Some Thoughts On…The Responses to the Viral Cat-calling Experiment Video #YesAllWomen + Janet Jackson’s “Nasty”

I intended on writing about the now famous cat-calling experiment video earlier this week. Recently unveiled as a collaboration between New York City’s Hollaback organization and the Rob Bliss Creative, the video features actress Shoshana B. Roberts and condensed from ten hours of her walking in Manhattan footage, in under two minutes displays the unfortunately what is everyday, common verbal harassment towards women showed out on the streets. As a resident of New York myself, I can concur that just walking around the Lower East Side can make you feel like a show, and that little random area right before the shopping district of Herald Square, right between 33rd until 23rd is a lion’s den of potential disrespect. Not even the harshest parts of Harlem can compare (we’re going to just focus on Manhattan here). The men there and their catcalls are so obvious, it’s why resting bitch face exists, but honestly, catcalls, and unwarranted street and public harassment can happen anywhere, in any neighborhood and by anyone. Possibly, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart correspondent Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere inspired the viral cat-call video as Jessica Williams explored the issue through the show’s classically snarky and smart segments that other news shows only gloss over or find ways to make the perpetrator a victim (and it’s a must see. Click here).

I definitely had thoughts on deck after viewing the video, but I chose to wait on the subject because whenever such moments arrive upon our radar, the responses are aplenty and worthy of commentary of their own.

Less than 24 hours after the video was posted to YouTube, which currently has 21 million views, a considerable amount of female writers shared hybrids of personal experience and opinion on the matter, many offering valid points and stories that if you’re a woman too you know are not far-fetched or a result of overreacting. Street harassment is real and relates to the issues of (in general) men, again no matter the age or skin color or culture, treated women as entitlements to their manhood. This is not a new age problem, and is actually an age old one, but with the ad nauseum discussion that’s been rolling out since last year on the how to execute and promote feminism as a movement, cat-calling as been touched on again.

A distinct footprint in the cat-call dissection came earlier this past August when the New York Post chose to err on the side of crazy when they published Doree Lewak’s questionable article “Hey ladies–catcalls are flattering! Deal With It” Deal with it? It was hard to know whose side she was on, and copious commentators, many of them women but definitely a few men wrote back to Lewak as having read her pro-street harassment stance as foolishly misguided and delusional to the undertone of being cat-called in the first place. It’s not called compliment-call(ed). It’s cat-called. Cat. Kitten. Sex Kitten. Coquettish. Pussycat. Pussy. Yeahhhhhh…

When I walk down the streets at night
All the brothas they just stop and sigh
They say hey baby what you doing tonight
Why don’t you get down in my car and ride

We can go to the movie show
We can do anything you want
Anything but don’t you pass me by
Maybe I’ll stop maybe it’s worth a try

There has also been the cases reported and confirmed of Roberts receiving rape threats once the video went viral which is so beyond despicable and proves ONCE AGAIN why videos exposing the absolute darkness of sexism and male entitlement are a must and continue to be made. Rape threats towards a woman and video that was made in the name of encouraging respect among the sexes. The logic can’t even begin to found because there isn’t none.

Another occurrence that exposed why the Hollaback video is necessary and bothersome is that while as women we know this inconvenient truth to be very real, some men still just Don’t GET IT. I’ve seen on my own Facebook newsfeed, “What’s so wrong with giving a compliment” and those were the tame responses. Further online as more fury and curiosity arisen from the video, actual pieces not necessarily defending but questioning whether harassment is a crime popped up as if the experiment showcased in the video is again some newfangled occurrence. While someone (men) shouldn’t be sent to jail for cat-calling, it really is immature, sometimes disgusting, and very discouraging on the relations and respect level we have for another. The first known figure and member of the male species to make a faux pas in regards to the video was comedian Michael Che. Che is currently a cast member of Saturday Night Live, and instead of just not offering any piece of substantial opinion on the video, he chose to take the frat boy approach and made a lousy joke about the woman’s, and every woman’s, experience:

Screenshot 2014-10-31 at 12.47.59 AM

We completely comprehend Che’s approach to the provocative story of the viral video. He was using unfiltered sarcasm and through his Facebook page made light of something that he found to basically be “not that serious”. Months later, his status update might’ve worked, but right now the conversation is too sensitive to be made fun of. It’s like those Ebola costumes for Halloween. Really! Too soon! He was met with disapproval from his followers and disappointed voyeurs of his occasional uncouth humor, but honestly, he hasn’t been the only man not taking the Hollaback video seriously. Funny and Die also created a parody of a white male with glasses walking innocently in the streets of Manhattan and experiencing white privilege thrown at him. Listen up!

When you was just a youngin’ your looks were so precious
But now your grown up
So fly it’s like a blessing but you can’t have a man look at you for five seconds
Without you being insecure

There is a distinct difference between a compliment, a compliment said with actual genuine kindness, and a cat-call where it’s shared with such grunting, fake moaning, and slithering tones that words like “Damn” suddenly become suggestive. And I’m just going to be keep it real with y’all, it’s sometimes worst in areas that are heavy with pseudo-maschismo men and wannabe rappers and “I’m rich bitch” Wall Street brokers. And it happens oversees. When I was in Paris, I saw how some of the men oogled women on the street and even without saying anything were making me uncomfortable. Every woman has a story. I’ve seen some of my own friends disrespected in front of me and I’ve been met with lewd comments and stares as well. Doesn’t matter where you are, what you look like, or decidedly how old you are (but for good measure, let’s keep the range 65 and under), all women have experienced cat-calling. It’s free fall objectification and it’s just gross and unnecessary. Don’t tell me smile. Do I tell you to smile? How would Che and any guy on this earth feel if you were wearing a normal pair of pants or jeans, not even overtly body-hugging, but just fitting enough (you know you’re actual size) and you heard “fat-ass” or “nice ass” as a part of their so-called compliment? It’s not a pleasant moment for a girl.

No, my first name ain’t baby. It’s Janet. Miss Jackson if you’re nasty

Of course as the conversation grows, more opinions and factoids of the video are coming up, like some are accusing the video of deliberately editing out white men though I clearly saw white men “participating”, and in the video there seconds where you hear a voice but you can’t see who said it. In this case, I could care less to make it about race, but…I also wondered how the experiment could’ve been even more explored. Perhaps if they had four separate occasions on which they used women that were physically different from each other? Would a black woman get more or worse cat-calling than Shoshana who looks relatively white American? As a woman of color, I’ve experienced cat-calling from men of color especially and the vocal entitlement of making comments about my body is enough to turn you off completely. And like I’ve said before, I’ve witnessed it as a pedestrian and I swiftly offer a mean glare to the less than gentleman culprit once she’s safely away from the vultures. It’s just disappointing of society in that I hear from my friends that actually like to hear skirts and shorts, and rightfully so when the weather is beautiful that they are sometimes afraid to do so or stray from doing so just so they don’t have to deal with free fall objectification. Such concerns tie to the disgusting “she asked for it” accusations that obviously connect to more serious incidents. We could use Instagram and its many “models” as a less than stellar example of women embracing such wanton attention, but as shown in the video, sometimes just being a woman decently dressed in normal clothes well send men in overdrive. Men may be confused now as what or how is the appropriate why to go about seeing something (someone?) they like and are again putting themselves out there to be rejected? Just be a gentleman about it. It can’t be that hard.

Lyrics courtesy of:

“Gary’s Song” by Alice Smith, “How to Love” by Lil Wayne, “Nasty” by Janet Jackson

JAM of the DAY: “Nasty” by Janet Jackson

PLUS, another parody video, this decoding what catcalling really means in secret man-code:


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