Mapping the "10 Hours of Walking" Street Harassment Meme
Street harassment is commonly defined as the harassment of women in public spaces by male strangers. Hollaback, one anti-street harassment non-profit organization, defines street harassment as: “a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life…we believe that what specifically counts as street harassment is determined by those who experience it.”
Recent research in the US found that approximately 65% of women and 25% of men have experienced some form of street harassment. In the face of such ubiquity, feminist activists organize against street harassment through local and community-based education, awareness-raising, research, and, increasingly, digital tools and media. For example, Hollaback hosts a website where people can share their stories of being harassed and in 2010, the organization released an mobile phone app version with story sharing function and other resources. Through such organizing, public awareness of street harassment is continually rising. In fact, 2014 was called the year that street harassment became a national conversation by the Washington Post.
One key factor launching street harassment into the public limelight in 2014 was the video, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” produced by Rob Bliss Creative, and released on YouTube on October 28, 2014 by Hollaback. The video is an edited 2-minute clip of a “conventionally beautiful woman” who walked through NYC for 10 hours and experienced over a 100 incidents of street harassment.
In its first day online, "10 Hours of Walking as a Woman in NYC" had over 10 million views and, in its first month, over 37 million views and nearly 140,000 comments on YouTube. There are also hundreds of videos, video responses, blogs, and born-digital media articles that support, mimic, mock, and lambast the video, makers, funders, research methods, subjects, and politics. In short, the video played a key part in the exploding public conversations about street harassment in public and digital spaces.
The yellow pin is the original video. Green pins indicate videos that used the original video's "10 Hour" format. Red pins indicate parodies and critiques.
Visualizing Street Harassment is a digital project that extends my interest in the rhetorical aspects of street harassment activism. Over the past few years, I have done several projects on the ways people tell their stories of experiencing street harassment and the ways activists organize against street harassment. When “10 Hours of Walking as a Woman in NYC,” produced by Rob Bliss Creative, was released on YouTube on October 28, 2014 by Hollaback. I watched with interest as the video went viral.In its first day online, it had over 10 million views and, in its first month, over 37 million views and nearly 140,000 comments on YouTube, and nd there are hundreds of copycat videos, video responses, blogs, and born-digital media articles that share, mimic, support, mock, critique, and lambast the video, its makers, its funders, its research methods, its subjects, its politics, its agenda. The video was taken up in critiques as a synecdoche for the whole of white, mainstream, feminist street harassment activism and, perhaps even for white carceral feminism. The video suggests a narrative of street harassment as a gendered and heteronomrative concept perpetrated by men of color upon cisgender white women.
As I watched the video go viral, I became interested in how people took up the video’s format of filming someone walking in public spaces for extended amounts of time to problematize the frameworks of mainstream, non-profit , white, feminist anti-street harassment activism. For the initial phase of this project, I have begun curating, mapping, and describing a small sample of the videos that employ the “10 Hours of Walking…” format. I’m particularly interested in ways in which the video creators’ adapt the “10 Hours of Walking…” meme as a productive way to draw attention to the the complexity of interactions between movement in public spaces and seemingly visible identity markers such as race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexuality. nationality, and ability. As I continue working on this project, I plan to extend it by adding more videos and analysis of them and the various media surrounding them.
Visualizing Street Harassment is supported by CHI Initiative of Michigan State University