Since it was posted on YouTube yesterday, the video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” has racked up more than 5 million views. In two minutes, the clip, directed by Rob Bliss, powerfully condenses a day’s worth of catcalls, propositions or worse directed at its unnamed subject, who never speaks or addresses the men who accost her; her only provocation, so to speak, is the simple fact of her existence:
It’s not the first time filmmakers have attempted to capture the experience of being harassed on the street. For her 1998 film “War Zone,” Maggie Hadleigh-West took her cameras onto the streets of New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Chicago and confronted the men who whistled, leered at and otherwise reduced her and other women to objects for the delectation. Their stammering discomfort provides a certain kind of satisfaction, but as Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times, “If Ms. Hadleigh-West’s confrontational tactics are meant to turn the tables on male aggressors, they backfire spectacularly. Out on the prowl, the filmmaker becomes her own worst enemy as she refuses to make the slightest distinction between the smiling guy who calls out ‘Hello, beautiful’ and the vicious rapist who prompts a 911 call.” (I wrote something similar in my own review, although reading it 16 years later makes me cringe in spots.) Rewatching parts of “War Zone” now, the film seems riven by unexamined dynamics of race and class, which may be why it seems to work best when Hadleigh-West is empathetically interviewing other female victims of harassment and worse rather than going on the attack. It’s also heavy with art-film clichés of the time — the breathy, ululating score and the frequent switches to slo-mo Super8 — but it’s still worth watching, as it can be for free on SnagFilms’ website and via Amazon Prime. Here’s the trailer:
This post has several more examples, and this article in the Guardian features another, Sofie Peeters’ “Femme de la Rue,” which can be watched in full on YouTube but lacks English subtitles. (Salon critic Sonia Saraiya also pointed to this writing project she organized on NYC harassment.) Watching all of them, what’s striking is how little has changed in the past decade-plus. If the street is a war zone, there are a lot of battles still to be fought.