‘Everyday Sexism’?

katyfeminism9 Comments


There is a video doing the internet rounds this morning. It features a girl walking down the street in New York, being victim to ‘everyday’ sexism – men wolf-whistling, saying good morning, expressing an interest in her etc. She secretly recorded her experiences to demonstrate how women are still victim of everyday sexism. Adding that, when moving into her flat recently, she was asked out by no less than three men, called round to fix/install various white goods.

As a consequence plenty of women (and a few men) are up in arms, waving the feminist banner with all their might and agreeing that yes, indeed, women are still brutally exposed to daylight sexual harassment on a mass scale.
Whilst I don’t doubt that for some, advances, often fairly sexually explicit ones, are unwelcome, I can’t help but think that campaigns like this are at risk of becoming a man witch-hunt. And, given the highly edited style of the piece, suggest that all men are predators and all women, victims – thus fanning the fires of the man v woman war even more. Isn’t it equality we want, not women campaigning for men to be labelled as sexual predator when he compliments a girl, says ‘Good morning’ to her in the street, or God forbid, asks her out for a drink?

Of course woman are within their rights to express upset if they feel they are victims of genuine sexism, but let’s be careful not to create a society where people are scared to make eye contact for fear of ending up in court on a sexual intimidation charge.

The video is heavily edited, making it look like the girl in question spends the vast majority of her day fending off unwanted advances. It distorts the perspective, fuels the feminist anger and, to my mind, only goes to increase contempt on either side – ever-deepening the divide between men and women, and bypassing the goal of equality all together.

I live in the middle of London, like any woman  I’ve been ‘wolf-whistled’ at on numerous occasions, sometimes I smile back, sometimes I totally ignore it and sometimes, I pre-empt it and cross the street before I get to the proverbial building site because I can’t be bothered to either entertain or dismiss. Does crossing the street in avoidance affect my life? No, not really, no more than crossing the street to avoid an old colleague I can’t be bothered to talk to would.

Do I feel like a victim? No, not in the slightest. I think it is banter, and it doesn’t offend me at all.

I am more offended by women campaigning for equality then bitching and moaning about men – condemning them for ever look, compliment, word and action. It is little wonder that feminism gets such a bad press when features like this exaggerate the chasm so dramatically between men and women.

I won’t deny that ‘everyday sexism’ can exist. But let’s keep it in perspective – being asked out by a plumber is not sexist and a man saying good morning is not harassment.

I consider myself a feminist but have absolutely no issue with being acknowledged in the street by a man. (and yes, it’s regularly … I’m not that old) I ignore it or respond to it … what I don’t do is victimize myself for the ‘greater good’ of womankind and put together disproportionate recordings encouraging women to be wary, intimidated and guarded of men.


katy‘Everyday Sexism’?

9 Comments on “‘Everyday Sexism’?”

  1. GirlOnTheNet

    I don’t get why ‘I don’t mind it when guys yell’ automatically leads to ‘so women are overreacting to street harassment.’

    I don’t always mind it when guys look at my tits, but that doesn’t mean I think guys should stare at anyone’s tits whenever they want to. It’s not about individual likes and dislikes, because the whole point is that the guys who shout this stuff do it *regardless of whether women want it.* That’s why we talk about entitlement. There is absolutely no way for a random guy to know how his ‘hey baby’ will make you feel, because you are a total stranger. That – that ‘behaving exactly as you want without any regard for how it’ll make the other person feel’ – is incredibly shitty.

    It sounds like a lot of what you’re bothered about here is feminism, and the labels of sexism/misogyny/whatever. As it happens I *do* believe that this is sexist (because it absolutely doesn’t happen to men on the same scale as it does to women), but if those terms make you feel uncomfortable, let’s strip out all of that language, and I’ll ask you the question:

    - Do you think behaving exactly as you see fit without at any point considering what effect it might have on others is a decent thing to do?

    My answer would be no. And moreover, it’d be ‘no, and we should discourage this behaviour’ – which is exactly what videos like this are trying to do.

    1. katy

      I don’t deny that there is such a thing as everyday sexism and that women can, quite rightly, feel offended by it. However my issue is more the fact that the debate gets ridiculous when women start to label being asked out by a plumber as sexist. You’re allowed to be offended by ‘hey baby’ just as much as i’m allowed to not be offended by it. Harmless banter to some, outright sexual harassment to others.
      - Do you think behaving exactly as you see fit without at any point considering what effect it might have on others is a decent thing to do? … no I don’t but then I wouldn’t put a man wolf whistling at me or telling me i look hot in the category of ‘behaving exactly as they see fit regardless of the consequences’.

  2. GirlOnTheNet

    “I wouldn’t put a man wolf whistling at me or telling me i look hot in the category of ‘behaving exactly as they see fit regardless of the consequences’.”

    OK, that’s where we disagree then, and where I think your argument is internally inconsistent.

    When we discussed this on Twitter, part of what you were arguing was that men basically can’t help shouting stuff out – they’re programmed to ‘hunt’ in a way that women are not. If that’s the case, the surely ‘behaving exactly as they see fit’ is exactly what they’re doing – they can’t help it, after all! They’re just men! Acting as they’re programmed.

    There are two possibilities here:
    - either you’re wrong and men are not programmed to do anything. In fact men, like women, are human beings who are capable of correctly assessing what is and isn’t inappropriate behaviour. In this case, shouting random things at strangers in the street is just as inappropriate as it would be to anyone else. Regardless of how you personally react to ‘hey baby’, it’s pretty common knowledge that there are plenty of women who will be scared/upset/angry/belittled by things like this. Any decent person would stop and think, and go ‘hmm maybe I shouldn’t do that.’
    - the other option is that men actually are programmed to behave like this. That, when a woman walks past them, men are drawn to this behaviour no matter how polite they would be on any other occasion. If this is the case, then men have no free will and can’t be considered moral agents – their biology dictates what they do. Obviously this is ridiculous, but I think it’s also pretty man-hating as well: it strips away any responsibility men have for their actions.

    Regarding your example of being asked out by the plumber, I think you’re overreacting. What’s more, no one’s said that in the context of this, have they? Explaining that street harassment is – far more than just ‘offensive – frequently intimidating, occasionally terrifying, and more often than not unwanted, doesn’t mean that men can never ask women out, or compliment them. It’s literally just saying ‘hey dudes, maybe consider how an individual woman might feel about your advance, yeah?’

  3. Ade

    Anything said in this response is said with no understanding of the everyday sexism women face, so please be gentle if what I say is worthy of response.

    I have no doubt for many women, being on the receiving end of a wolf whistle is at best unwelcome, or much worse, makes them feel uncomfortable and more. Personally I think it shows a serious lack of class, an almost Neanderthal act from an ignorant person likely to be of a generation raised on Carry On film repeats and that kind of mindset. It is only in more recent times the voices against this type of behaviour have been so loud, and the likes of social media have allowed this.

    As a male who reads these sort of articles and comments with a very very casual interest, I see comments such as a compliment being seen as a chat up line. There is no disputing many many men have made it harder for the good ones to be noticed, but it will get to the point where the good ones will give up due to being shouted down just for being nice. A compliment is sometimes seen as being creepy, and that’s after years of women saying “I’ve had my hair done/have new outfit/done my nails and the bastard never even noticed” but when a man notices and says so, he is a disgusting creep after only one thing.

    For years the feminist ‘movement’ has said that women should not be held back, but go out and get what they want. According to a number of articles, this has also meant sexually, and they are told (rightly so) that Thursday nights with the lights off should not be the extent of their sex life. As a result of this, a number of women have become sexually enlightened, and now embrace their desires, wants and needs. Some women actually like the idea of being wolf whistled, dragged to the bedroom by the hair to the bedroom and fucked senseless. I have seen someone in conversation on social media and forums say that if a man so much as slaps her arse her legs will close quicker than a village post office on a Wednesday afternoon.

    Every woman is different, has differing views. but it seems the ones who say the menz are sexist pigs and wrong are the loudest.

    So if a woman goes out on a date, and her date doesn’t pass compliment on the outfit, he might not be as ignorant as he appears, just not sure what to do.

    and yes. I know I rambled, I’m not good with these things.

    1. Anya


      You’ve just identified how men are also detrimentally affected by street harassment; when there is so much noise (harassment) it becomes difficult to discern signal (mature masculine compliments) within it. When male attention becomes wholly associated with negative experiences .. it’s hardly surprising when women associate ANY signal with noise.

      There is, as I’m sure you know, a world of difference between cat-calling from a stranger while you’re on the way to the shop for milk, which occurs AT you, and sharing a date where there is already an agreed attraction or openness towards cultivating attraction.

      If women are spurning your compliments on dates, it may be the above signal/noise issue, a woman’s insecurity or a perhaps a lack of attunement to how your date wishes to be complimented on your part .. in which case .. why not show confidence and ask? :)

  4. GirlOnTheNet

    I don’t think that write-up is hers, it’s Upworthy’s. For the record, Upworthy is a clickbait website and it does often go for the most emotive possible language to get a point across. Even still, in this case I think it’s fair enough to make the distinction between ‘asking someone out’ and ‘pressuring them’, which is what it sounds like this writer is doing. Here’s what’s actually said about being asked out:
    “All four men that came to my apartment — *all four* — harassed me about why I was living alone and asked if they could take me out, with one telling me that “whether I liked it or not,” he was going to get to know me. ”

    I’ll leave it here, because it sounds like this is just one of those things that we fundamentally disagree on. The stuff I said above about biological essentialism basically sums up my general thoughts: I think men are better than this, and I think it’s important that we keep calling people out on shit behaviour, so our sons don’t grow up to think that’s the way they’re expected to behave.

  5. Anya


    I appreciate your desire to offer an alternative perspective, and I agree that you see cat-calls from men as banter and are not offended by it at all.

    The issue isn’t whether identifying or labelling experiences as ‘everyday sexism’ gives feminism a bad name; the issue is exposing male behaviour which makes the vast majority of women uncomfortable in the everyday environments men take for granted, and how that creation of discomfort destroys any sense of trust between genders. A deteriorating sense of trust which, as a dating blogger I’m sure you’ll agree, is why so many men and women find it hard to meet people romantically in those self-same everyday environments.

    Your perspective reminds me of Doree Lewark’s, who wrote in the NY Post this August;

    “Summer to me means three things: heat, hemlines and hard hats. It’s the time of year when I can parade around in a skimpy dress with strategic cutouts that would make my mom wince. And when I know I’m looking good, I brazenly walk past a construction site, anticipating that whistle and “Hey, mama!” catcall. Works every time — my ego and I can’t fit through the door!”


    Given one of her closing lines, “Maybe I’ll find self-worth and validation somewhere else…”, I have to agree with a commentator from CBC’s collation of responses;

    “My dear you seriously need to look up the common psychological flaw of “external validation”. Basing your sense of personal well being on the opinions of others is just begging for a lifetime of depression and abuse. Stop and think for a moment about what happens if you get all dressed up as a man magnet and nobody whoops at you? What happens then? Using men to make yourself feel better is just begging for disappointment.”


    Alongside XoJane’s response (and comments) http://www.xojane.com/issues/catcalls-are-not-flattering, perhaps the best response to you, and the reason why women feel uncomfortable receiving treatment you yourself sometimes “pre-empt .. and cross the street .. because I can’t be bothered to either entertain or dismiss” comes from Rebecca Vipond Brink at The Frisky.

    After her male self-defence instructor explained why a female friend who’d always spurned his offer for training is now taking it up (her experience has to be read to be believed), and 16 year old girls having “Hot pussy!” shouted at them from a car, it revolves around “.. our intentions in public spaces. Most of us are just human beings trying to commute and get through our lives, just like the men in public, and so we want men to treat us in public the same way they treat other men in public.”

    It’s about being allowed a choice; the choice to have our gender front and centre, perhaps to solicit male attention, or to be respected as a fellow human being, regardless of our gender.


    In response to your direct complaints about the video; yes, it is highly edited. Such is the nature of reducing 10 hours of footage down to 90 seconds (excluding titles). In the 10 hours the footage was recorded, the actress received over 100 catcalls, which equates to 10 per hour. Slightly more than you indicate experiencing yourself per hour in London, perhaps. Even in your frame grab the man’s eyeline registers the woman’s figure rather than her face, clearly evaluating her fecundity not her favourite film, projecting onto her silhouette and not connecting with her as a fellow human being. This is why street harassment is a reduction of the recipient to a mere sexual object; it’s about men’s unquenchable thirst for and expectation of female attention and sexual validation, not about ‘flattering’ women.

    (It is depressing to note that the actress in question is now the subject of rape threats; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/actress-who-highlighted-street-harassment-receives-rape-threats-online-9824803.html)

    Perhaps contrary to your belief, as with our own femininity, the term ‘everyday sexism’ isn’t directly intended for men; it is intended to reduce the isolation generated by the shame of experiencing the often intimidating, regularly humiliating, experience of cat-calling. It is by us, for us, to know we are not as alone as we felt we were in that painful moment. An act of empathy, not aggression. If men read the experiences and stop seeing women as objects but as people with feelings, too, then that’s great. I sense that the ones most in need of expanding their empathy may not read it, though.

    Furthermore blaming any victims, by implying that women are embracing victim-hood, does both genders a terrible disservice.

    Blaming or denying emotions further denies women the right to acknowledge and accept that their boundaries as human beings have been crossed, and that it’s normal to feel uncomfortable about such an experience (flying in the face of performative femininity in our society, which rewards putting others first, being nice and polite, and not making a fuss). Women can seem disinclined to listen to their gut instinct for fear of ‘making a fuss’ .. which can lead to more serious sexual invasion.

    It also denies men the invitation to step up into true mature masculinity, and instead keeps them infantilized in a boy psychology that remains externally directed towards women for validation, and swings erratically between weakness (“Why won’t you talk to me?”) to aggression (“you should say thank you!”). From Moore and Gillette’s book on masculinity, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover;

    “Boy psychology is everywhere around us, and its marks are easy to see. Among them are abusive acting-out behaviours against each others, both men and women; passivity and weakness; the inability to act effectively and creatively in one’s own life and to engender life and creativity in others (both men and women); and, often, an oscillation between the two – abuse/weakness, abuse/weakness.”

    Why is it important to address these issues? Because of the next generation of women; our daughters. A surprising number of women’s formative sexually-related experiences involve being sexualised by older men. When even perhaps the most popular, intelligent and explicit of sex bloggers on the internet, Girl On The Net (who I see has commented while I was still drafting this!) still freezes in situations which tap into her teenage trauma – http://www.girlonthenet.com/2013/03/07/on-your-power/ – it seems apparent that it’s not merely an issue to be swept aside for fear of appearing hysterical or man hating.

    For feminism isn’t about man-hating through revealing street harassment; http://jezebel.com/5992479/if-i-admit-that-hating-men-is-a-thing-will-you-stop-turning-it-into-a-self-fulfilling-prophecy. Nor is it about making men frightened to approach women with romantic intentions. It’s about creating an environment in which all genders feel equal. And when it comes to the appropriateness of cat-calls, perhaps Playboy’s flowchart will help you decide; http://www.fastcocreate.com/3034911/should-you-catcall-that-woman-on-the-street-this-playboy-flowchart-will-help-you-decide

    But of course, your mileage may vary :)

  6. Juniper 3

    On the plumber thing, I just want to say that as a single woman who lives on my own, if a plumber came into my home and asked me out, I might feel a bit creeped out by that. He’s in my home. We’re alone. What happens if I say no? Maybe nothing, but I don’t know that, because I don’t know this person. It is inappropriate and the fact that he’s in my home puts pressure on me to say yes.

    Maybe different if he asks after he’s finished the job or something.

    Not sure what my point is other than to say a plumber ‘innocently’ asking you out is perhaps more complex that you might initially think. My position would be compromised by the fact that he is in my home.

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