NEW YORK – A video recording the comments a woman hears as she walks around the nation’s biggest city is a testament to the pervasiveness of street harassment women face, its creators said Wednesday.
The comments come continuously as the woman walks through the streets of Manhattan – “What’s up, Beautiful?” and “Smile!” – and there’s even a stretch when a man just silently walks right next to her for several minutes.
The video, shot over 10 hours one day in neighborhoods all over the borough and edited down to a 2-minute final product, has set off a storm of outrage on its way to more than 10 million views since it was released online Tuesday.
“This is having a very serious impact on the way we live our lives,” said Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!, the anti-street harassment organization that put out the video.
The footage, which was shot and edited by Rob Bliss, was captured by a camera Bliss had in his backpack as he walked several feet of front of actress Shoshana Roberts, who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and walked silently along.
At no point did Roberts make eye contact with any of the men she passed or talk to any of them. That didn’t stop the comments from coming. When she didn’t respond, one man told her, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more!”
Roberts said the number of comments the day the video was shot was nothing out of the ordinary for her.
“The frequency is something alarming,” she said.
Martha Sauder, walking on a Manhattan street on Wednesday, agreed that street harassment is a problem and said it happens to her frequently.
“It’s inappropriate. It’s like an invasion of your space,” she said. “I’d like it to stop.”
But the video also has faced some online criticisms, among them that the men shown all seem to be minorities. Bliss and Roberts emphasized that the comments came from all racial groups, and Bliss said some interactions that were filmed couldn’t be used for reasons like the audio was disrupted by passing sirens.
“My experience, what we documented, it was from everybody,” Roberts said.
Another criticism was that some men’s comments seemed innocuous: “Good morning,” “Have a nice day.”
Some men could have been “genuinely being nice,” said Gerard Burke, a Brooklyn resident who readily acknowledged street harassment exists and has seen it happen to women in his family. He said he thought the video shed light on a bigger problem, “but some people just genuinely want to say hello.”
That’s the problem with street harassment, May said, because when there’s a fear that a simple good morning could escalate into sexual comments or actions, there’s a reluctance to engage at all.