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.