I don’t think anything has ever appeared in my Facebook feed as many times in such a short period as the video of the woman walking the streets of Manhattan, stonefaced and in plain clothes, while a hidden camera records all the dudes she passes who call out to her.
What’s been particularly odd to me, as with so many other Internet controversies, is what has unfolded in the various comment sections where this video is being discussed: so many guys seem to feel a need to defend their Constitutional right to start unprompted conversations with female passersby on the street, to insist that their intentions are noble and their hearts are pure, that all they want is to “brighten someone’s day” and that they are “just men being men” and that the “feminazis” spreading this “deceptively edited” video apparently want to make “being friendly illegal” because most of the interactions “aren’t even that bad” and “not all men do this.”
Not only was this video eye-opening in terms of the extent to which women have to deal with this — I knew it happened but had never considered how frequently — I had no idea how many guys out there felt so strongly about preserving their right to continue doing it. Maybe I’m just a coward, but when I was single way back in the 20th century, I never once, not ever, approached a female on the street, much less yelled something out at someone walking by, because it seems so face-slappingly obvious that it would never, ever get me anywhere. Does it ever work for anyone, ever?
I am not trying to pretend that I am above such base impulses. I live in New York City, the world capital of beautiful women walking around on the street. It’s one of the greatest things about living here. I’ve been happily and faithfully married for 14 years, but I still have eyes, and I can hardly walk two blocks without noticing someone whom I’d enjoy the opportunity to notice longer. I am a neanderthal scumbag between my ears just like everyone else.
“Good morning!” is something I often say when such a person catches my eye. “Hello!” is another. “What’s up!” is also in the mix. I counted six times that this happened just on my morning commute today. But I say it TO MYSELF, under my breath, because while I can’t control the fact that I am drawn to the sight of a beautiful woman — that I am a man being a man — I can certainly control the noises that come out of my face.
It’s certainly possible that a lot of guys have good intentions when they yell something out at a woman who’s not looking their way, dressed provocatively, or giving any other sign that she is out on the street looking for a date. Maybe they really think telling someone they’re beautiful will brighten their day. Maybe they really are just saying hello to be friendly. But the thing to remember is that women see these interactions from a different perspective.
There’s a chilling statistic I read somewhere years ago that has stayed with me ever since: one out of five women is sexually assaulted at some point in her life, which means there’s not a woman alive who doesn’t at least have a friend who’s been assaulted. So when you speak to a woman who doesn’t know you, remember that she has no way of knowing your true intentions. For all she knows you’re the one out of a hundred who’s going to make her the one out of five.
This morning, as I was walking through my local subway station, some dude said to me, “Make my day, white boy.” I hadn’t even noticed him until he spoke to me, and when my head instinctively turned his way he put his fist to his palm and said “Give me something to smile about.” I have no idea what I did to attract this attention, all I could do was keep walking and hope he didn’t follow me. (I suppose I could also have stayed and made his day, but my wife and kid were with me.)
Try to imagine, as a dude, walking around Manhattan and every few minutes receiving a comment like that: “You’re a pussy.” “I could kick your ass.” “I’m gonna break you in half.” Maybe they don’t follow through on these threats, but they’re making them, over and over and over, everywhere you go. Do you think that would get old? Do you think that would wear on your psyche? Do you think you would develop something of a seige mentality? Because whatever my intentions may be when I speak to a woman who doesn’t know me on the street, however friendly my words may be, odds are what she hears is a potential threat.
Also, it’s just annoying. In my many years of bartending I am occasionally told by a customer to smile. Not remotely as often as my female counterparts, but it does happen, and it’s hard to think of anything so irritating. You have no idea what kind of night I’m having, what’s happening at home, how long I’ve been standing here, if my feet hurt, if the last customer just stiffed me, whether my grandmother just died… but you feel like you can tell me to smile just because you think I’d look better to you that way? FUCK OFF. I realize that this reaction is a little bit over the top, particularly in the middle of a service shift, but it is not well-considered or logical, it’s visceral: Who the fuck are you to tell me how to feel? If I had that coming at me with the frequency that women do they would soon be calling me “Alexander Scott Castle” on CNN and wondering if I like violent video games and where I got my guns.
Do all men do this? Of course not. Are there bigger problems in the world? Absolutely. Are all of these interactions harrassment? No, but the ones that are color the ones that aren’t. How is this woman supposed to know which dudes are just saying hello and which ones are going to follow her for 8 blocks? She doesn’t. She can’t. That’s the point.
If nothing else, the fact that so many women are sharing this video and responding to it should tell us, loud and clear: THIS DOESN’T WORK. WOMEN DON’T LIKE IT. IT’S NOT GOING TO GET YOU LAID. You didn’t know that before? Now you do. You can try to explain it, justify it, minimize it all you want, but the viral explosion of this video is saying one thing, loud and clear: PLEASE STOP IT. If we really care about women, if all we want to do is be friendly, brighten their day and make them smile — the least we can do is listen.