Catcalling video ignites sociological discussion

The issue of catcalling is nothing new, but a recent video documenting catcalls in New York has gone viral, garnering over 36 million views on YouTube.

Published Oct. 28 by the anti-street harassment organization “Hollaback!,” the video follows a young woman walking around New York who receives over 100 unsolicited comments in the span of 10 hours.

The footage has triggered an explosion of responses, ranging from parodies to weightier satirical pieces and even spinoffs. “Ten Hours of Walking in Austin as a Hipster” and “10 Hours of Princess Leia Walking in NYC” are just two of many videos on the more lighthearted side of the spectrum.

The popular comedy video website “Funny or Die” produced a satirical video featuring a man walking in New York for 10 hours, with strangers on the street yelling things like, “Hey, do you want a job?” and handing him burritos and gift cards. The video ended with this message: “If you want to help, please do nothing. Leave the patriarchy in place.”

Still other videos attempted to genuinely recreate the original video’s experiment, changing locations or circumstances to further delve into the issue of street harassment. One woman walked the streets alone in Auckland, New Zealand, and was accosted twice in the span of 10 hours. Another woman compared people’s reactions to her wearing jeans and a T-shirt versus a Muslim hijab.

The original catcalling video has come under fire concerning issues of race, class and feminism. Critics have pointed out that the majority of the footage depicts racial minorities and is shot in areas of the city that are socioeconomically disadvantaged, making African-American and Latino men look like the main perpetrators.

However, Time Magazine’s “Street Harassment Isn’t About Sexism – It’s About Privilege” argues that pre-existing social structure, not skin color, is to blame. “Young women who tense up as they approach a construction site know full well that walking past the guys who drive the fork lift will almost surely result in some unwanted attention; walking past the architects who are pouring over the blueprints probably won’t,” writes the article’s author Kay Hymowitz.

While some have chosen to thoughtfully engage the issues represented in the viral video, others have spoken out to invalidate its content. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh blames catcalling on feminism, claiming that the feminist movement sought to wipe out such behavior long ago and failed.

CNN hosted a heated discussion about the original video, in which author and self-proclaimed relationship expert Steve Santagati made blatantly misogynistic remarks to comedian Amanda Seales.

“There is nothing more that a woman wants to hear than how pretty she is,” Santagati told the horrified Seales, arguing that women would not be bothered by catcalling if those who accosted them were physically attractive.

It is imperative to acknowledge the broad spectrum of opinions and the complexity of the issues represented, but the line must be drawn somewhere.

It is encouraging that one video could inspire such a vibrant sampling of sociological discussion. However, with the massive proliferation of responses, there is the risk of losing our intellectual connection with what the issue is discussing, a Huffington post article says.

“Are people aware of the Internet trend, as such, or are they sharing based on some deeper, more nuanced concern for the complex issues behind the meme?” writes Caitlin Dewey in a Washington Post article, pointing to the viral ice bucket challenge that sought to raise funds and awareness for ALS.

Those who simply make fun of the catcalling video or choose to invalidate the viewpoints of the affected women fail to make an intellectual contribution to the discussion. It is important to recognize a broad range of perspectives, but conveniently ignoring the racial, socioeconomic and gender-related issues posed by street harassment is irresponsible at best.