Shoshana B. Roberts — who walked around New York City for 10 hours while being filmed by a hidden camera so that she could record the harassment she received from men on the street — is already getting rape threats.
Roberts's video, which after a day online has already racked up more than 1 million views, documents the over 100 catcalls, whistles, and other forms of harassment she received over the course of the day. One persistent character walked alongside her for five minutes and wouldn't leave her alone:
The video was produced by Hollaback, an organization dedicated to stamping out street harassment and intimidation. Last night, Hollaback tweeted:
The subject of our PSA is starting to get rape threats on the comments. Can you help by reporting them? http://t.co/NMYCFd9YOm— Hollaback! (@iHollaback) October 28, 2014
The threats are still coming today. These, for instance, were posted while I was writing this article:
"The rape threats indicate that we are hitting a nerve," Hollaback director Emily May told Newsday. "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."
The worst part is that this isn't surprising
Roberts's video is so offensive because it's so familiar. Any woman who has ever walked anywhere, especially in New York, knows the constant, terrifying din of catcalls following behind her. It's a way men make women feel unsafe walking the streets of their own neighborhoods — and then, when challenged on it, profess innocence: "what, you can't take a compliment?" Women quickly learn that as awful as catcalling is, they can't respond to it. To respond is to risk being harassed more, or followed, or worse. To respond is to risk making the man who is shouting at you on the street, after dark, actually angry.
Similarly, the response to Roberts's video is so offensive because it is, again, so familiar. Rape and death threats have become a standard response to any woman who dares to speak out on the internet about, well, anything. Look at #Gamergate. Look at Emma Watson. And there, too, to respond is to risk making it worse. When geek hero Felicia Day lamented the harassment of women in #Gamergate, her home address and other personal information was posted online. To respond is to risk making the men who are digging through your personal information and threatening to rape or kill you actually angry.
This video wasn't made for women facing harassment. It was made for men who remain blissfully unaware of how women are treated when they walk down the street. But instead of listening, instead of taking the time to realize how women might feel when men yell at them, these commenters — backed by their anonymity and privilege — have threatened to rape Roberts for daring to talk about it.
Let's lay this out in plain terms. Women are forced to feel uncomfortable and scared for walking down the damn street. Then, when one woman takes the time to show just how uncomfortable those interactions are, people threaten to physically assault her. If the video reminded us that women are constantly made to feel unsafe when they leave the house, the response is a reminder that women are constantly made to feel unsafe when they simply turn on their computer.
The problem here isn't just that men are ignorant of how women are treated. The problem is that many know exactly what they're doing to women, and will try to intimidate and silence women who try to fight back.