jeans, likely because its logo is stitched onto the fabric on her behind. Another man is seen silently following her for 5 minutes after she ignores his initial advances.
“It is really overwhelming,” Roberts told TODAY.com. “It happens when I’m by myself, and it happens when I’m babysitting children. It’s a little ridiculous. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing. It doesn’t matter when it comes to body language — and clearly, in that video, my body language was closed off. I may be walking down the street smiling, but that’s not an invitation for sexual advances.”
Roberts, who said she’s been a victim of sexual assault on multiple occasions, participated in the project because she wanted to raise awareness for the issue.
“All of these awful experiences were running through my mind,” she said of her walk. “I want people to be aware that this is happening. Some people don’t realize the frequency, and other people who do experience it, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to react. We can’t win.”
Bliss, a Chicago resident, said he wanted to show people “without judgment or bias, what street harassment actually looks like,” especially to men who might think their comments are a compliment.
“A lot of guys will look at [their words] and say, ‘Well, it was just one compliment,'’’ Bliss added. “Even if it is one compliment to the guy who says it, to the woman, it’s dozens and dozens and dozens of them on a daily basis. It builds up. It’s kind of missing the forest for the trees.”
According to Bliss, more than 100 instances of street harassment took place during the filming, and that doesn’t even account for winks, whistles and other forms of catcalling.
“It was all set up to make her as neutral as possible,” he said. “Her clothing, she’s basically covered from head to toe, except for maybe her forearms and her head. I told her not to talk to anyone or react to anyone, just to be a stone wall, just to allow everything to bounce off of her.”
Posted Tuesday morning, the video already has struck a nerve among Internet users and gone viral, collecting more than 300,000 views on YouTube within hours of its posting.
Emily May, the executive director of Hollaback!, said Bliss' girlfriend (not Roberts) had been harassed on the street, so he contacted her to make a video to document and combat the problem.
“We train young activists around the world to really be able to pair this idea of digital storytelling with on-the-ground activism within their communities,” said May, who co-founded Hollaback! in 2005.
May said she felt a combination of familiarity and shock when she watched Bliss and Roberts’ video.
“We know how common this is, and yet, just to see that number — that’s about one every 5 minutes — it’s really just a harsh reminder of how far we have to go,” May said. “People have been sending emails saying, ‘Thank you so much. This is what my day looks like. I thought that I was alone, and just seeing this reminds me that I’m not — that so many other people go through this, too.’”
Roberts said most people have responded positively to the video and its message, but a few seem to have missed the point.
“Some people have been saying, ‘Oh, you can’t just smile and say thanks?’” she said. “I mean, there are lots of mean people, telling me I’m a bad actress. People are saying lots of ridiculous things.”
May hopes more constructive viewers can help end harassment, on the street and off.
“What we hope for is a degree of empathy — that after seeing this, you won’t look at this and say, ‘That’s not such a big deal,’ or ‘Women just can’t take a compliment anymore,’” May said. “We as a society, as a community, we need to come together and say this isn’t acceptable in our world anymore.”
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