Jacqui Moore and I discussed street harassment in episode 15 of Lady Bits, referencing the Hollaback and Jezebel videos that went viral during late October/early November. The following passage did not make its way into the recording, but remains a valuable message about the relationship between empathy, satire, and opportunism.
The adage that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” hasn’t been so disproven as by the many videos inspired by Hollaback’s 10 Hours Walking in NYC as a Woman. Several parodies have capitalized on the popularity of the video by using its structure to frame other, often more trivial, experiences. This isn’t the first time that a video meme has spawned imitations; the most contagious one before this point would have to be the Shit ____ Says trend a few years ago.
The sad coincidence is that the Hollaback and Jezebel videos have everything to do with shit men say and the oppressive power dynamic that street harassment demonstrates. And frankly, the challenge of educating on what’s wrong with catcalling deserves more than to be lumped in with a batch of videos that include 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Man, 10 Hours of Walking in Berlin as a Man, 10 Hours of Walking in Austin as a Hipster, 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Jewish Man, 10 Hours of Walking in Battlefield 4 as a Soldier (that’s a video game), and 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as Batman. By the time you read this, there’ll probably be 100 more examples of how people would rather use the Hollaback video as a cool way to get YouTube views as opposed to an opportunity to grow from discussions about sexism and male entitlement.
This isn’t to say that none of those videos are funny; Batman walking through New York City sounds like a good time. But whether the videos are funny is not relevant. What is relevant is that most of these videos being produced exemplify the same privilege that urges women to remain silent, as their problems are deemed trivial by association with the memesphere.
And how fitting that the term meme doubles down on what the videos are all about. The ego required to be so cavalier as to suggest that being a New York Jets fan is as difficult as being a woman cannot coexist with empathy, especially when that Jets fan is put in front of a camera to walk the streets of New York City for “hours.”
So whether you’re on YouTube in the 10-Hours-Walking rabbit hole or working on a version of your very own, keep in mind that the original video was very serious and that every parody stands to detract from that seriousness and move us away a perfectly good chance to evolve as a culture.