Woman in catcall video reportedly getting rape threats now

The Hollaback video hits a nerve and the trolls lash out

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 29, 2014 2:00PM (EDT)

        (Hollaback/Rob Bliss)
(Hollaback/Rob Bliss)

Because if there's a way to make a depressing story even more demoralizing, the trolls will be there for it -- Shoshana B. Roberts, the actress whose video of being catcalled a hundred times in a single day has gone viral this week, is now reportedly getting rape threats. Still think this is about just being friendly?

The video, created by the Hollaback anti-street harassment campaign and creative director Rob Bliss, has racked up over a million views in its just first day on YouTube. In it, Roberts, clad in a black T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, walks the streets of New York City to a steady chorus of "Damn, girl!" and "You don't wanna talk?" At one point, a man silently walks right beside her for a full five minutes.

The video eloquently depicts what it's like for a normal young woman to simply move from place to place in the course of a day – a journey that can span the gamut of experiences from an innocuous "Good morning" to demands for her phone number to persistent and creepy behavior.

As the comments on the YouTube clip – and the comments on every site that's run a story about the clip – make very clear, there's still a vast amount of confusion to flat-out fury that women might find this kind of behavior offensive. (There's also, this being YouTube, a breathtaking amount of racism!) Some of the YouTube commenters are just "tired of these stupid bitches" while others jeer, "Boo-hoo, you're beautiful and have to deal with attention" -- and many, many purport to not see a problem at all, like the guy who says, "The only thing I see is her being a bitch and not saying hello or anything back to people, that try to be nice to her." Makes you kind of wonder, then, why this video strikes such a chord of anger, most notably in male commenters. Makes you wonder why Hollaback tweeted late Tuesday, "The subject of our PSA is starting to get rape threats on the comments. Can you help by reporting them?"

For those who think the behavior depicted in the video is just about being friendly, let me try to assist. Most adult humans know what being friendly involves. And most of us, by the way, understand that there's a spectrum between a cordial "Good morning" and explicit sexual commentary or touching. But consider why someone might feel the right to comment on a woman, to a woman, at all. Consider that a "friendly" remark can escalate into something rude or even threatening quickly. Note, for instance, in the video, the person who tells her, "Somebody's acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more!"

Believe it not, a woman walking around does not necessarily need or desire a) a stranger's opinion about her looks and b) a demand for a reaction to it. And behind so many of those random comments is an order – to smile, to say thank you, to give a number. To validate, in short, the total stranger who has chosen a woman because she happened to stroll into his sightline. You know what? It gets a little tiring. Especially when it happens again and again and again. And if you think that the intimidation that women routinely face isn't real and isn't a problem, I'd love to know why then the actress in this video is now being insulted and threatened online. Hollaback's director Emily May told Newsday Tuesday, "The rape threats indicate that we are hitting a nerve. We want to do more than just hit a nerve, though, we want New Yorkers to realize -- once and for all -- that street harassment isn't OK, and that as a city we refuse to tolerate it." So you think you're a good person? You think you're a nice guy? Then try this – try having an unexpressed thought when a woman walks past you. Try giving her room to get where she's going without benefit of your commentary. Because however flattering you think your remarks are, she doesn't need them.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Going Viral Hollaback Shoshana B. Roberts Street Harassment