Femme de la Rue

A while back a video project by a student from Brussels popped up on street harassment. In it, the female student walks a fifteen minute walk in Brussels and gets harassed eleven times. I won’t justify its existence by watching, posting or linking it here and I’ll tell you why.

In it, we only see men of colour, men of North African heritage. I can’t help but wonder if that is not the exact reason why it has been picked up by the media?

The only conversation this has actually started is that street harassment is caused by, what’s called in our Belgian media “immigrants”. And this is not the first time, when our media discussed the earth-shattering revelation of the fact that homophobia is all the rage on our streets the shift, again, was put on men of colour and how they are the bearer of all evil in our society. But clearly, it is not. White men take up more than fair share of street harassment to women and LGBTQ people. Every time I walk next to a male friend who is outspokenly gay I walk next to a group of young white men making offensive and shit dumb comments. I have been touched and groped by white men consistently, but I don’t need to tell you this. This conversation is of no importance to the media that has picked up this story, the importance here is vilifying people of colour.

White men need to start facing that they play a big, if not the biggest, part in alienating everyone around them, whether or not they have participated in such behaviour. You are part of it. I am part of it.

Let’s go back to the documentary again and say the diversity of the men featured in this particular documentary was accidental, and you know what, it probably was, but that doesn’t matter; intent often does not matter. The person behind this documentary should’ve thought about the implications of not featuring any white men within general anti-Islamic and more and more fervent racist attitudes around here. She should have known her documentary as is stands for nothing but those fifteen minutes of her life, and that is okay, but not okay as a stand against street harassment, not okay in the name of feminism. And I am not even going to start about the differences and the more extreme versions of street harassment that women of colour face here by white men and how those experiences are being completely erased in this discussion. But it is a huge deal that this is being erased; I’m just not the spokesperson for it.

All this to say, that I am all for battling street harassment but not when it takes this vile turn, not when it’s at other people’s expense, not when it practises an empty (white) pop feminism/social movement.

Lastly, just a heads up: if you look for the video expect vitriolic racism in the comments section and a little more subtle (though not really) racism in the articles!

9 Comments

  • I know that you’re mostly concerned about the racism that you felt was coming from the documentarty, but what I find really upsetting is that you have personally been harassed so many times. And for a girl to take a 15 minute walk and be harassed 11 times? I don’t care who’s doing that is horrific! I’ve maybe been harassed 11 times in my whole life. Scary stuff.

    • It truly is! I’ve written about this plenty of times though, and to do that in this specific post would downplay the horrendous racism going on in this issue in my local media.

      Ugh it upsets me that you couldn’t tell their ethnicity (I still refuse to watch it!) , it points out again that our local media is vilifying people of colour to put the blame on “The Other” so we won’t have to deal with it personally. This media does not care about women. It cares about entertainment value.

      • Sorry Elaine. I’m American so I couldn’t tell from their accents or anything the nationality of the men. They looked to me like they were European, or eastern european, or middle eastern. It’s too bad the media is focusing on the ethnicity of the men specifically, when it seems that this isn’t a race issue, it’s an all over cultural issue.
        I live in California, and I’ve never, never, had to deal with anything like this. I can count the times I’ve been sexually harassed on the street here in the states on one hand.
        I don’t know what to say about the harassment. I’m appalled.

        • When you mention the men’s nationality’s and then bring up ‘it’s a cultural issue’ that kinda sounds off to me. Last time I checked this happens all over, to every person who, basically, does not register as a straight white man. Some may be bothered more than others, in some parts of the world it’s more subtle, it’s worse, it’s whatever.

          Check out :

          https://www.ihollaback.org/
          https://www.stopstreetharassment.org/

          It is not a cultural issue, it is an issue pertaining to men/people who think women’s bodies are public property.

  • Ok, I just watched the video. Now I’m even more horrified. She was just walking down the street in totally normal clothing and being treated as if she was a prostitute! I couldn’t tell the ethnicity of the men, but oh my god that was awful! I would be terrified to go outside if I were her.

  • Heather, I agree.

    I actually read this post yesterday and coincidentally also got street harassed for the first time. Even if the film maker didn’t quite think about how her film would play out, I feel that the intention was more anti-male and that the media would cling to the racism part of it to avoid the idea of men being vulgar and that behavior just passes as “guys being guys” (said the officer I tried to report the incident to). I feel bad that the message gets lost to the race card. I could only feel more uneasy if the film maker also did get harassed by white men and purposely edited them out.

    I would vouch that it is men in general that are a big part of perpetuating the idea that vulgarity is just acceptable male behavior. It would honestly be hard to make a live action street harassment video and think “I have to make sure all the groups are represented so that people get the idea.” I bet 15 minutes was all she could take.

    • I think it would be dishonest of the film maker to specifically find white men harassing her to show it was all across the board. I hope very much that she was just showing one day and one walk down the street. That would be the most honest. But it’s hard to tells from the editing.
      As for “guys being guys”, I guess the guys in my neighborhood aren’t guys because they don’t treat me this way when I walk down the street. When I was a teenager I was harassed a couple times, but nothing, nothing, that could make for a documentary. It was a rare occurrence.

  • Dear Eline,

    Thanks for writing this, I completely agree with you.I am from the Netherlands and here such a video would probably be picked up by the media (and a certain politician…)in the same way. The artist should have known and considered this before presenting her video.

    On the upside, these articles really made me happy (I hope you understand Dutch):

    https://www.demorgen.be/dm/nl/2462/Standpunt/article/detail/1503948/2012/09/20/Waarom-wij-De-Morgen-allochtoon-niet-meer-gebruiken.dhtml

    https://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/3184/opinie/article/detail/3320896/2012/09/23/Autochtone-gemeenschap-moet-rellen-in-Haren-veroordelen.dhtml
    (you have to read this one completely to be able to understand it)

    • Het artikel in De Morgen heb ik gelezen en het was net dat dat me prompte om dit te schrijven want alhoewel het begint met een positieve toon duurt het niet lang voor er een paar negatieve zinnen gewijd zijn aan mannen Die Niet Van Hier Zijn.

      “Het is en blijft relevant om te schrijven dat het groepje mannen dat kortgerokte vrouwen lastig valt in de Brusselse straten van Maghrebijnse afkomst is.”

      Wat ook teleurstellend is, is dat men geen alternatief geeft voor de term ‘allochtoon’, in de plaats spreekt men over de afkomst van de personen in kwestie, wat in mijn ogen niet zo veel beter is? Je kan weer gelijkaardige vragen stellen zoals in het artikel zelf; wat als de persoon hier geboren is, hun ouders hier geboren zijn en zo een paar decennia verder? maar men hun huidskleur als van ‘Maghrebijnse afkomst’ interpreteert?

      Het is een stap, maar wauw zo veel te laat en nog steeds zo achterhaald! Er is zelfs geen mooie term zoals ‘people of colour’ in het Nederlands. Arm Nederlands, altijd zo ouderwets. Arm Europa, altijd zo racistisch. Het zit nu eenmaal in onze geschiedenis maar het is geen excuus om niet kritisch na te denken.

      Verschillende bronnen over het internet hebben dit trouwens ook opgepikt met een even zure islamofobische nasmaak trouwens. Als het niet van het artikel zelf kwam, kwam het van de comments. Daar loopt gewoon duidelijk iets mis en het maakt me gek hoe iedereen over de islamofobie ziet want het keert keer op keer weer terug hier.

      Het tweede artikel vind ik wel super, haha! Bedankt voor die link! En nu hoop ik dat jij ook Nederlands begrijpt :’D

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