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One brave Minnesotan, Lindsey, is doing the thing we have all wanted to do: giving catcallers a taste of their own bitter, shameful medicine. She does this by handing her street harassers clever little calling cards informing them of their transgression. Not only that, but she is secretly recording her interactions with them and putting them on the Internet. The whole wide web is now privy to the genuinely horrifying things some men think are not only okay to say to women, but which they justify with either biblical text or simply personal opinion (read: patriarchy). Every time I am told anything from “why don’t you smile,” to “I would tear that _____ up,” to other things not fit to print, I walk away red-faced and ashamed. In my imagination, I do a double back flip and land my spiked heel directly into the eyesocket of my offender while delivering a dead-on one-liner. Though I was a pretty accomplished gymnast in my middle school days, I have yet to fully hone my femininja skills.
So, I have developed a rubric for my walk to work. If you are my neighbor and you wish me a good morning, and it is indeed a good morning, I will respond accordingly… no eye contact. If you tell me I am beautiful on a day when I am feeling particularly beautiful, I might even say thank you. Anything beyond cordial compliments receives a stone-faced side-eye, because no matter what you say, all I hear is, “I would like to undress you with my eyes.” I am reminded of the time a man walking with his toddler comically tripped over and knocked down his own child in an attempt to get a look at my backside. It is also not beyond my perception to realize that the majority of these interactions are with men of color. This could have plenty to do with the fact that I am a woman of color living in an urban area, and by no means am I implying that white men have never harassed me, but the fact remains.
There is something utterly cathartic about watching another woman stick it to the man, and to, in her own words, provide men “a platform to embarrass themselves in a way that they’ve already embarrassed me.” However, it is hard to ignore the plainly evident: the majority of the people Lindsey embarrasses are men of color. Despite protestations that she has approached both white men and women about street harassment, Lindsey’s videos clearly illustrate the disproportionate prevalence of street harassment in communities of color (read: poor and working class urban communities).
In one video with a Black man Lindsey names Jared, we hear this interaction:
J: You know why I feel [police give men tickets for catcalling]? Because white women get offended…
L: No, no, this has nothing to do with race…
J:…when Black men approach them, so they created a law to do that.
L: Nope. Listen. I’ll yell at white men about this. I’ll yell at women about this. The point is, I should be able to walk down the street, just like you should be able to walk down the street…
J: Yeah. I’m glad that you approached me and told me that women get offended about that…
L: I encourage you to e-mail me. Check out the website…
J: I’m not upset, but I’m a grown man. I’m gonna keep talking to women the way I want to talk to them.
L: And I’m encouraging you not to.
You can call it “pulling the race card.” You can call it “white-splaining.” However, it is clear there is a racial and cultural element that Lindsey is anxious to avoid by literally cutting Jared off. When a Black person says to a white person, something racist is happening, it is said white person’s responsibility to respond by saying, you might be right, please explain. Lindsey has been quoted saying, “Though I’m filming as I’m encountering experiences, I’m in no way attempting to target a specific demographic…Sexism is sexism.” Sure, Lindsey isn’t seeking to approach men of color (though, her daily commute involves public transportation, mostly used by people of color), but in the end these are the men who end up lambasted on her website. “Sexism is sexism” is exactly the kind of language used to deny any kind of intersectionality within the feminist movement. It is the kind of language that sparked #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. It is the kind of language that denies Black women the agency to approach problems that are prevalent in their own communities.
In the FAQ section of her blog, Lindsey has this to say about the race dynamics in her videos:
I am cognizant that we live in a world that is extremely hostile towards black men and am very troubled that some will watch my videos and draw prejudiced conclusions from them. The continuing vice of racism is that if I had a dozen videos of white men catcalling, it would just be considered a “male” problem, but if people see a dozen videos of black men catcalling, they somehow think it depicts a “black male” problem. It doesn’t.
She does point out that she knows women of color experience street harassment at a much higher rate than their white counterparts — 41% of Black and Latina women, versus 24% of white women, according to a 2014 SSH Report. (Not to mention, of course, that trans folks, especially trans women of color, are at an even higher risk for violent interactions in the street). By placing an “I promise I’m not a racist” disclaimer on her videos, Lindsey persists in denying her white privilege. This does zippety-do-dah to advance her feminist cause. It also does nothing to broaden the conversation around street harassment, which is all too often told from the perspective of cis white women. In Lindsey’s unwitting attempt at appearing color-blind, she expresses on her website that she does not endorse the criminalization of street harassment:
My goal is not to criminalize verbal street harassment, for a few reasons. First, the long history of institutionalized racism in our criminal justice system has not made me confident that laws against street harassment would be applied uniformly or fairly. But more importantly, I believe street harassment is fundamentally rooted in belief systems about women, which are more meaningfully eradicated and improved through social change, education, and advocacy.
However, if we take a moment to picture Lindsey’s interactions in the street — a white woman having a very heated argument with a Black man she clearly does not know — it is not difficult to imagine they might attract the attention of a nearby police officer, or that a concerned/confused bystander might call the police. Given her dedication to education over criminalization, Lindsey seems generally unaware of the picture she is painting by wielding her privilege in a public space.
As an individual, nobody can deny Lindsey the right to criticize the men who make her feel unsafe or humiliated walking down the street. As an activist, and a participant in a movement, we have to question the possibly counterproductive effects of a white woman publicly taking the wheel on an issue that would be better handled by the people that Lindsey herself acknowledges suffer from it more often: women of color.
IN FACT, as writer Aura Bogado has graciously pointed out on Twitter, this calling card concept has already been done. Not only has it been done, it has been done with special attention to race and gender. In 1986, artist Adrian Piper penned a couple brilliant calling cards that addressed both men who try to pick up women who are alone, and people who inadvertently (or advertently) perpetuate racism in public. Lindsey insists she was unaware of Piper’s work until after she started CAH, which is entirely possible. The point is, Lindsey lacks a modicum of self-awareness around issues of race and class that make her ill-suited to bear the cross of the anti-street harassment movement.
On her blog, Lindsey does pay homage to another contemporary anti-street harassment campaign called Stop Telling Women To Smile. The artist, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, “takes women’s voices, and faces, and puts them in the street — creating a bold presence for women in an environment where they are so often made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe.” This kind of advocacy, while not as direct as Lindsey’s approach, works as a form of empowerment and literally leaves its mark on the communities in which this kind of behavior is most egregious.
Hopefully, women like Lindsey and Tatyana inspire women of all creeds to challenge catcalling. The more men hear that their attention is unwelcome, the more I get to wear booty shorts as often as I like (all the time). However, let’s be cognizant of where and how we approach these situations, both for our personal safety, and for the sake of The Greater Good. Trust that there will be video documentation when I receive my femininja black belt. Until then, I will be joyously telling the harassers on my block to kindly go f*ck themselves, because they’ve not a chance with me.
LOVE THIS. Thank you.
Thanks for addressing this so brilliantly!
I’m aware of what I risk by speaking, but I must speak:
Isn’t physical safety more important than just about anything else in this world — basic? People who harass and threaten us are VOLUNTEERS. No matter what they look like, what they or their relatives have experienced, or any other factor, they have thrust themselves into public discourse with us while we were minding our own business. It’s BULLYING, pure and simple. I am normally GRATEFUL to someone who helps make my life personally safer.
Ideologies that PARALYZE us women — of EVERY description — cause us ACTUAL physical and psychological HARM.
Anyway, in a face-to-face interaction between ANY male and ANY female, on average, exactly who has the “privilege”? Some of us seem to forget the “privileges” bestowed by male physical strength, height, weight and its distribution, agility, aggressiveness, rough skin and hard bones, narrow focus, machismo (It’s not monopolized by any ethnicity.), crudeness, competitiveness, and our pervasive patriarchal culture(s), religion(s), ideologies, economy, systems, and structures. Some of us seem to forget that in what she’s doing Lindsey is LEVERAGING her on-average-WEAKER position when confronted by ANY male as she is. ISTM the same as filming the police in their armed, unaccountable abuse of civilians of ALL descriptions.
I put safety even ahead of “feminism,” but isn’t that ideology’s fundamental insight that MEN OPPRESS WOMEN, TANGIBLY AS WELL AS INTANGIBLY, IN AND BETWEEN ALL RACES, NATIONALITIES, CLASSES, FAITHS, ORIGINS, SITUATIONS, AND ANY OTHER CLASSIFICATION OR DESCRIPTION ANYONE CAN THINK OF!?!
In fact, why shouldn’t I perceive this article as ENABLING the actual endangerment of my physical and mental safety?!?!?!
ISTM if these VOLUNTEER harassers of ANY description don’t want to be on Lindsey’s YouTube site, all they have to do is STOP THE HARASSMENT, pure and simple.
“Intersectionality”? I’m not only a woman, but a trans woman, a lesbian, a femme, a “nice girl,” an Aspie, a very educated person, a liberal, a person with physical disabilities, a poor person, a mentally ill person, and someone on Assistance — eleven additional “crimes while walking” that in our society even civilians feel empowered to investigate, prosecute, and punish, vigilante-style, too frequently with extreme prejudice … and witnesses just watching and filming it! I truthfully don’t like “how it looks” to see a wall of videos of men of color seemingly behaving badly towards anybody uninvited. But they don’t have to do what they do. Forced to choose between that apparent evil and the too-frequent risk of my own humiliation, violation, mutilation, and murder — by enabled and self-appointed persons of ANY gender, race, class, etc. — it’s hard not to be “biased” in favor of myself, i.e., Leanne. Lesser evil? Where there’s life, there’s hope.
Trans-misogyny is still misogyny. White-misogyny is still misogyny. Black-misogyny is still misogyny. Poor-misogyny is still misogyny. Neuro-misogyny is still misogyny. If we keep forgetting that qualified misogyny is still misogyny, we women will remain divided and conquered by men of every description, everywhere… not just a competing “political” interest, but THE SUBJECT HALF OF HUMANKIND.
While this article hits on very real racial issues of white privilege, I agree that this is a much needed project to draw attention to harassment and ALL the associated MALE privilege crap. Lyndsey has helped to continue the public discourse and I applaud her work. Now I encourage a WOC to pick up the baton and run with her. Perhaps someone is already doing so, and I also applaud you.
For my male part in all this, I will continue to challenge/educate/tweak my counterparts when their unacceptable behaviour is observed.
Great commentary. Personal safety is more important than being politically correct.
My thoughts exactly. Very well said!!!
Love this article. Have been really c
Sorry, trying again–I’ve been uncomfortable with a lot of anti-street-harassment rhetoric and action, because of the racial dynamic at play. Love Tatyana’s work for this reason.
Great article. Speaking as a white-passing mixed person with some class privilege, I think we should keep talking about ways to stand up for ourselves effectively without leveraging oppressive privilege imbalances. I think it’s doable and probably more effective anyway.
I appreciate the author pointing this out. I’m white, but the uncomfortable possibility that the privilege of the white, media savy, probably college educated, very possibly affluent woman making the video might be significantly higher than many of the harassers’ occurred to me when I watched her videos. Glad someone’s addressing it!
Simple question: Why does the fact that a woman is “white, media savy, probably college educated, very possibly affluent” negate her ability – and right – to respond to harassment?
She is taking the bus from a working class neighborhood to work. Why are you assuming she’s affluent?
Of course, if a black man gets a card from a white woman, he’s going to wonder, ‘Is this because I’m black?’ Similar to a woman getting a compliment from a man: ‘Is he hitting on me [because I’m a woman]?’
So call me ignorant, but if Lindsey gives a card to anyone who catcalls her, and she happens to give a card to a black man. And when she tries to explain that it’s because of his sex and not his race–she’s being racist?
I’m not sure how I understand the implications of this article. Is Lindsey not supposed to hand out cards to black men? Is she supposed to not talk to them about it in public? Should only black women hand out cards to black men? Do her actions and saying “sexism is sexism” somehow excluding black women from doing the same in their own communities?
Lauren, this was pretty much my thoughts on the piece as well.
(Again, white opinion) I think it wouldn’t be a problem if Lindsey just went around giving cards to her catcallers (although I doubt it is effective to make them reflect on the matter), it’s more that she documents her encounters on the internet, and whatever her intentions and the circumstances of her day-to-day interactions, it remains that it’s basically a gallery of black men harassers.
I don’t know what her method does in terms of street harassment, but it does do something to further the notion that black men = one-dimensional, violent misogynists.
“think it wouldn’t be a problem if Lindsey just went around giving cards to her catcallers (although I doubt it is effective to make them reflect on the matter), it’s more that she documents her encounters on the internet, and whatever her intentions and the circumstances of her day-to-day interactions, it remains that it’s basically a gallery of black men harassers.”
I agree. I think the ‘mythical privilege trump card’ swings both ways in the interaction. In the moment when she’s in the street being harassed by a man who is physically stronger than her their male privilege is dominant over any race privilege she might have. Being white won’t stop her being raped by a man of any race.
However, when she goes home and documents it on the internet, shames them and gets publicity for it, its her white privilege and class privilege that allows her to do that and then she is in a more privileged position than the men she documents. I figured it was this second bit that Hannah is talking about.
Thank you for this, and thank you rhymeriver for the quoted portion. I was having a hard time understanding the point of the article, possibly in part because my limited knowledge of the situation was more about the calling cards/confrontation than the video evidence. There’s always more to think about.
You go girl!
Hannah Price’s work (her website is hannahcprice.com, although I can’t seem to access it, but you can see some of her work here: http://www.themorningnews.org/gallery/my-harassers) is a beautiful approach that I much prefer to Lindsey’s.
Price (who describes herself as ‘African-Mexican-American’) was struck by the intensity of street harassment she received after moving to Philadelphia, and she began a photo project where she takes portraits of her harassers. I particularly loved her work because it humanizes her bullies at the same time as it makes them vulnerable, just like they made her feel. Most of her photographic subjects are men of colour, but unlike Lindsey’s gallery, I don’t get the impression that the intention is to humiliate them. I think Price’s approach might be doing much more to make these men see women as humans. (And maybe even the other way around too, making catcallers seem less scary to the catcalled.)
How about humanizing the victim for a change?
I too viewed Hannah Price’s gallery and have to say, I did not see much remorse or “vulnerability” in the faces of her subjects.
As for the allegation that Lindsey’s “intention is to humiliate them.” They are humiliating themselves! She is simply displaying their behavior – which they choose to engage in – to a wider audience.
How about we start supporting those who are strong enough to stand up and call someone out on their bad behavior instead of tearing them down because they are not being sensitive enough to some jerk who is obviously exercising his “male” privilege?
As for “making catcallers seem less scary to the catcalled” … What?!? Any man who verbally accosts a woman on the street is advertising the fact that he is aggressive and potentially violent. Trying to pretend otherwise is a very poor survival technique.
“When a Black person says to a white person, something racist is happening, it is said white person’s responsibility to respond by saying, you might be right, please explain.”
Not while the black person is saying that about engaging in an act that jeopardizes your very physical safety and is aimed at destroying your humanity. No. Definitely not. What if a black dude was trying to rape me, saying that “those rape laws are racist, they are there ’cause white chicks are racist against black dicks”. Would you tell me that I should shut up and listen and obediently get raped lest I be labelled racist?
It is so insulting and pathetic that even a so-called feminist would try to belittle the actions of this courageous activist and side with thugs and criminals because just because they happen to have dark skin.
I am with Leanne on this one. It is depressing that the view she and I expressed might be considered “radical” on a lesbian feminist platform… it just goes to show how truly oppressed women are, and to how deeply misogyny is internalized in women. This is so very disheartening.
(Disclaimer: random white opinion) I think it wasn’t that the guy was right, more that Lindsey replied to his ‘nah, you’re just offended because you’re a white woman’ with a ‘it’s not about race’, when the question that begs an answer is ‘do you really think black women like to be catcalled then?’
This article isn’t about defending harassers ‘just because they’re black’ (it’s highly distasteful that you assume this about an author of colour, by the way), it’s about not elbowing your way to liberation.
The idea that women are objects exists in symbiosis with the idea that black men are one-dimensional thugs. You can’t get rid of one by highlighting the other.
Interesting use of the word thug. I only ever see it applied to men of color.
Hey :) I’m not sure whether you’re reflecting on the use of the word ‘thug’ in general or if you’re responding because you consider it a racial slur that I shouldn’t be using in this context? (I’m also not sure if you’re responding to mine or Taylor’s comment.)
If it’s the latter, I’m sorry about it and I’ll be sure not to use it that way again. I’m not from the US and connotations around certain words are not as familiar to me.
My comment was actually meant for Taylor who seems to be implying that the author is defending “thugs and criminals” based on their shared skin color. Which is offensive in and of itself but I also just find the use of thug and criminal interesting considering we don’t know the criminal records of the men Lindsey gave cards to. Should they be catcalling women on the street? No. But what makes them thugs and criminals? Do you know their criminal history? Does Lindsey actually live in that area or is she just going to that particular area for her experiment because let me tell you white men are just as often guilty of this behavior as well? And as pointed out in the article women of color are harassed at a higher percentage. I agree with you rhymeriver that the correct response from Lindsey to his inquiry that she was ‘just offended because she’s white’ should have been “Do you really think black women like to be catcalled then?” because as statistics show this is definitely not just a white woman issue.
The reason I take particular issue with the word thug in this instance is because the word has a history of predominately being applied to men of color regardless of whether or not they are actually criminals. It is a common stereotype about black men specifically. One such example would be how Trayvon Martin was repeatedly called such a word by some in the media during the Zimmerman trial.
Why do you have to “disclaim” your opinion as white? I feel like a recognition of privilege should certainly be embedded/acknowledged but a parenthetical “disclaimer” seems both nominal and incorrect: claim your opinion, don’t disclaim it…
On a comment thread about race, some people prefer to skip white opinions because they don’t have the energy to deal with them and their potential clumsiness, ignorance or offensiveness.
I agree my formulation is wonky though. I find it difficult to find a tone that will both convey the functionality of a warning and the seriousness of privilege recognition while at the same time staying conversational. I’m open to any suggestions you have.
This is a tricky topic, and I found myself having a similar first reaction – “Hell no, I’m not going to engage in dialogue about sensitive racial issues with someone who is actively harassing me.” However, the difference here is that she has already chosen to engage in dialogue with these men, and I think that changes things a lot. For that reason, it’s unfair to compare this situation to being raped – obviously, if your actual physical safety is in danger, you do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. Nobody is questioning that at all.
And yeah, let’s please not use the racially-loaded word “thugs” to refer to black men catcalling white women. Their behaviour is gross and inappropriate for sure, but men can catcall without having actual violent or criminal tendencies, and responding to harassment with a borderline racial slur does not help.
That is so NOT what the writer meant. You’ve taken interpretation to an extreme.
I think your opinion as stated here is far from “radical”. Being viewed as rapists, “criminals” and “thugs” is a racist stereotype black men have been saddled with for over a century. Viewing them as such is anything but radical.
Lindsey states on her website that the people she films are the people she encounters on her way to work. When I use public transit to get to work, harassment can feel even worse because I feel trapped with the individual making the comments toward me. I guess I’m confused by this column because I’m not sure what you are advocating for; are you saying that the woman should only confront harassers if they are white?
no, she is not saying that. she’s just pointing out that this project happens to be a white woman creating, as rhymeriver said, “a gallery of black men harassers” and also, as the author said,
“…if we take a moment to picture Lindsey’s interactions in the street — a white woman having a very heated argument with a Black man she clearly does not know — it is not difficult to imagine they might attract the attention of a nearby police officer, or that a concerned/confused bystander might call the police.”
if this woman considers herself a feminist, these are things than need to be examined when looking at the impact of this project. race matters. duh.
I’d argue that it’s good people see this as a situation that needs to be taken seriously. Its for the wrong reasons- it should be about taking women’s safety seriously, not race- but ignoring the issue because racism? No.
What I’m saying is that the author is piling on criticism of the activist for documenting what happens in her day-to-day life without offering solid suggestions for improving the project. Suggesting that someone who’s being harassed to stop confronting her harassers because their skin color doesn’t match the harasser’s is troublesome. If someone of the same race as the harasser confronts the harasser, then yes, it’s less racially charged. But while she’s getting harassed and responding, unless she’s intentionally filtering out white harassers, I don’t see an issue with her recording and posting her interactions.
I don’t either. The fact that she happens to be in a neighborhood where more men of color than white men approach her is not some calculating method for her to make men of color look more predatory. The fact that they happen to be more likely to catcall is just a fact, and apparently that’s racist.
In the article Hannah acknowledges that the neighborhood Lindsey is walking through in her video is one with working class and less economically advantaged people. And yes, as the author states, this means persons of color. Why then is it a surprise that the men Lindsey speaks with in her video match the demographics of those that live and work in the area in which she is walking, and thus being harassed? If I was walking through a predominately black neighborhood and took a picture of everyone I spoke with or who spoke to me, and then later looked at my camera to discover that half of the photos were of white, Latino, or Asian people, I’d be confused. Does Lindsey have white privilege? Yes. Is it possible that she subconsciously feels more threatened by men of color? It’s possible. And are laws such as those prohibiting catcalls racially biased? I’d be inclined to say yes. But in no way does any of that mean that she should refrain from carding each and every person that makes inappropriate and unsolicited remarks. In no way should it prevent her from educating those same persons, regardless of race. In no way should she compromise her safety in the name of appearing oblivious to racism, especially after she explicitly checks her privilege on her site and acknowledges the bias against black men that the author claims she isn’t so good at understanding.
I walk through the same area Lindsey does in her videos on my way to work/school every weekday. In two years of living in Minneapolis I’ve gotten street harassment from one white guy and one Middle Eastern guy TOTAL, plus usually around 2-4 black men every single DAY (in a 20-ish minute walk). That’s not even including the rarer occasions when I’ve been surrounded/followed for a few blocks/made to feel extremely threatened. The demographics represented in her videos are just that, a representation of the demographics of the area.
I don’t necessarily agree with how she handles these conversations, and I agree with you that she very well might have a beef with black men that she hasn’t addressed, but to fault her for calling out black men on catcalling/harassment when the majority of men doing it (or are in the area period) are black men is confusing to me.
Excellent job unpacking this tricky issue. It called to mind this piece about power and masculinity in a racist society. I post it not as explanation for this behavior, but because it’s relevant and I think there’s always something to be learned from his writing.
here’s the link http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/07/manhood-among-the-ruins/277456/
I finally registered an account just to comment on this issue. This article is problematic in that it seems to veer into victim-blaming territory. It is not Lindsay’s fault that the men who catcall her happen to be men of color. Should she not point out their misogynistic behavior just because they are not white? These men invite criticism voluntarily when they choose to harass women, and no matter their ethnicity or race, deserve to be called out for it (as publicly and noticeably as possible, in my opinion). I am a woman of color. If a man of my race/ethnicity catcalls any woman of any race/ethnicity, I hope she gives him hell for it.
Thank you. Although we should all work together to make more women, especially those of color, heard and respected, that doesn’t mwan white women should be silent against acts of sexism for fear of seeming ostensibly racist. If you harass me, I’m gonna tell you to fuck off. If you call me racist for that, you are just trying to shame me for defending myself. My white friend was once harassed by a man of color and she ignored him. He called her racist. This entire concept is ridiculous.
Anyone that catcalls should be embarrassed and reprimanded for it. What I wish Lindsey would have done was venture in to more culturally diverse areas. That way there wouldn’t just be a gallery of black male, harassers. That isn’t to say that they didn’t deserve to be called out for their behavior but having an area that shows only/an overwhelming majority of harassment coming from black men does further the deadly idea that black men are dangerous “thugs”.That rhetoric is something that gets harmless black men killed,and targeted by police day after day. I feel like a wider variety of these harassers could have gotten the same point across without feeding any stereotypes.
That being said, all of these guys are gross :(
To be clear, I’m not wishing any more harassment on her. It would just be more ideal if the people she encountered were more diverse because of the “thug” stigma that is placed on black men and how it threatens them.
But yes these guys are disgusting and deserve to be called out.
My first reaction was that I actually think she’s very aware of institutional racism. My second was that I probably don’t have a right to speak about this because I’m white so I should remain silent. But my third reaction is that I don’t know now what the appropriate way to react would be; if street harassment happened to me every day, what am I allowed to do and what am I not allowed to do? Does it matter that I’m also queer? Does it matter that I’m also Jewish? Or does it just matter that I’m being harassed by a guy on a dark street?
I do differently to ensure that I’m properly addressing the race issues at hand? (Genuinely asking)
I suspect that Hannah’s argument wasn’t that white women sbouldn’t confront street harassers who are POC, and I’m troubled by the suggestions that all this activist needed to do was to venture into more diverse areas — no one goes seeking street harassment! I wish the article had been a little clearer because so many people (including myself) are confused, but my sense is that it isn’t the confronting of street harassers who are black men that is the issue, but rather the way she’s going about it, which creates splash damage for people of color. Please correct me if I’m wrong!
As I wrote my comment, I was thinking along the lines of the other commenters who are confused about what exactly Lindsey should be doing differently. It sounds from her FAQ like she’s aware of institutional racism; she’s not trying to criminalize cat-calling; and in situations where a woman is being harassed by a man, I would say that the man has the most privilege *in that situation*, regardless of race. But thinking more about it, I think this is what some of us are not processing: “As an individual, nobody can deny Lindsey the right to criticize the men who make her feel unsafe or humiliated walking down the street. As an activist, and a participant in a movement, we have to question the possibly counterproductive effects of a white woman publicly taking the wheel on an issue that would be better handled by the people that Lindsey herself acknowledges suffer from it more often: women of color.”
I think Hodson’s point is not that Lindsey shouldn’t call out men who harass her, but that making it a big public project, knowing that it will be interpreted by a racist society, is more harmful than helpful. Posting videos of the men doesn’t really advance the cause of ending street harassment; most of those men won’t go to her site and see themselves, so they’re not even serving the purpose of public shaming. And there are other projects that she could submit photos or videos to to add her voice rather than amplifying it over others. I’m not saying Lindsey’s doing that in any kind of malicious or self-serving way, just that it’s something she may not have thought about. She can’t control who picks up her project, like Buzzfeed; and because she can’t control her exposure, she should consider how she might be given a privileged position by the media even when she isn’t seeking it.
I think your comment is spot on!
Yeeessss. It’s frsutrating that ppl seem to be so triggered as to, seemingly willfully, proclaim the author is telling them to just accept harrassment from men of color when she (seems to me) makes it clear she is not saying that.
People should think about the racial dynamics of how we engage with others not because male POC harrassers shouldn’t be called out , but because HOW people call others out can be done without resorting to using racism to do so.
Also…white dudes street harrass a ton. Sometimes I think they don’t get called on it as much becuz they have more institutional power so it’s often riskier to call them out directly.
So, basically, you’re saying that Lindsey should just shut up?
That she shouldn’t make a public stand on this issue because she is white?
Or that, when her awareness-raising project succeeds in raising awareness, she should apologize for it?
While I don’t necessarily agree with Lindsey’s entire approach, I applaud her efforts to highlight the issue of street harassment. And she does state this on her FAQ page, “women of color experience street harassment far more (and more severely) than anyone, from men of all races. I cannot make videos that tell other peoples’ stories but I will be looking for ways to share/promote other women’s voices to help broaden the pool of experiences shown.” Given this and the rest of her acknowledgements about the negative aspects of her project I don’t see how all of the criticism directed towards her project is warranted, when she seems to be well aware of race, class, and gender issues involved. It’s almost as if the arguments laid out against her, come from her own page.
It also saddens me that every time I come to Autostraddle I am made to feel marginalized and ashamed due to my race, lesbianism, privilege and cisgender body. I am too stupid to possibly empathize or understand my own position in society or someone else’s point of view or experience, and it must be pointed out to me each time I arrive here that my brand of feminism isn’t good enough. (This is the same sentiment directed at Lindsey.) Bravo creating a divide instead of unity in your efforts. Meanwhile I will go back to the reality I live in where a diverse group of people work to understand each other and coexist happily instead of tearing each other down once someone attempts to better the world.
“It also saddens me that every time I come to Autostraddle I am made to feel marginalized and ashamed due to my race, lesbianism, privilege and cisgender body. ”
Are you really accusing this website of making you feel marginalized and ashamed to be white(I assume), lesbian, privileged and Cis? How? Because these articles exist creating a dialogue to discuss these issues? What is the alternative? For Autostraddle to not hire queer POCS and Trans authors to write about their very real experiences that are probably different than the reality you live where everyone gets along? For these authors not to examine privilege and race because it makes you uncomfortable and ashamed(even though they are clearly not attacking you personally)?
If you are not one of the people doing the things described in these many articles than you shouldn’t be offended by them because they are obviously not talking about you individually. That seems like common sense to me. Remember when #YesAllWomen was trending and bunch of men got all upset about it and considered it an attack on them missing the point entirely. Well, that’s what I’m getting from your post. Yes, we know not all white women, lesbians, privileged, cis gender people do these things but that doesn’t mean that this doesn’t happen and shouldn’t be talked about lest it offends the ones that aren’t. Racism isn’t going to away by simply not talking about it(especially when people still experience it everyday). Homophobia isn’t going to go away by simply not talking about it(especially when people still experience it everyday). Etc.
It blows my mind that anyone could take away from these articles that Autostraddle is somehow waging a war on white privileged cis lesbians by giving a platform to these articles. That seems really unfair and laughable to me considering the majority of the staff is white, privileged and cis. Again, if you are not personally being a dick like some of the people described in these articles than why you mad?
You are reading more into my comments then is there. Autostraddle can host people who write whatever they want to, and I appreciate the diversity of perspectives offered here. No one is waging a war on anyone, I was just pointing out how some of the people who comment here have been bashed as you have just done and have been made to feel unwelcome. I have held my tongue before, but I am tired of watching others be told over and over again that they should carry around some kind of guilt for privledges they did not chose to fall into, or to be subjected to arguments in the comments that claim they must be ignorant automatically because of their inborn traits and and that they will never understand people in different shoes or circumstances. While I acknowledge my privilege it doesn’t mean I should be a target for bullies. I get that not everyone lives in a big city that is gay friendly and culturally diverse, nor have they taken women studies classes, but it doesn’t sit right with me when writers use their pen to mislead others about issues of feminism, race, and misogyny. And in this case I feel Lindsey was misrepresented. Anyone willing to read outside this page can figure this out. If she wasn’t white would we even be having this conversation? #ReverseRacismIsStillRacism
How am I bashing or bullying you? By asking for clarification about an issue you brought up in the thread where you seem to be accusing Autostraddle or at the very least it’s commentors of being bullies and making others you feel guilty and marginalized for being white? I’m merely wondering how and what you mean by that and who it is you are referring to? I have yet to see anyone in the comments of this article call you or anyone else ignorant, “bully” anyone or “tell others over and over again that they should carry around some kind of guilt for privileges they did not chose to fall into”. What I see are a lot of different opinions on both sides and people explaining themselves peacefully for the most part. Merely pointing out that others have more advantages in the world isn’t the same as making someone “feel guilty for having privilege”. It is just a reality we live in. No point ignoring it or not bringing it up because it makes others feel uncomfortable to acknowledge it.
Who is being reverse racist here? Are you accusing the author of that? Wow. That’s a mighty big thing to assume about someone based one article you obviously vehemently disagree with existing. You could just ask her what she means like I am asking you.
Oh my god, I just want to thank you @turkish because I really can’t stand the lack of perspective and (trying to find nice words but), I can’t.
I think I’m going soft @bra. I held back ALOT of what I really wanted to say.
@Turkish when someone is feeling challenged in their perspective especially when they see or feel that their perceptive is the norm and sometimes oppressive all kinds of defensiveness (and a lot of ugly) can come from that.
Like she is no better than the white guys who are like “oh everyone is ganging up on us” and rightfully people will mock them because wtf? White guys are winning are still calling the shots institutionally. I have to wonder does the internet space=real life space? Shit I would LOVE to only feel uncomfortable only in online spaces but that is not my life.
“I feel marginalized by my privileges [in this internet space when talking about race/sexism/cis]”
White feminists, this is really frustrating for me and to those that get it or try to get it without being super defensive, thank you.
“Merely pointing out that others have more advantages in the world isn’t the same as making someone “feel guilty for having privilege”. It is just a reality we live in. No point ignoring it or not bringing it up because it makes others feel uncomfortable to acknowledge it.”
“My privilege makes me feel marginalized”.
Cheeky, but actually what I meant by marginalize is to treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral. “attempting to marginalize those who disagree” based on their perceived or actual differences.
I’m well aware of what you meant. To compare your perceived experience of feeling insignificant on an Internet blog as if it’s equivalent to the daily institutional marginalization of people of colour, trans people, etc. is offensive.
I’m confused though, because you spoke earlier about feeling marginalized based on your identity as a white, cis, lesbian woman, so it’s a little unclear whether you feel that your perspective on this particular issue is being disregarded, or whether you feel that you, as a person, are being marginalized on Autostraddle based on your identity. If it’s your opinion on this article that you feel is being marginalized, then that may be true, but there are also a lot of people who have disagreed with the article. If you feel that you as a person are marginalized because of your identity, it’s harder for me to understand how that is possible on a site that works so hard to be inclusive.
Thank you @Chandra because holy shit.
Sorry my hyperlink to FAQ page went through end of document by mistake. :(
This is a really difficult subject that has affected me personally. I was a white woman living in a highly segregated city, and walking through black neighborhoods, I had many conversations, most of which were with black men. I come from a buttoned-up WASP culture where you barely say hello to your friends in church, much less strangers on the street. On the one hand, I liked that people on their porches had opinions about the bags I was carrying or the way I was walking and didn’t just keep them to themselves. On the other hand, I started realizing that almost all the black men I interacted with scared me, and it was making me more racist.(Because the only opportunities I gave myself to interact with black people were while walking through these neighborhoods, or on public transportation.)
(For the record, the most scared I’ve ever been of street harassment happened when a white man in a cowboy hat drove around the block, imploring me again and again to get in his car so he could buy me lunch, and there were whole hoards of white men who sexual harassed me at work and at home. Different dynamic, though.)
There is a racist trope in the US that dates back to slavery, that the only thing black men want to do is rape white women. (Cuz white men wanted to make sure no one else was raping white women other than them.) When, of course, white slaveowners routinely raped their black women slaves. Laws about rape referred only to white women; it was not even legally possible to rape a black woman because she had no rights. Consider Emmett Till and other black boys and men who were murdered for allegedly looking at white women. It is impossible to discuss street harassment without the context of this history.
Yet white men are not exclusively to blame. There is also the Scarlett O’Hara form of white-female racism. We are raised to feel threatened by men, less powerful than them. At least, I was. We are not raised to be cognizant of our privilege. I didn’t get this til I went to Paris and someone told me, “You know, saying, ‘Officer, that man is BOTHERING me’ will get you everywhere around here.” I realized, I feel terrified of black men because I’ve been raised thinking that they’re the ultimate rapists and street harassers. But if there’s a cop present, I have all the power in the universe. Even if I look and feel weak, I have the police on my side. Cuz police love busting black men. The very specific white woman/black man form of street harassment is a bad situation in which both parties have reason to genuinely, realistically fear physical harm at the hands of the other. As you point out, the SETTING where this harassment happens changes everything. Alone at night? On a busy street with cops present? How about on the Internet? Who has the power? Who should have the power?
These are the kinds of issues I wish people who fight street harassment would talk about.
I appreciate this article for both hailing the approach and calling for more understanding of context, potential fallout, and history on the part of the creator. I don’t think the answer is for people like Lindsey to be silent. That just encourages a pointless, reactionary form of white guilt, like “only women of color can be hurt.” No. We can all be hurt. In different ways. I would love to see the experiences of women of color get WAY more airtime on Buzzfeed and everywhere else in the universe. I want to change the cultural narrative that only white women can be hurt. I love the Stop Telling Women To Smile project. I appreciate the critique of Lindsey’s work, which is not a critique of All White People, fellow white people.
Appreciate hearing about your experiences and introspections born from them. These are powerful convos to have, and go a long way to help with diverse understandings and outlooks. Stay safe!
The original author’s implication that racism somehow trumps misogyny, and that white women should therefore restrain themselves from “shaming” black men who accost them is infuriating. No woman should ever have to submit herself to any form of abuse, harassment or unwanted attention because of the color of her skin.
In fact, just like the men who holler at Lindsey in the street, the author of this column is choosing to judge her because of her appearance. Instead of applauding a sister’s creative attempt to bring attention to a shared cause, she is choosing to belittle her efforts by labeling them as the result of “white privilege.”
Then there’s this unbelievably judgmental accusation: “The point is, Lindsey lacks a modicum of self-awareness around issues of race and class that make her ill-suited to bear the cross of the anti-street harassment movement.”
Really?!? So Lindsey should just keep her opinions to herself, since she is so “ill-suited”? She should not “humiliate” men by publicizing their misogynist behavior, if they happen to be non-white?
This is not a race issue. This is a women’s rights issue. The right to be treated as a human being, to feel safe walking down the street, to not feel that we have to drop our eyes, and make ourselves as little as possible, in the hope to not be noticed.
I am aware that my experience on this planet is different from others because of my skin color, but when street harassment is something universally experienced by all women, I throw my strength behind my mothers, my aunts, my sisters and my daughters. Don’t tell me that I can’t defend myself against some guy because his skin color is different than my own. Tell me you’ve got my back!
This is a race issue AND a women’s rights issue. It can be both, and that’s complicated, but is, in fact, both.
I agree that it’s bullshit that men of color get ticketed more often than white men for committing street harassment. I also think that the man of color that said this only happens because white women get offended was using a derailment tactic And maybe shouldn’t be the utmost authority on racism when he’s trying to defend his own sexism. We want feminism to be intersectional; shouldn’t those against racism take sexism seriously too? And women of color should participate, but she can’t force them to…so she shouldn’t hand out these cards herself?
This comment thread is a very sad example of why exactly critiques like this article need to exist. It’s why the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen exists. It’s a really sad example of white people trying to yell over a person of color (in this case, the author) making a very reasonable explanation about how racism is happening, of angrily refusing to listen to what s/he is saying because they don’t want to be implicated in the terrible accusation of racism.
In my worldview, all white people are socialized to be racist. All men are socialized to be sexist. All cis people are socialized to be transphobic…etc. Not because we’re evil, but because we’re socialized to be (maybe not even by our families, but definitely by our larger society) and because we have benefited through the privileges we’ve received based on the societal oppression of the other. So the way I see it, when I as a white women am called to consider instances of racism, if I insist I’m not one of the racist people, all I’ve done is let myself off the hook for working on my racism.
So while we’re at it, let’s listen to what Hannah said, and let’s examine some of the angry replies in this comment thread to her suggestion that we examine the intersectionality in the interactions between the activist and her cat callers. Words were put in her mouth and suggestions were made that she had said a lot of things that she in no way said. In fact, many commenters seemed to suggest she had mad some sort of argument about letting rapists off the hook at the risk of being racist.
Whoah. Let’s breathe for a second, and let’s think about the implications of this argument. There’s a big difference between being talked to on the street and being raped. We know that most rape happens between acquaintances. Some cat calling from strangers preceeds violence, and a lot of it doesn’t. The author never implies that one ought not to protect themselves from violence. So let’s recognize that. Let’s stop shouting over the author, relax for a second, and try bring our best selves to these conversations.
Our best selves might remember that the American fear of the black male rapist was literally used to justify the lynching of black men for centuries. Black men were burned alive before crowds of onlookers because they were accused of raping or just approaching white women. This is a deep historical pain, and a disgusting American legacy that we all need to remember when we enter these conversations. And too, we also contain the stories of generations of people of all genders and races, people who have been sexually brutalized and been made to feel powerless and completely voiceless.
And yes, some of us carry around a deep fear of men, and some of our socialization makes us more afraid of men of color. And it’s real, and it’s there, but perhaps we ought to note all of the above before we enter the conversation.
And perhaps my fellow white people, please, could also just pause for one second the next time they begin to argue that something wasn’t racist, and instead just consider how racist that response makes them sound.
THANK YOU. This comment is one of the few flowers in a sea of hard-to-pull, frustrating weeds.
We need to somehow turn things around, so that’s it’s not safe for people to target, harass, or assault people. Sexual violence – in speech and action – has been so normalized, that it seems almost awkward to confront it, to de-normalize it. Harassment happens in life and in the media so often, without any commentary, that perpetrators and even those targeted can begin to feel it’s normal. By speaking up, we can make a difference.
Check out this video at 1:20
We can make change. It’s so important that we become a generation of people – of all sexes and genders – who recognize that harassment is not okay, and not normal, and not excusable. It has to stop. Too many of us, every single day, are having to navigate our lives with this constant awareness of potential violence. And if we forget it for a minute, we are loudly reminded of it by strangers who call it out to us, without any feeling of perceived consequence for their actions. The abuse of a power dynamic is so wrong. Our children shouldn’t have to grow up with that.
There was this article about strangers telling people what to do:
It addresses Fazlalizadeh’s project, and the weird “norm” of strangers demanding that people perform for them, and the level of entitlement and potential escalation within that demand.
This video. All of it is good, but 1:20 is especially on point:
I have thought about this for a few days, and read all the comments, and I’m still unclear what the author thinks the activist should do. I appreciate this sentence, and I think it’s the crux:
But here’s my question – if the activist isn’t the perfect person to take on this issue – she’s not the right race for taking this on in her neighborhood, she’s not perfectly educated in all aspects of her activism, etc. – do we all just wait for the perfect activist to come along? Certainly, it would be offensive if she went around telling WOC that it’s *their* responsibility to end street harassment in her neighborhood…
So then, what is she to do? Just… stop? I hear that her race makes her interactions with her harassers problematic, and that the intersectionality isn’t being acknowledged appropriately/significantly. I see that the author of this piece wishes a white woman wouldn’t “take the wheel.” But if the ideal activist isn’t available, then what?
For those of you who do not understand the author, I have one word for you, INTERSECTIONALITY.
When you look at Lindsay’s work and or site, the first thing I noticed was, “There sure are a lot of men of color in her videos,” “Fuck, this pisses me off” and “Oh boy, I know what’s going to happen here, how predictable.”
Here’s the thing, you can’t look at sexism as sexism without incorporating the intersectionality of race, class, ableism, etc. They are all interconnected. If you want to look at the patriarchal system, street harassment and so forth, then you’re going to have to look at things like systematic slavery and the laws incorporated to create segregation, such as the Jim Crow laws and so much more. The Jim Crow laws were racial segregation laws enacted between 1876 and 1965 in the United States at the state and local levels. After slavery, African Americans were separated by law via Jim Crow, through the means of housing, employment, schooling, etc. Many ghetto’s that you see today and people who are less affluent (like the people Lindsay engages with) are the result of slavery and the laws pertaining to it. Black men have also been falsely accused of rape (among other things) by white women in a pre-slavery and post-slavery society. Some Black men have even been lynched, beaten, murdered just because they looked, or engaged themselves in a conversation with a white woman, etc (ie: Emmett Till).
How do you think that effects the psyche of Black males (and people of color) then, when someone who is not of color talks to them about street harassment? How do you think this would come across if they knew she was recording them? The thing is, yes, it’s a public space, but to not know someone is recording you, especially a white woman in a racist society is going to cause pause (ie: What is this white person’s modus operandi?), for people of color. Black males would probably think (and POC) that they are being set-up or framed by a white person or people in order to be seen as criminals and thugs (in which some commentators pointed out). Lindsay clearly states that she doesn’t think street harassment should be criminalized, but what are people of color to think, given the history I just alluded to?
I am going to give you an example of the psyche of people of color and how it effects the way in which people of white privilege approach them…
Does anyone remember Charles Ramsey? He was the guy who saved Amanda Berry (and the rest of the girls) from being sexually abused and captive for a decade by Ariel Castro. He is a Black man. News reporters flocked to Charles Ramsey and wanted to hear his side of the story. Do you want to know what the first thing that came out of his mouth was (again think psyche, systematic oppression, slavery, etc)? Here is what Charles Ramsey said and I quote, “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a Black man’s arms… something is wrong here.” ([url]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpljuj1XsfU[/url] @ 4:19)
No one is justifying street harassment in this article, HOWEVER when you fail to look at only one piece of the puzzle, instead of the whole piece of the puzzle and or the picture, then it is cause for pause. People of color can see this so clearly because they’ve LIVED it, they’ve been through it, they’ve EXPERIENCED it. You cannot fight street harassment effectively if you’re only looking at it through a myopic lens and not addressing all aspects of the picture.
It is good that Lindsay wants to combat street harassment, but she needs to take a good look in the mirror, along with other people of privilege and listen to people of color. Ask yourself this, would this article be written different, if it wasn’t written by a person of color? The reason why it’s caused much commentary is because of this very thing BECAUSE it’s written by a person of color and it addresses the bigger picture.
Oh, this comment is perfect and thank you for breaking it down. This has been so frustrating and you are like my sunshine in this. I have been working on similar projects with a group comprised of women of color (mainly black women) when dealing with street harassment. Most of the women identify as straight so is can be frustrating for me to get them to understand the intersection of being black and queer dealing with street harassment. Anyway, one of the projects we were working on was ways to deal with street harassment without calling the police because of the criminalization of the black male body.
At first I rolled my eyes in the beginning because I had no interest in “protecting” male street harasses because #misandry but I realized that the criminalization of black men is real, very real. We also had very contentious discussion on the role of men in addressing street harassment and it has been hard but worth it because I and the other women came out of it with a better understanding that things are not black and white.
I could go one but your comment pretty much sums up my feelings on this and thank you again.
I’m with you on the interruption thing. It seems she simply failed to distinguish this observation about racial profiling from an excuse-making exercise, because it’s being said by a guy who’s being an obvious jerk – missing the point that the person saying an argument doesn’t alter the argument itself, which in this case seems quite valid and pertinent. He comes to the wrong, self-serving conclusion, of course. He thinks catcalling is perfectly fine no matter who it’s done against, whereas a more reasonable perspective should conclude that catcalling against anybody (no matter skin colour) should lead to equal levels of intervention and discouragement. But she didn’t know he was going to make that conclusion when she cut him off, and failed to acknowledge the original point whatsoever.
I do heavily sympathise with her disclaimer, however. It seems very well thought-out. I can’t think of how you’d word it better. Can you? I can’t, not in any significant way. And if there’s a likelihood of people getting the wrong impression from your activism, then why wouldn’t you explain otherwise? That’s just simply helpful. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Then you go on to imply that white people aren’t the sorts of people who should be doing this kind of activism and I’m sorry but I have to say that that comes across very badly. Can she help that she happens to have pale skin? She’s obviously the victim of some nastiness, and someone who has the forethought and daring to do something about it. Is she then to look herself in the mirror and tell herself “shut up, because white skin”? That’s quite a terrible message to put out.
When you couch defending what should be one’s right to confront harrassment in the street as “wielding white privelege”… because of what it’s “not difficult to imagine” that people “might think” (due of their own racism)… that’s kinda shocking language to use right there. She’s an imperfect person who failed to spot her own internalised racism on one occasion. That doesn’t mean that every time she reacts to harrassment she’s deliberately using her whiteness to oppress the people attacking her who happen to be black. She doesn’t go out thinking “got my sword of whiteness; which black person will I slay today?” but when you say something like “wielding her privilege” that’s exactly what it makes it sound like. And no, it shouldn’t matter what racist people might think. Just as it shouldn’t matter what they might not think, were a black woman to be arguing with a black man on the street that she obviously doesn’t know. Does that deserve less attention from concerned bypassers? Obviously not. The fact that it might in practice garner less attention in a generally racist society is not somehow the fault of a white woman defending herself against catcalling. It’s the fault of the generally racist society.
If you don’t want her to “publicly take the wheel” on such issues, maybe you should get a bunch of other people, of all other races, to publicly take the wheel also. I don’t know her, but it doesn’t sound to me like she’d oppose such activity. Then it’s not just her taking the wheel, it’s a big bunch of people – and that’s better, right?
If people are unwilling to do that, though… and she continues to “take the wheel” (maybe because there’s nobody else “steering the car” if she doesn’t)… that’s no bad thing, whatever her skin colour, or the usual skin colours of those around her, might be. The way to more even representation is to get others to join in with the activism, not to quash one person who’s already engaged in it. The very fact that she is singled out by this article as publicly taking the wheel on the issue is the very demonstration that not enough other people are doing it… or else you surely wouldn’t think of it like that. Other types of less direct activism are great, too. But why would they have to replace each other? Why should they not coexist?
I’m all for your call for her to be more cognizant of her own issues, but I really dislike the discouragement and belittling on display. Everyone should take the wheel. Make a million wheels and have everyone take one. It shouldn’t make any odds their ‘race suitability’ to do so, on an issue that isn’t meant to be about race in the first place.
So much potential wasted in picking holes with Lindsay rather than talking about where this harassment comes from – the whole point of why Lindsay does what she does.
Going after someone who is performing a duty that the author says she herself could not do… well, the author should be ashamed of herself.
The only positive is that the comments are far more interesting than the original article and are providing food for thought.
I feel that a lot of the comments are failing to distinguish between “there’s a problem with how she’s confronting harassers who are men of color” and “she should never confront men of color who harass her.” I don’t believe the author argues anywhere that the activist shouldn’t confront, just that the way she positions herself online has potential issues.
Exactly. Some of the comments are setting up a false dichotomy and then getting hysterical about the extremes, as if they are the only two options. The author is allowed to respectfully critique her activism. It’s funny and sad, sometimes, how bad we are at dealing with grey areas.
Registering an account at Autostraddle specifically for the purpose of commenting on this article. I have a lot of complex feelings about this conversation, some of them pretty passionate, and at the end of the day I’m not sure where I stand in regard to all of it beyond the fact that I’m uncomfortable with a lot of the more extreme responses on either side.
I have to admit that when my partner and I read this article the other day, we were upset and uncomfortable with some of its content. We are both white(-passing) cis women, so I would never want to pretend that couldn’t potentially be coloring our perspective. We are also both survivors of pretty severe abuse, though, my partners’ specifically being sexual assault, and the major part of our reaction was coming from that perspective, especially seeing other commenters expressing similar discomfort. At the end of the day, before I am a queer woman, before I am a person who lives with mental health concerns, before I am any other minority group I align with, I am an abuse and trauma survivor, and it’s very difficult not to knee-jerk align with fellow trauma survivors or those who would seem to be in imminent violent or abusive danger. If there is a question of siding with an abuse victim or not, I am 99 times out of 100 going to side with the abuse victim, the end. While there may or may not be trickle-down potential for any of the minorities featured in the videos, or others in their minority groups, to experience violence as a result of reinforcement of racial stereotypes, it’s hard not to see the people who would seem to be in imminent danger in this situation as the women being street harassed.
Thinking about this for a few days, I think a large part of the argument not being addressed boils down to a metatexual conversation of actual versus performative experience – specifically, the difficulty in separating Lindsey’s actual experience as a victim of street harassment from the performative element of her recording and recounting her experiences via video. Nearly all women have experienced street harassment at one point or another, and watching Lindsey’s videos, we put ourselves in her shoes – her experience is our experience, and even if we don’t recognize her specific experience in relation to one we’ve had before, we think, “what would I do in this situation if I were Lindsey? How would I react? Oh god, what if this happens to me tomorrow on the way to the bus, to the bar, on the way out to my car after work? What am I going to say when this happens to me to avoid having some man on the street say my only purpose in existing was to sexually please him and I should never have been born if I don’t agree?”
Because of that empathetic, self-substituting reaction, I think it’s especially hard to hear someone saying what, as a result, sounds like criticism of our fight-or-flight survival method. I have to admit that, unlike other commenters, my strongest negative reaction here was actually not to the broader discussions of activism but to the author’s discussion of what Lindsey said back to the harasser arguing racism. As a result of the self-substitution discussed above, for me, we were no longer in an intellectual conversation about intersectionality issues on the Internet between queer/minority women – my mind jumped to, “okay, but what else was Lindsey SUPPOSED to say in that moment to keep herself safe? Why are we arguing hypothetical ‘supposed to’s when we’re talking someone’s immediate safety?” I absolutely love the suggestions by other commenters that she could’ve instead said that PoC women don’t appreciate street harassment either – but in the moment of encountering a street harasser, would I have been quick-witted enough to come up with that comeback? Probably not, so how am I to be expected to criticize whatever Lindsey’s off-the-cuff response was to keep herself safe, either? In the moment of the situation, giving a street harasser who’s crudely vocalizing that my only purpose for existing is to satisfy him sexually a respectful opportunity to voice his unique perspective doesn’t sound like privilege-checking and equal conversation. It sounds like a dangerous open invitation for him to, ahem, “show me” the “perspective” of whatever racial or other minority status he’s problematically co-opting to abuse me.
But I digress, because as other commenters have pointed out, through her project, Lindsey has posited her experience as different from my experience or the experiences of anyone else self-substituting here – she is already actively engaging with these men in the first place, in not just a deliberately argumentative one but a deliberately educational one. Lindsey isn’t just another woman experiencing the panic of the moment of street harassment. She’s formed an entire activist project around it, she’s continuing to film encounters, and she’s continuing to engage in public conversation about her project – meaning she’s continuing to distance herself every day from fight-or-flight instant reactions of personal safety. The longer she continues with this project, the more performative these videos surely become – the more she has time to think about what would be the best comebacks, the more she has time to tweak wording on cards, the more she has time to adjust positioning of her camera to make it more or less obvious she’s filming the men, the more sample of encounters she has to pick and choose which to publish that best represent her message and avoid accidental problematic connotations, etc. Now that the project’s picking up steam virally, there’s exponentially more feedback from viewers to consider, too.
And it’s with that increased performativity that we start to look at and consider things like issues of intersectionality. A one-off comment of, “no, listen, it’s not about race, it’s about you making me feel uncomfortable and you need to stop” is a consideration of personal safety, and shaming Lindsey or any other woman in any other harassment scenario and calling her racist is VERY uncomfortable, victim-blaming territory for me. But what happens if, say, dozens of published videos later, after receiving significant feedback (that we know actually made its way to her) from PoC viewers about intersectionality concerns, Lindsey chooses not to take other suggestions of different wording and comebacks and continues not to address racial concerns more fully than a “well, that’s not what I meant” response? Then that’s a COMPLETELY different story.
But going back to the self-substituting responses – it is so, so easy, especially for people familiar with the dangers of street harassment, and especially for survivors of not just the effects of rape culture but of active assault, to not consider those layers of performativity, and I would highly suspect that’s a much more of a factor at work in many of the comments here falling against the author’s perspective than we’re giving it credit for. No, all and perhaps not most street harassers are not rapists, but statistics about assault more often coming from familiar perpetrators aren’t going to be proper comfort when a man on the street is pursuing and threatening you, and for many people, watching Lindsey’s videos puts us into that emotional moment of that threat. Again, I don’t have the perspective to speak from people coming down in alignment with the author due to shared PoC perpsective, but it’s also not a stretch to assume that personal experiences, both relived and self-substituted ones, are coloring their responses as well.
On the subject of Lindsey being the right person to carry the mantle against street harassment, I have to come down on the side of those asking what the author is advocating happen instead. I don’t pretend to speak for anyone but myself on the issue, but this recalls, for me, similar conversations about the place for straight allies in the LGBTQ movement. In an ideal world, a multitude of activist perspectives and projects should work together to supportively and respectfully emphasize everyone’s place in the movement, most of all the specific group(s) being fought for – but I feel like I tend to come down much softer on this issue than a lot of my peers, because the reality is that so often that’s an ideal that can’t be met, especially not in the early stages of breaking down the prejudices and injustices that prevent it. I see a lot of rhetoric every day yelling at straight allies to “get off our playground, f*ck you, we don’t want your help,” and maybe it truly is a difference of perspective, maybe I’m just lucky, but the ratio of kind, supportive, attentive, respectful allies I’ve met over the years exponentially exceeds the self-serving, attention-seeking, white-savior-complex, making-the-movement-all-about-themselves “allies” people constantly seem to be fighting against. And I’m also not naive enough to ignore the fact it IS easier for an issue or a movement or a project to receive more widespread attention with majority figurehead presence than without that presence. Again, I’m not claiming to speak for everyone, but I’d rather see information spread and progress made on issues that I care about, even if it’s not perfect progress, so long as it’s not progress that comes at an actively malicious cost. Maybe ultimately I’m the one who’s being naive here, but I do truly believe that progress will beget more progress, and the more discussion of an issue is accepted in the public sphere, the more voices, from all perspectives, will enter that discussion. Or even if it doesn’t always shake out perfectly that way, I’d rather try that than not have the discussion at all in waiting for the perfect voice.
For me, rather than questioning whether or not Lindsey is the perfect voice and therefore calling into question whether or not she should have a voice in the conversation at all – I’d much rather we call on Lindsey to use her newfound voice in the conversation to help raise the profile of other voices. The link to the Stop Telling Women To Smile project is a definite positive step in this regard, certainly, but if Lindsey is admittedly not familiar with other past or present campaigns with similar goals, there’s an opportunity for her to not just address feedback concerns but potentially join forces with more women fighting street harassment. What about joining forces – whether as simply as putting another link up or making a public promo, or in much more extensive ways if she has the means – with the men who were involved in the wonderful anti-harassment video linked by a commenter above? Lindsey may not be an expert on intersectionality and racism, but as a white woman, she isn’t the voice to be one, and at the end of the day none of us are the appropriate voice for every possible intersectional issue in every social movement. The issue is that she shouldn’t be purporting herself as an expert voice. I don’t think she is purporting herself to be that, by any means, but it’s never, ever a bad idea to take that one step further and use the respect you’ve garnered from being a voice for the subjects you ARE qualified to be a voice for to help bring light to others’ voices in other areas as well.
(Also, as a footnote – I have a very close friend who lives in Lindsey’s area of Minneapolis, who is a woman of color, and everything I’ve ever heard from her about street harassment and issues of the intersectionality of racism and sexism in her neighborhood completely corroborates with how Lindsey is presenting things in these videos and with the experiences of other commenters in the area. I do have a bit of issue with the lack of context for some of the statistics in this article – yes, women of color are absolutely more likely to experience street harassment than white women, but street harassment is far more likely to occur at a higher volume and frequency in urban areas ((not to say other degrading facets of rape culture don’t pick up the slack in the suburbs, because they absolutely do)), and there are statistically higher volumes of women of color living in urban areas than in non-urban ones – I do wish it would be noted in sharing these kinds of statistics that urban living is a huge contributing factor here as well.
I also live in an inner-city urban area, which, while safer statistically than Lindsey’s area, has its fair share of violence and harassment at work. It’s rare that I leave the house in my neighborhood without a man commenting on my appearance, and even rarer if I’m leaving the house on foot or using public transportation rather than driving. In my experience, I feel MUCH less uncomfortable with the comments frequently made to me by men of color – maybe it’s an age issue in that much of the male PoC population in my neighborhood are middle-aged or above, or maybe it’s an intersectionality issue I’m missing from my perspective of PoC men feeling less privileged and therefore less comfortable approaching white/-passing women, but the comments I get from PoC men, while sometimes invasive, tend to be significantly more respectful and along the lines of what could be deemed complimentary. I have PoC men every day who comment more specifically on the attractiveness of my outfit than the attractiveness of my body in it, or who qualify their comments with “I don’t mean any disrespect/I don’t mean to frighten you, but,” or who keep their language generally positive and non-sexually-threatening – those men far outnumber men making crude or threatening or dehumanizing comments. I’m not saying that kind of sugar-coated street harassment doesn’t carry its own concerns, nor that the fact that, as a queer woman, I’m not looking for any man’s sexually charged comments in the first place, but I can’t think of a time a PoC man in my neighborhood has made me feel outright unsafe with street comments. By contrast, I’ve more than a few times had straight white frat boys punctuate their uncomfortable lewd comments to me with obscene sexual gestures on streets or in establishments deemed “safe” in my neighborhood – by and large, in my experience, white men have made me feel far more unsafe on the streets than PoC men.)
This is an excellent article. Your analysis of how the racial dynamic challenges helps to unravel the feminist stance. I think looking at Cards Against Harassment critically is something we should do any time we write, comment, publish, etc. It’s important to examine our own work for it’s mishandlings, and I think the writer here, points out the pitfalls of this project, potentially giving the creator a chance to improve and adjust. Continuing to ignore race dynamics won’t get the point across. The first thing I noticed when I went to the website was that the “harassers” were mostly men of color. I then questioned the rest of the project. Hopefully, we see a greater empathy and recognition in further documentation from Lindsey, and that she challenges her white privilege in documenting these interactions. Did you send this article to her?