Catcalling and street harassment is a popular topic on WIYL, and with good reason; a 2008 study by Holly Kearl revealed that 99% of women have faced unwanted verbal come-ons, some more lewd and violating than others.
I live in a more industrial part of Brooklyn, across from a junkyard (complete with “Beware of Dog” sign) and a block down from a recycling collection center, where workers, mostly 25-50 year old men, sort bottles and cans from surise to sunset. Every day I walk by this operation on the way to the subway, and every day, without fail, I encounter some form of advancements or catcalling. There is something so frustrating and violating about being hit on during your unavoidable walk to work at 9 AM, harassed only because you are a young female walking by yourself. I never leave my apartment anymore without sunglasses and headphones, as to avoid eye contact and be able politely eschew all advances by feigning ignorance of them even happening, coping mechanisms that I am ashamed of having to take as a feminist and strong, empowered woman. “Powerless” is the only word to describe the options presented when harassed on the street; you can either walk by silently, or confront the perpertrator, risking physical escalation and conflict.
As Kearl said in a Huffington Post article about street harassment:
Street harassment is not a joke about construction workers; it is a problem that touches every woman’s life at some level and prevents women on a whole from achieving equality. More research needs to be conducted to better track its prevalence and to uncover the root causes, and in the meantime, let’s make it illegal. While laws do not solve problems, they can help change social attitudes, deter the undesired behavior, and provide affected persons with options for recourse.
This no-win scenario is the main idea behind the video game Hey Baby, a first-person shooter in which you get to gun down street harassers, and the sleazeballs are replaced with headstones engraved with their catcalls. The game may seem a bit extreme, murdering those who just want to tell you you’re “gorgeous” (my favorite response to which is, “I know I am, thanks for the reminder, ASSHOLE”); the come-ons, however, are sometimes just as extreme, with men approaching you to to inform you that you’re asking to be raped. The game is an intriguing concept in and of itself, but the commentary from male gamers has also proved englightening. Says Kieron Gillen of Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
The game’s rubbish, of course. But the one thing it does well is show how what you may think is an innocuous compliment feels in the context of a woman’s life. You approaching a woman in the street and being what you think is politely flirty is a different thing when, down the street, someone’s suggested that maybe you’d like to suck my dick and you’re a fucking bitch if you don’t.
From her perspective, it’s a culture of harassment she has to either politely deal with or ignore.
From your perspective, you’re just showing how you feel.
That your passing desire means you get to derail a woman’s life whenever you feel like it is the absolute definition of male privilege.
If you’re a man, and you’ve acted like this, the woman you do it to, beneath the polite smile she has to offer, has probably fantasised about you dying.
Seth Sciesel of New York Times pointed out that in the game, the attackers are relentless, and there is no end in sight to the harassment. Our point exactly, Schiesel. Hey Baby has no score, no levelling up, and no end goal. The game is painfully realistic in that way; you are trapped in a situation in which you question wearing your tank top or shorts before leaving the house, where you take an alternate route to avoid facing certain areas you know are rife with street harassers. I’ve found that it is difficult to get men to join in on conversations about consent and sexual harassment, and sexual assault, but perhaps Hey Baby is a good place to start.
Just as I have never been sexually harassed, I have never accosted a strange woman on the street. After playing Hey Baby, I’m certainly not about to start.