So that video has been making the rounds of a woman walking the streets of New York City and receiving “catcalls” and clumsy come-ons from some pretty unpromising men. This is supposed to illustrate the crushing everyday oppression suffered by women.
There are a number of interesting observations that can be made about this video. First, there’s the fact that 10 hours of walking seemingly produced only two minutes of objectionable comments. The producers claim there are more, but they don’t show us, which is supposed to be the whole point, isn’t it? Or there’s the fact that about a third of the comments are along the lines of “How are you this morning?” Slate’s Amanda Hess denounces this kind of unsolicited greeting as “just another unearned claim for a woman’s attention.” If unearned claims on your attention are oppression, then I’m oppressed by my e-mail, even more oppressed by Twitter, and really super-oppressed by Slate.
Then there is the fact that the makers of the video want to criminalize catcalls. No, really. “According to Hollaback’s mission statement, the group is interested in modifying the law to punish offenders (and raising significant First Amendment concerns). Because comments such as those documented in their latest video, they explain, are the ‘most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against.'” Note that the activity they are describing as “violence” is speech. First Amendment concerns, indeed. Jon Gabriel points out how such neo-Victorian speech codes are a clumsy replacement for old-fashioned chivalry.
Others have complained that nearly all of the offending men in the video are members of racial minorities. The filmmakers claim that men of “all backgrounds” harassed our protagonist, but somehow most of the white guys didn’t make the final cut. This leads Glenn Reynolds to sum up the video as “a racist production about white women not wanting attention from black and Latino men.” He’s only half-joking.
Yet there’s something bizarre and artificial about the fact that we’re even talking about this as if it’s some kind of important revelation.
To all the people fulminating about this video, I have one question: have you never been to New York City before?
It is not a metropolis known for its nice manners. Perhaps it’s easier for me to notice. As a Midwesterner who now lives in the genteel South, the abrasiveness of New York manners stands out with all the more contrast. I can pretty much guarantee that a pretty woman won’t get catcalled where I come from. But I can also guarantee she won’t have unsavory men trying to squeegee her windshield when she drives, that she won’t have aggressive panhandlers approaching her asking for money, and that she won’t hear obscenities casually bandied about in the street. Seriously, someday I’ll have to make a similar video of New York to capture all of the many varieties of four-letter words overheard in casual conversation and shouted out across public spaces. I’ll bet I could come up with way more than two minutes of non-stop bleeping.
To be sure, New Yorkers have certain charms that offset their more abrasive side, and sometimes their bluntness can be a virtue. But all this video really shows is that blue-collar and unemployed guys in dodgy New York neighborhoods have really bad manners. Oh, really? How amazing. “Rude People Discovered in New York City, Film at 11.”
All of the breathless pundits spreading this around in the media are letting themselves get played. Or in modern Internet parlance, they’re letting themselves be trolled by a publicity-seeking fringe group.
From the few years when I was a city-dweller—Chicago, not New York—I recall that you develop a certain callousness toward the city’s insults on your sensibilities. It’s like living next to the ‘L’: it goes by so often, you don’t notice it. You would think seasoned political writers would develop the same kind of street smarts about manipulative videos and know when they’re being scammed.
Unless, of course, their goal was to join in on the scam and manipulate their readers to inflate their pre-existing political agenda. You don’t think that’s possible, do you?