Some men feel it's their right to comment on a woman in public, no matter how uncomfortable or unsafe that unwanted attention may make her feel. This specific brand of male privilege and entitlement was put on display Saturday, when someone who considers himself a feminist ally, author Steve Santagati, joined CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield and comedian Amanda Seales to discuss the recent catcalling video that received so much attention last week.
The clip, posted by anti-street-harassment organization Hollaback!, documents the many, many times men catcall a woman as she walks around New York City. Despite that video representing reality for of thousands of women, Santagati argued that ladies are looking at this thing the wrong way. Yes, according to his "enlightened" male perspective, women everywhere should feel "validated" by male attention instead.
Luckily, both Seales and Whitfield didn't let this tired example of mansplaining go unrebutted:
"Women are expected, from the moment we leave the house, to be smiling and available for whatever men want to say to us. Don't get me wrong, hello is fine," Seales said. "But a lot of these men aren't just saying hello. When you say hello back, it's now an invitation for them to holler at you."
But before Seales could finish, Santagati began shaking his head in protest.
"I can see you shaking your head, but you are not an expert on this, my brother, because you are not a woman walking in the street." Seales said.
"I am more of an expert and I'll tell you why — because I'm a guy and I know how we think more than you guys," Santagati said, later adding that women should just leave New York City if they don't like it and aren't "strong enough" to fight back. "The bottom line is this ladies: You would not care if all these guys were hot. They would be bolstering your self-esteem and bolstering your ego."
"There's nothing more a woman loves to hear than how beautiful she is."
The reactions from Seales and Whitfield were priceless:
Both Whitfield and Seales were quick to correct Santagati's assertion that the clip doesn't represent reality.
"What's funny is that you say you know how men think, but your comment was about what women think, that women want compliments from men all day," Seales said. "You are wrong."
Santagati was undeterred, however, accusing feminists of taking an "a la carte" approach to gender equality. Apparently, if women are too stupid to realize they're being complimented, it's not his fault.
Unfortunately, Santagati's perspective is one shared by multitudes of men who think feminism is a joke. And Seales had to raise her hand yet again, as a woman, to show men everywhere that this is a poor example of how to demonstrate respect.
"You, as a man, what your problem is that you should just be welcoming to the fact that women are saying 'Hey, we don't like this," Seales said. "If we say we don't like it, and we're demonstrating that, then you as a man should be saying 'Let's discuss how we can make you all feel more comfortable and how I, as a man who says I have class, need to help and talk to my brothers about this.'"
The viral video in question was a PSA created by Hollaback! in collaboration with an ad agency. Some — including Santagati — have viewed it with skepticism, believing it was created to go viral and not to accurately depict a woman's everyday experience walking down the street. Others, including numerous feminists, have worried that the video edited out white catcallers, leaving only black and brown men as the villains of the clip.
But the point of the discussion shouldn't be so much about the video itself: The fact it has encouraged so many women to share their own experiences with street harassment shows that there isn't a single narrative and that this is a widespread cultural problem. As Seales mentions, women have recently been killed for not responding to men's advances.
Instead of condescendingly telling women how to feel about street harassment, perhaps men everywhere should listen and figure out how they can help foster a culture that makes it very clear that street harassment is not OK.