When I was a young woman in New York City, men would say things to me on the street.
Some of the remarks were original, if rather personal. On my admittedly lax shaving habits, for instance, one fellow yelled, “You need a lawn mower for those legs!”
At times it was scary. I was angrily called racist for not smiling back. And I was once followed for a half-hour by a man who had seen me kiss a girl. He demanded to know what lesbians did in bed.
A much-discussed online video called “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” put out by Hollaback!, a group dedicated to ending street harassment, underscores how relentless such heckling can be.
In the video, a secret camera records a young woman walking in NYC as men — mostly black and Latino — call at her dozens of times. Producers have apologized for leaving out white men who also harassed her. In any case, catcalling is an irksome feature of street culture.
Yet, in thinking about the YouTube video, which has been viewed nearly 34 million times, we should not lose sight of the gross things some white-collar men do and say to women.
The only difference is that it mostly happens indoors. Those men don’t feel they own the street, but feel they own the indoors.
Proof? One in four women say they have been sexually harassed at work, according to an ABC News/ Washington Post poll. For instance, when I was 25, an 80-something newspaper publisher leeringly and lingeringly put his hands all over me, in front of my then-boyfriend and folks attending a Christmas party.
Hollaback! opposes further criminalizing catcalling, which in some forms is already a violation in New York — punishable by fine or up to 15 days in jail. But some, including Northwestern University sociologist Laura Beth Nielsen, are calling for broader laws and more enforcement.
It would be a shame if the conversation sparked by the video led to the scapegoating, overpolicing and criminalization of communities that are already scapegoated, overcriminalized and overpoliced.
After all, the difference between working-class and elite male behavior is simply a matter of venue: indoors versus outdoors.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.