Shoshana Roberts, a 29-year old actress residing in New York City, recorded an experiment on street harassment. She installed a hidden camera and had it record 10 hours of her walking the streets of Manhattan. She experienced everything from the casual “what’s up,” to the more threatening act of being followed for several minutes by numerous men. She did not respond to any of these comments, maintaining her composure, a straight face, and avoiding eye contact, yet the comments continued. In a matter of 10 hours, she experienced 108 catcalls from men of different racial backgrounds.
As I watched Shoshana’s video, I remember my own experiences of being catcalled. Although I have been harassed on numerous occasions, I vividly remember one that was the most threatening to me. I was a sophomore at Spelman College at the time and meeting friends across campus one Friday evening. A man in a car with three other men approached me in a Black SUV. “Hey,” he said as he was driving alongside me.
“Hey,” I said in a friendly manner as I continued walking.
“Can I get your number?” he asked.
“No,” I replied and kept walking.
I thought he would move along to the next person, but he did not. Instead, he continued to follow me in his car with three other men. I became scared.
“Why not?” he asked, “Do you got a boyfriend?”
I wanted him to leave me alone and thought that the best way for me to do this was to stop responding to his advances.
“Aw man!” the guys in car laughed,”She dissed you!”
“Nah,” he said to the guys, “She didn’t man. I’mma get her number.”
“So why can’t I get your number?”
I started walking faster. My heart was racing in my chest.
The driver sped up also. “So you not going to give me your number?”
“NO!” I replied, becoming angry at his disrespect for me and my space.
“You think you all that because you go to Spelman. I can tell them Spelman girls. I know you’re from Spelman. They stuck up. You think you better than me, huh?”
He paused for a second to wait for my response. When I did not respond, he assaulted me with his words, “Well, f*ck you, b*tch! You ugly anyway!”
And just like that, he sped off.
“You okay?” my friends asked me as I approached them.
“You JERK!” screamed my homegirl back at those men.
I was shaken up. I didn’t know if those guys were going to return to hurl some more insults at me. I didn’t know if they had a gun and were going to use it. I didn’t know what to expect.
This experience colored my future instances with street harassment. A man’s friendly greeting quickly escalated into an extremely uncomfortable situation, and this was not the first time such harassment had occurred among my group of girl friends. From that moment on, whenever I received a greeting from a man on the street, I would refuse to respond, for fear that a cordial exchange would become dangerous. Many Street Harassment Video responders have mentioned that Shoshana needed to loosen up because the men were only being friendly. How is Shoshana supposed to determine whether a man’s unwanted advances are innocent or potentially dangerous? At any time, as evidenced in my story above, a cordial exchange could become very uncomfortable and sometimes, life-threatening.
Street harassment needs to stop because it compromises women’s security. It is unfair for a woman – regardless of her breast size or the roundness of her booty – to be bombarded with such unwanted attention. It interrupts our thought pattern. It makes us feel unsafe and most importantly, we do not want to be bothered.
Thank you, Shoshana, for sparking an open dialogue about street harassments and its effect on women around the nation. We needed someone to speak on our behalf, and you did it – gracefully.