When dads hollaback

On Wednesday of this week, a man – we’ll call him Shmobert, to protect his anonymity – was returning walking through downtown Sydney on his way back from his lunch break.

On the corner of a street, he came across a gaggle of young women handing out promotional fliers to passing pedestrians. Across the road was a construction site, where scaffolding had been put up around the outside of a building. About a storey off the ground, the scaffolding formed a walkway, and along the walkway stood about six construction workers, lined up and facing the street making obscene gestures at the women across the street. The women had noticed, and to Shmobert, it seemed that most of them were studiously ignoring the men, while one or two were “playing up to them.”

The men were elevated and in full view of the street and they were wearing neon high-vis vests, because they were on the job. And they were harassing a group of women. In the middle of lunch hour. In the centre of Sydney.

Shmobert wasn’t entirely sure what to do. There was no way of speaking to the men, since they were so high up and there was traffic roaring across the street – even if he had yelled, they probably wouldn’t have heard. And even if he had managed to talk to them, they probably would have dismissed him.

So Shmobert hesitated for a few moments, and then he got out his iPhone and started filming the men. He stood on the street corner pointing his phone at the men through several cycles of the lights, until they noticed they were being filmed. They weren’t actually being filmed, because Shmobert, though he is a very bright man, does not in fact know how to use the video camera function on his iPhone even though he has had his iPhone for over a year*. But they noticed what appeared to be a man filming them and they, to quote Shmobert, “skedaddled.” They stopped what they were doing and went back to work.

I’ve said it time and time again: street harassment will end when the men who do it can no longer rely on the approval, tacit or otherwise, of other men. Perhaps anyone with a camera had the capacity to stop those men in their tracks, but I think that Shmobert, as a fellow man, had more power than I would have had. Given the physical distance between Shmobert and the workers, he didn’t have to put himself at physical risk to send the message that their behavior was unacceptable, which is a concern, men often tell me, that makes them hesitate to intervene when they see harassment happening.

And then Shmobert, who as you’ve probably guessed by now is my father, came home and told me about what he had done. “You’d be proud of me for what I did today, Chlo,” he said, as he started to tell me the story.

I’m always proud of him. But when he pulls a feminist man move like this, I’m extra super proud.

Now we just need someone to found Hollaback Sydney, so that Shmobert, once he finally learns to use his iPhone properly, will be able to post the video online.

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14 Comments

  1. Posted August 26, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Never underestimate the power of taking away anonymity or the threat of Youtube.

  2. Posted August 26, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    WHERE CAN I GET THAT HAT!

  3. Posted August 26, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I can understand how you’d be proud.

    My father would never embrace even for a second the moniker of feminist because he consider that equal to “man hater”. But neither have I ever seen him treating women badly, including my mother and my sisters. He’s too repulsed by one definition of who we are and unwilling to look beyond it. When my sister founded a feminist group on her college campus, she got into a major argument with him over that very issue.

  4. Posted August 26, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    You’ll probably find these guys were more afraid of the video ending up on youtube & their bosses finding out rather than seeking the approval of other men. In fact, the more men that disapprove of it the more guys like them enjoy it because it makes them feel like rebels. You are right when you said ANYONE with a camera could’ve stopped these guys. Please please please stop putting the onus on men to stop these sorts of things and how men are responsible for other mens actions.

    • Posted August 26, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      I think it would be unfair to say that what Chloe is doing here is saying men are responsible for the actions of other men; the only person responsible for the action is the actor. I feel that the point she is trying to get across is to say that if we don’t approve of the action we (and this means anyone who finds themselves in this situation, regardless of gender) are all responsible to do what we feel comfortable and safe enough to do to intervene and/or make our disapproval known. Diffusion of responsibility is one of the major reasons why bystanders don’t step in – the assumption that someone else will do it, that it is not about our individual responsibility in a situation – is very powerful. Clearly, this does mean that it is not just male-bodied persons who need to take on this responsibility. But I don’t think Chloe is wrong to point out that we should be asking for men to step up more. Historically, many men have not been vocal about their disproval of these actions and even silence can be seen as unspoken approval, or at the very least apathy or passive ambivalence. Also, while I personally struggle with this idea, I still have to admit that I have experienced many times over that many men will listen to another man much more readily than they will listen to me. Sometimes this is overt, but most of the time it’s very subtle. Many men have the privilege of not having to notice this (and, of course, there are a great deal of men who are very aware of this). Like Chloe said, it is certainly possible that anyone with a camera could have stopped these guys, and I suspect that your point that they were most afraid of a video getting back to their boss is also quite accurate. But if we continue to try and shift the onus off of men and fail to allow them to have a legitimate place in feminism we will never reach the kind of critical mass that would mean these acts no longer make the actor feel rebellious when faced with disapproval but embarassed to have misrepresented their male peers and embarassed to have been so disrespectful toward any other human being.

    • Posted August 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      I agree that these particular men were probably more afraid of being found out than they were horrified at the prospect of another man’s disapproval, but I disagree with the notion that men are no more able to stop street harassment than women. It’s not that men have the sole (or even the lion’ share of) responsibility to fight back against street harassment, but they do have more power than women to do so. If someone is harassing women in the street, they obviously don’t respect women or consider them worthy of serious consideration, so in a lot of cases, what a woman says in response is going to carry little weight with a harasser (some harassers really do just need to be told off once–by anyone– to stop, but this is definitely not the case for all). Often, it’s a group activity for men (as in Chloe’s story) a bit of boys-club-bullshit, if you will, so that sense of brotherhood and male bonding can be broken a lot more easily by one man saying, “Hey, that’s fucked up.” In this situation, nobody would have been able to actually communicate with these men, so it’s not the best example of a man’s unique power to respond to street harassment, and men are not responsible, per se, for other mens’ actions, but I think it’s silly not to acknowledge that men are in a very very good position to call out other men, and have it actually change their behaviors.

    • Posted August 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Bullshit. Men need to be more responsible, not just as potential perpetrators, but because of the threat that sometimes comes with street harassment, it may not be feasible for a woman to act. After all, this was happening in front of a whole group of women on a public street. It wasn’t until Shmobert tried to record them that they realized what they were doing was wrong.

      • Posted August 26, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

        Except, of course, that the threat to men who intervene against street harassment directly is significantly higher.

        Violence is gendered, and men who publicly intervene are more likely to be the victims of violence as a result.

        It’s great that Shmobert could do this, but those guys were a story up, and across the street, making it a rather odd type of street harassment.

        The notion that it’s any more feasible for men to act simply ignores the threat of gendered violence.

        I’ve had one friend die intervening against street harassment, and that’s one too many.

    • Posted August 29, 2011 at 4:36 am | Permalink

      “more afraid of the video ending up on youtube & their bosses finding out rather than seeking the approval of other men”

      What’s the difference?

  5. Posted August 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    http://hollabackaustralia.blogspot.com/

    … Just in support of Shmobert… :-)

  6. Posted August 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    You have a cool dad!

  7. Posted August 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    @Chavez, no one is putting the onus wholly on men. Women have long been spearheading movements and initiatives to address the problems of power-based personal violence and gender-based oppression, harassment, and victimization, where women are majorly on the losing end. The fact is women need men to step up and, along with women, take responsibility for challenging this culture in micro- and macro-political ways, because gender discrimination and imbalance is harmful to all who live in the culture and because women should not be wholly responsible for “fixing” problems that are, in most instances, perpetuated by men. Check out this related video for some important information and perspective. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33rC8T72FpY&feature=related

  8. Posted August 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I freaking love your father! Beautifully done! And!!! Of course men have more societal power and greater agency in public and will thus be taken FAR more seriously should they voice thier dissaproval of street harassment. Its messed up, but its true. Just like a white person who states uncategorically that they are not ok with racist behavior will not be accused of ‘being too sensitive’ or whatever other BS the bigots would spout should a poc attempt to intervene in a blatantly racist sitch. Its like this, as messed up as it is, we all need allies to back us up, and when they have greater authority due to race/class/gender/gender identity or whatever, thier voices can sometimes make a bigger initial difference. Nobody needs someone to speak FOR them, but because its so easy for douchebags to dismiss the voices/concerns of the folks they target BECAUSE of their minority status or marginality, they do need to be countered by majority. Thats why its my job as a white person to LOUDLY call out some racist crap, because maybe if my black GF does it she’s gonna get dismissed as ‘another angry black woman’. Thats why its feminist men’s job to LOUDLY call out sexist BS. GO FREAKING DAD!

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