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“Hey Baby” video game: fighting back against street harassment

July 4, 2010

I often come home from my day angry.

Sitting at the bus stop a man comes up to me to tell me that “You can’t catch the bus here, pretty girls have to catch it around the corner.” He chides me for my lack of a sense of humor and tells me to have a little fun. He didn’t see the truck that drove by minutes before, a man hanging halfway out the window, lips pursed for a kiss. He wasn’t there that morning when I debated outfits, trying to find one that leaves me cool in the 90 degree weather, without showing too much skin. My choice of a loose button up with jeans, did not elicit the same “Hey Babys” that my ruffled tank top had the day before.

The man walks off laughing, leaving me with my face burning, not just from the sun.

I hate dealing with the leering, catcalls and comments about my appearance that I often endure when walking around downtown or waiting for the bus. By my walk home I’m ready to scream at any male passerby, but of course I don’t. (I always wonder how much of this passivity is a gendered reaction to conflict.) My friend, who’s really involved in this issue, is trying to help me train to react in an empowering way:

Stop harassing me.

Leave me alone.

Don’t touch me.

That is harassment.

No pleases, no excuse mes. Just naming the action, and asking for what I want to be changed. Stop Street Harassment has a list of strategies for responding to people on the street and Hollaback New York offers another outlet: posting pictures of harassers online, to really call them out for their actions.

I think what’s important is trying to turn these moments into sites of empowerment, rather than letting them regulate where we walk, what we wear, even the way we feel when we arrive home.

So that’s why the “Hey Baby” video game intrigues me so much. The premise is incredibly simple: the player walks around the street, and when men sexually harass her, she shoots them. Here’s a clip:

I’ve seen a variety of reactions to the game, including one that argues that “Hey Baby” shows how irrational women are. But although there are obvious problems with reacting to street harassment with murder, I think the message changes because of it’s setting in the video game universe. Okay, so I don’t play a lot of video games, but what I’ve learned from James Bond and Doom is that you don’t wait for someone to attack; when you see something threatening, you shoot it. You should always have a gun ready, because the world of video games is dangerous.

We can debate its merits, but it is the nature of the genre. Setting street harassment within it makes a strong comment on women’s experience in public. The video game trope illuminates how, due to past experiences (or the past level), women have learned to be careful when walking down the street alone, verbal harassment does constitute a distinct threat, and that most women don’t feel safe enough to wait around to figure out whether a man is just trying to be nice, or if he’s waiting to follow through on that threat. No pleases, no excuses mes. The harassment just stops.

Other bloggers have worried whether the “out-of-proportion” reaction will only turn men away from the cause. But here the placement of the video game rings true again. Players are always entering worlds not created by them. Your first time around, you don’t inherently know that Koopas are minions of Bowser who will knock you off the level. But by your third time getting hit by one you learn you either got jump over those suckers or have yoshi eat them for you. Just like we don’t feel bad for the innocent Koopas who never even touched Mario in Super Mario World. The player in “Hey Baby” has learned who here predators are and responds accordingly.

If men are upset that I will rarely, if ever, respond to them pleasantly on the street, they need to take it up with all the men before who have commented on my appearance, touched me, and followed me for blocks in the past.  Of course I don’t want to walk down the street with a gun shooting men who hit on me. But it’s not a world I created, it’s just the one I’m forced to walk around in.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Robin permalink
    July 6, 2010 12:07 AM

    I’m always of two minds about catcalling. This isn’t to say I ever think it’s a good thing, but sometimes I just don’t care, or don’t see it as sexual harassment. Now, this might be because of over-exposure, but there is oddly something of a culture of cat-calling in certain social groups and certain neighborhoods, where it isn’t one-way.

    Even for a New Yorker, I’ve experienced more on-street hollaback (I can’t think of what else to call it) than most white women. This is because I’ve lived my whole life before coming to college in a mostly hispanic and black neighborhood with a housing project on my block and just about every other one nearby.

    It’s really disconcerting at first, and sometimes it’s not just words (I’ve had things thrown at me and my mom and I were once flashed) but your typical catcall in my neighborhood is an old hispanic man sitting on a stoop saying something like “hey sweetie, you look so good today.” And the funny thing is, he wants a response. Not so he can keep catcalling, but he wants to be told off. If you yell back something like “I’m not here for you to look at” he’ll laugh and leave you alone. In fact, in those situations, I actually think it’s sort of paternalistic, these old men are more trying to make sure you can take care of yourself.

    When it’s young men, though, it’s different. I’ve had people not so much catcall as whisper lewd things as they walk by. They want you to respond because they want your attention. They know it won’t go anywhere, but the culture in a neighborhood where most people now at least everyone’s face is that you should be able to talk to whomever you want in the street. I’m not really sure what should be done about this, but I do know one thing; saying nothing is not the right course of action. Most young girls in New York are told not to look back, not to talk back, just stay aloof and keep walking. This could actually make the situation worse, because it’s so insulting to them. If they know they are getting to you, they might try to freak you out more or physically harass you. So it’s good to know some responses of your own, to be able to swagger a little so that you fit into that kind of neighborhood culture.

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