Saturday, November 1, 2014

About class, catcalling, and that viral video

One of my old posts, class and catcalling, got some love from the internet this week because of this video:

Anti-racists have been saying that video is racist because it's about a white woman walking through neighborhoods with lots of brown men. They don't see that it's about a middle-class woman walking through neighborhoods with lots of working class men. And more significantly, they don't see that it's about a middle-class woman pointedly ignoring working class men.

The video's a template for everyone's projections. An old-school snob could title it "Working-class men don't know their place." An old-school racist could title it, "White women must be protected from dark-skinned races."

What strikes me is it's about a woman on the street who is oblivious to the dynamics of the street. She doesn't want to engage with strangers, especially those of a lower economic class. She doesn't want to acknowledge a greeting or a compliment, so something as simple as "good morning" becomes a "micro aggression".

To the people who agree with the videomakers, the men's reactions to being ignored is evidence of their sexism. But humans don't like being ignored. Feminists who complain about women being erased should see that by refusing to acknowledge the existence of working-class men, the actor is erasing them from her reality.

Which is why it's hard to tell what's going on with the guy who decides to walk beside her. Clearly, he knows something odd is going on. Maybe he's spotted the camera. Whatever he's thinking, he's doing something that he could as easily do with a man who was ignoring him. Speaking as a guy who knows a little more about the street than most middle class people do, I assure you, his decision to walk beside her was not necessarily sexual.

There's not a perfect parallel in this, but I recommend it to put the previous video in perspective:

I relate to it because I was a handsome young guy in New York once. Not as handsome as that guy, but I got hit on by men and women. I've never had great social skills, but I knew one of the basic rules of the street: don't ignore people. It's rude. Smile, say "thank you" if they've complimented you, say "sorry" if they've asked you for something you don't want to give, and keep walking.

There's a very reasonable take on catcalling by Ana Kasparian and Gina Grad in this: