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» “Hey ma, you’re beautiful” – and other power plays

March 11, 2015

“Hey ma, you’re beautiful” – and other power plays


“Come back here girl”

“Someone is acknowledging the lady for being beautiful over here, you should say thank you more!”

Just some of the words thrown at a young lady who was walking through Manhattan from all manner of gentlemen in a social experiment. The setup was that a woman would walk through the city for 10 hours secretly taping all of the unsolicited commentary thrown her way to give a snapshot of what many women go through on a daily basis.

You can see the video and judge for yourself here

Interestingly, another experiment takes the same gambit however instead of having a lady walking around Manhattan for 10 hours and document the proceedings, she walks first for 5 hours in tight pants, tank top and a cardigan and in the latter 5 hours wearing a hijab. Click here to see the video.

It’s notable that she is subject to the same treatment in the more “Western” body-hugging apparel and elicits nary a cat-call while wearing the Hijab.

Certainly there is no definitive study or way to control for other cultural factors subconsciously (or otherwise) which might changes one’s behaviour towards an ostensibly Muslim woman – but the facts remain and are fairly stark.

This would be the juncture where some would then say what a woman wears can many times affect the way she is ultimately treated – the ol’ “dress like a hoe and we’ll treat you like a hoe” shtick. The implication of this sort of statement of course leads to the kind of grim rape defence we’ve heard too many times (“If she was out at night wearing such a short skirt she wanted it”).

Less sordid but perhaps just as pernicious is the underlying idea that men have the “right” to disrespect women or at least make them feel uncomfortable depending on something as superficial as the clothes or adornments they choose to wear.

At the heart of it all is the idea of gender roles in society as seen through the lens of a larger power dynamic. Whether it was Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg or Beyoncé – they would undoubtedly be heckled by the same people on the same streets, albeit with potentially different responses from them. Even if I’m a hotdog vendor, street magician or hawking joints on the corner – I’d still be able to heckle Christine Lagarde or Hillary Clinton; feel a bit better about myself and make her feel slightly awkward and uncomfortable whoever she is.

As Albert Einstein once noted, although we can’t solve a problem at the same level of thinking as when it is created, actually noting that there is a problem is often half of the battle already won. It’s clear that by and large we men do not see cat-calling or throwing unsolicited “compliments” out at ladies as being in any way an issue. To an extent some ladies would tend to agree as well.

A quick look at some of the comments on the video in question undoubtedly betrays this fact


“Alrune La Brune” clearly disagreeing with catcalling being in any way abusive and calling on her fellow sisters to relax. Another from “FRANKIEonPCin1080p”:

comment 2

He goes as far as to turn the tables and accuse the lady of being a rude prude who can’t accept a decent compliment. Again a sentiment shared by many as evidenced by the 3274 upvotes and no downvotes on this comment:


I offer no solutions then at this juncture – only to highlight that this is something which most women have had to deal with for most of their lives and it’s not something which edifies or grows anyone involved. Surely there are better ways for us to engage our sisters in a way that builds rather than destroys…