Yesterday's viral video depicted a woman walking through New York, getting catcalled 108 times in 10 hours. In addition to illustrating a completely typical experience, Rob Bliss and Shoshana B. Roberts' project generated a significant online discussion amongst the millions who watched it. Immediate responses ranged from supportive to outraged to, most notably, threatening. Like harassment, though, this dialogue was just one symptom of a long-standing societal ill.
This morning, Hollaback, the organization that commissioned the video, tweeted that Roberts had begun getting rape threats from YouTube commenters within hours of the video's release. They urged viewers to report the threats, and certainly, their very existence is disheartening to say the least — if not unexpected. Online rape threats are a growing and virulent strain of "trolling" that female public figures have come to expect from certain corners of the Internet. Throughout August and September, Mara Wilson, a humor writer and popular feminist voice online, was barraged by seemingly random rape threats from the same account, with little recourse but to report the user and encourage her followers to do the same. It took weeks of demands and public reporting before the account was finally banned last month.
Yet, like the response to the catcalling video, the general consensus regarding threats like these is: of course. Of course Shoshana Roberts, Mara Wilson, and the women of #GamerGate will all get rape threats simply for being visible figures and commenting on obvious instances of sexism in a public forum.
We shouldn't just be shocked by these threats; we should also be appalled by the thousands of dismissive or outright misogynist comments surrounding them. Looking at the replies to this video, some viewers are rightly galled. "Wow. Eye opening," one male CBS reporter tweeted after watching. "This is absolutely disgusting," said another guy. But, many, many more people replied with comments like these on our post:
"Since when is a simple greeting or compliment considered harassment?"
"With a body like that, she will get catcalled, no matter where she goes."
"She could have smiled."
"Take a taxi next time and shut the f*ck up."
While some people get it, it's clear that others don't. That's why street harassment videos like this will and should continue to go viral. It's why things like #YesAllWomen matter, and why those who argue that we don't need feminism anymore are deliberately missing the point. Female street harassment is common, accepted, and largely ignored. So are things like the wage gap, discriminatory hiring practices and, indeed, online rape threats. Do we need an "eye opening" viral video to get that issue tackled?
Yes, catcalling is harassment — and no, it is not as insidious and harmful as physical sexual assault. But, it is a symptom of an environment that enables it. If there were ever any question of that, just look to the comments section.