Catcalling Is Just the Worst Right Now, Says Viral-Video Subject

Shoshana Roberts, who bought the domains catcallgirl.com and clawsareout.com, after starring in a viral video in October 2014
Shoshana Roberts, who bought the domains catcallgirl.com and clawsareout.com, after starring in a viral video in October 2014
Photo by Huascar Fiorletta

The email signature for New York actress Shoshana Roberts reminds you that she's the "star of the viral street harassment video with 40+ million views."

Roberts could definitely complete "Ten Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman" again and get identical results: men following, shouting at, and generally harassing her on the street. While the powerful video made street harassment a global topic of conversation for a few weeks last fall, after a long New York winter, people are right back to being terrible:

"I feel like when the summer dresses come out it's the worst," says Roberts, 25.

It's now been six months since the video went viral, a span in which Roberts has acted in a video on what not to do at an office holiday party and a Bud Light Web ad; perhaps more fittingly, she says she'll soon be the face of a pepper spray purveyor.

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And while she could make a street harassment sequel, neither she nor the original video's organizers are too keen on the idea.

"There's a lot of stories to be told and a lot of different ways to tell them when it comes to street harassment," says Emily May, the co-founder and executive director of Hollaback, a Brooklyn-based organization that combats street harrassment

"Shoshana was one story, but the reality is that everybody experiences street harassment really differently," May says.

For her part, Roberts says she's "ready to keep moving," citing her interests in martial arts (she's a black belt), dance (swing and other varieties), writing theater reviews, starring in an upcoming Web series, and other causes with which she wants to align herself. There was also the matter of money, or the lack thereof, and the backlash from people who didn't like the video, or her, or probably just women in general.

"It's frustrating when the nonprofit gets donations, and the director gets ad revenue, and I get people wanting to slit my throat," Roberts says of the additional harassment she faced — that is, the online venom in the wake of her appearance in the YouTube video.

"I've auditioned for 'let's make a viral video' [projects] before," Roberts says, noting she got about $200 a month after "Ten Hours" exploded. "I didn't think it was going to go viral."

Meanwhile, Hollaback has expanded on its mission, recently raising enough money through Kickstarter to fund HeartMob, a website that should launch this September and that aims to combat online harassment.

"Maybe this person is getting mobbed — maybe it's 500 comments that have come in on Twitter over the past couple days," May explains. "In that case, one of the best practices is to screenshot your harassment so you do have a document. Or [volunteers will] go in and screenshot your harassment for you, and save it to the database so you have a record of it. You don't have to be the one to do all that work, or be traumatized by seeing all that hate coming your way."

Hollaback is also exploring a new way to educate people about street harassment through a ten-part video series called With Love and Revolution, hosted by May and Hollaback deputy director Debjani Roy. The educational videos, recorded in the roomy Hollaback office sans mic and with a light, loose, sometimes funny, and very DIY feel, are meant for an audience for whom street harassment is raw:

"The biggest audience watching video blogs is...seventeen-year-old girls, and we were like, 'We wanna talk to seventeen-year-old girls about street harassment,'?" May says. "We wanted to provide something that was really accessible and that wasn't like a boring lecture on harassment. We wanted to really talk to people where they're at."

May says it's not the fault of the harassed for being the target of catcalling, and it's not their responsibility to fire back at their harassers: "You don't want to do what I used to do and be a one-woman street harassment education machine, because you don't necessarily know when it's going to escalate."

Roberts says that just before an interview with the Voice she had a "businessman lick his lips at me in the most disgusting way." And recently near the Flatiron Building, "someone told me they wanted to eat my asshole." She agrees with May that you can never know how a situation will escalate if you engage with a nasty, possibly unstable, possibly angry — maybe all three — catcaller.

While street harassment happens year-round — "It doesn't happen as often in January," Roberts says, "but I've been in a winter coat and sweatpants and been called a slut" — May offers this advice this summer: "If you are harassed and you feel comfortable in that moment, you can tell the person, 'That's not OK, that's not acceptable,' firmly, and then keep it moving. At the end of the day we want to keep you safe and taken care of."

And while another video reminder that street harassment is still happening isn't likely, "a lot of females have let me know that they are very grateful to me, so it's been really, really satisfying," says Roberts, who in addition to her email signature now owns catcallgirl.com and clawsareout.com.

The video "doesn't get me in the door to audition rooms, but at least someone's buzzing me into the lobby," she says.

[nlucchesi@villagevoice.com][@nicklucchesi]


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