The internet hates men, and no one's a winner
The more the online anti-men trend gains traction, the more women will be deprived of decent male allies in the battle against abuse, says Jake Wallis Simons
There has been a lot of comment over the harassment Shoshana Roberts (who might reasonably be described as a busty babe. A beanpole or a fatty would undoubtedly have got different results) got as she walked through NYC streets. It should be noted however that most of the harassment came from blacks. When the experiment was repeated by a model in Auckland, New Zealand, there was zero harassment. There are negligible blacks in New Zealand and both major New Zealander groups (Maori and Pakeha) are polite. Blacks, however, are well known for their very pushy approaches to white women, being very reluctant to take No for an answer -- JR
Sigh. A new current has developed in the polluted ocean of online videos. If you're a Facebook user, you'll have noticed it: it involves women, and men, and the former being incessantly harassed by the latter.
I'm talking about those hidden-camera clips in which a female actor records the appalling level of harassment that she was subjected to by men in the street.
The best known was made by Shoshana Roberts, who was filmed walking the streets of New York amid catcalls and sexual comments. Thus far, it has attracted a staggering 36 million views, and has been hailed as a much-needed exposure of the plight of a woman in 21st Century society.
This was followed by a clip made by the “social media entrepreneur” Stephen Zhang, in which a young woman dons a skimpy dress in the middle of the day and pretends to be drunk. An apparently shocking number of men attempted to take advantage of her, some almost forcing her back to their houses before she revealed the trick and escaped.
The trend got a bit silly when a British “dating expert” filmed herself pretending to be lost while wearing different outfits, from a hoodie-and-jeans combination to a leather skirt and boots. How would male Londoners respond? We waited with bated breath.
Funnily enough, although men tended to speak to the woman for longer when she was dressed provocatively, not one of the men even offered his telephone number, let alone sought to take advantage of a damsel in distress. In fact, every man Jack acted like a gentleman. What point was she trying to make, exactly?
(Perhaps she didn't really have a point. Perhaps she was mainly courting clicks. After all, a viral video can make you big money. And, as the old Silicon Valley adage has it, “first ubiquity, then revenue”.)
Predictably enough, it didn't take long for commercial companies to jump on the bandwagon. One video produced by Nestlé revealed (no pun intended) that people look at a woman’s breasts a lot when she is wearing a low-cut top. Again, the point was what? The video was promoting breast cancer awareness, but a cynic might argue that this was merely a fig-leaf for moneymaking.
Of course, there is a variety of examples here. On the surface, the more serious videos are attempting a form of social campaigning, drawing attention to – as the hashtag has it – #everydaysexism. This has to be a good thing. But the closer you look, the less straightforward the matter becomes.
Take the video that kicked it all off. For one thing, it was recorded in a rather deprived part of New York, where such harassment is more likely to occur. For another, the perpetrators were exclusively black or Latino. This a) raises questions about the prejudices that underpinned the film-maker’s editorial decisions, and b) highlights the general subjectivity of the editing.
(Rob Bliss, who shot the film, later claimed that white men had harassed Shoshana Roberts too, but by some odd coincidence the sound quality had been compromised on these occasions.)
It goes without saying that the abuse of women in the street is a serious problem. Some may argue that in order to draw attention to it, an element of contrivance, exaggeration and even sensationalism is justified.
If it makes young men think twice before they bully a woman, this has to be a good thing. But at what price? When a one-off becomes a trend, and sensationalist video follows sensationalist video, this constitutes a form of negative campaigning. And negative campaigning has a habit of creating negative consequences.
Depictions of decent men have now become strikingly absent online. The overall suggestion is that men are guilty until proven innocent; this only reinforces gender stereotyping.
Indeed, we have reached a stage where feminist sites like Jezebel run stories like “How to kick men in the balls: an illustrated guide”, confirming the impression that the internet hates men. Misogynist trolling by horrid little men is a huge concern, but the answer is not to alienate the rest of us.
It must be acknowledged – and strongly so – that most of the men watching these videos would never dream of treating women in this way. Call me optimistic, but in my experience, there are at least 10 gentlemen for every abuser. And that's a conservative estimate.
What message are upstanding men, particularly the younger ones, supposed to take from this cataract of negative campaigning? In the current climate of febrile abusiveness, both online and in "meatspace", this is something that should concern everyone. The more the anti-men trend gains traction, the more women will be deprived of decent male allies in the battle against abuse.