Peter St. Onge

A revealing walk in a woman’s shoes

I had no idea “God bless” could sound so creepy.

But there it was, in a viral video this week that should make all of us, especially all of us males, squirm.

In the video, an actress dressed in jeans and a simple shirt walks the streets of New York City for 10 hours. A man walking in front of her has an inconspicuous camera in his backpack. She says nothing the whole time.

I wish we could say the same of the men she passes.

The video, which lasts about two minutes, shows guys in all their awful guyness. They leer. They walk beside her. They say “hey beautiful” and “damn” and, yes, the creepiest “God bless” you might ever hear.

Equally revealing are the comments under articles and posts on the video. In those, other men defend the behavior by saying it was just “being friendly” and she was just “being appreciated.”

I should say right now that as someone who didn’t technically ask his wife on a date during their courtship – thank goodness for mutual friends! – the concept of boldly speaking to a woman I don’t know in public is somewhat inconceivable.

But having watched the video, two questions:

1) Guys, seriously, does this ever work?

2) What if it were your wife or girlfriend or daughter being appreciated like that?

As for the first question: No, it doesn’t work, according to women I asked. But it happens, anyway. It happens while jogging on Charlotte roadways. It happens while walking uptown. It happens when a woman is wearing jeans and a T-shirt or business attire or, heaven forbid, when she tries to dress a little sexy.

And let’s not even begin to talk about when men get a drink or two in them in bars.

The comments don’t happen, however, when women are walking with men, which is why most guys think catcalling is something that happens in 1980s television reruns.

This is true of even well-intentioned men, women say. Guys are very sympathetic about the things women fear – such as physical or sexual harm – but we have little clue about the ordinary difficulties women face. Like how they’re judged differently than the guy next to them at work. Like how they are still seen as objects to possess.

Hold on. Aren’t those things supposed to be in the past? We’re in a post-women’s lib world now, one in which women are corporate executives and run for president and even have a spot deciding the college football playoff.

But the thing about post-anything worlds is that we’re not ever as “post” as we think. Women still don’t get paid the same as men. Blacks still get pulled over for no reason and turned away from apartment rentals. They all still have a steeper climb.

Some don’t like to acknowledge cultural and societal shortcomings like these, in part because it doesn’t fit their political worldview. It’s easier to say that blacks are playing the race card, or that the extreme poor just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or that we don’t really need any more laws about equal pay.

Then along comes something that reminds us of what we don’t know.

There was another video recently, this one of Satya Nadella, the CEO of technology giant Microsoft. Nadella was doing a live Q&A at a women’s technology conference, and he was asked about women and equal pay.

With hardly a hesitation, he suggested that women would be better off letting raises just kind of happen instead of asking for them. The women who do that, he said, are the kind “I want to trust.”

Nadella backtracked soon after, but women everywhere nodded. It still happens, they know. On the streets and in the office buildings. Welcome to our world. God bless.

  Comments