Catcalling, or as it’s more accurately termed, street harassment, is one of those problems that some people still simply refuse to acknowledge exists. What’s the problem with people complimenting you on the street? The chorus goes as follows: You should be flattered. You should be happy. You should smile and say hello. You should ignore it. But as this video by actress Shoshana Roberts, who spent ten hours walking around New York in silence while wearing a crewneck shirt and jeans as her boyfriend recorded her, it’s not the content of the message, it’s the context.
In ten hours on the street, Roberts counted 108 instances of catcalling. Those ranged from your basic (and oh, it is basic) “daaaaamn” to a dude following her for five minutes to the enraging “Someone is telling you that you’re beautiful. You should say thank you more.”
But look, a “hey beautiful” lobbed at you while you’re walking purposefully on a sidewalk as Roberts is here has a different meaning than a “hey beautiful” at a bar or a “hey beautiful” coming from a date. It’s the assumption of entitlement over women’s bodies, the idea that they’re there to be judged and consumed and lured. It’s the commanding other people to smile or thank you or give you or speak to you. Catcalling isn’t about compliments, it’s about control and power dynamics. It does not feel good.
This is an old song, and it seems like it should be an obvious one. But as the (predictably horrifying) comments on Roberts’ video prove, catcalling is still a thing that it’s acceptable to either blame women for (“look at those clothes!”) or shrug off as another hazard of city living.
“I’m harassed when I smile and I’m harassed when I don’t,” Roberts told NBC. “Not a day goes by when I don’t experience this.”
Pretty much. Tight clothes, loose clothes, smile, no smile, it doesn’t matter: If you’re a woman in New York City, you’re going to get some unwanted comments about your appearance. Can we stop pretending that catcalling doesn’t suck now?