The Trouble with Street Harassment videos, hijab or no hijab

Street Harassment is Wrong No Matter What a Woman is Wearing

By now, most people have heard about the viral video from Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment organization, which shows a woman being catcalled numerous times as she walks around New York City. The video has drawn quite a bit of controversy, sparking numerous video and article responses.

One response in particular is quite alarming. It was created by Karim Metwaly, the founder of the popular YouTube channel AreWeFamousNow. The video, titled “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman in Hijab,” features a friend of Metwaly’s walking around NYC for five hours in “casual” clothing, and five hours in a hijab.

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 8.22.15 PM

The portion of the video with casual clothing shows the woman wearing jeans and a cardigan. She is catcalled numerous times throughout the five hours, with comments ranging from “God Bless You” to “Yo I’m watching that ass” to “I lick p***y.” At one point, the woman is followed by a man for a few blocks until the crew filming the incident intervenes. Meanwhile, the walk in hijab is remarkably quiet, and seemingly absent of any noticeable stares or gestures. The contrast is quite remarkable.

At the end of the video a message appears asking, “What do you think?” and then, “You be the judge.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 8.21.30 PM

I think Metwaly’s video implies the issue with catcalling is women dressing too provocatively, not men feeling entitled to women’s bodies. This sort of logic is inherently oppressive and contributes to the insecurity women can feel when moving through public spaces.

There are many women who feel safer on the streets when wearing hijab. I don’t want to discount their experiences. Wearing hijab may help lead to less street harassment. Yet this is irrelevant. The fault should always be on the person doing the harassing, not the person being targeted. It doesn’t matter if a woman is wearing a burqa, a blazer, or a bikini. Street harassment is always wrong, and it’s never the victim’s fault.

Metwaly’s video also ignored the pretty obvious fact that many women in Muslim majority countries are aggressively catcalled and harassed on the streets even when wearing hijab. Metwaly should be well aware of this as a vlogger whose channel is dedicated to exploring “Egyptian Arab culture.” For example, a 2013 study from UN Women and the Cairo Demographic Center concluded that 99.3 per cent of women surveyed had been harassed in one way or another. A 2007 New York Times article states that up to 90 per cent of women in Egypt wear hijab.

There is nothing inherently sexist about Egyptian or Arab culture of course, but this is exactly the point. Sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny are universal, and affect every state and society in one way or another. There is no utopian Muslim society exempt from these forces and Metwaly is wrong to produce a video that implies as much.

In fact, there is an issue within Muslim communities where some Muslim men problematically insult Muslim women, and try to justify it on theological grounds. For example, some Muslim men shame women who don’t wear hijab and claim this is required of them in the Qur’an. Yet the same men will ignore the fact that they should refrain from lustfully staring at women, or expressing rude comments.

Whether it’s catcalling or shaming for not wearing hijab the underlying issue is the same. Far too much of an emphasis is put on the way women dress, and not on the attitudes of the men attacking them for their appearance. As such, the emphasis of Metwaly’s video should have been on calling out men responsible for harassing women, not shaming women who have the nerve to wear a cardigan instead of an abaya.


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  • About the autor
    Davide Mastracci

    Davide Mastracci is an associate editor at The Islamic Monthly. He has contributed to a range of publications including Al Jazeera America, AlterNet, Electronic Intifada and The Globe and Mail. He can be found on Twitter @DavideMastracci.

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    • Adalberto Maggio Junior

      Because women who dress like they are sexually available are going to be offended when they get some attention?

      • Samantha Derrick

        You think women dress for your ugly face?? NO! i got cat calls in a damn hoodie and bagie jeans with my hair in a messy bun and some tims

        • Jekyll

          Go watch Karen Struaghan on youtube then run your potty mouth.

          • Samantha Derrick


            • Jekyll

              Good representation of vulgarity with stupidity.

    • imaan

      Stupid article

    • Yousuf Zub

      Great article. Exactly on point. It’s the mens’ fault for doing the harassing- even if the woman is naked they should lower their gaze and look away.

      • Mohammed Rashwan

        No that’s different if they’re completely naked in public it’s considered indecent exposure and the person should cover up whether they are a girl or a man. I was once in a touristic resort area in Egypt and some foreigners (European nationals…but irrelevant) were completely naked and bathing in the sun and completely exposed. This was to the point where all the local women (and even men) complained to the manager’s of the resort and got people to tell them to put their clothes back on. There should always be a certain level of respect for both men and women, whether it’s the person looking or dressing up. People should also respect other people’s customs when entering a nation and realizing it is wrong to be openly naked in front of people who cover themselves conservatively. The sad thing is that the people who cover themselves are made fun here in north america by these same people who do not have the respect or decency to cover themselves up to a respectable extent.

        • Не Сегодня

          So Muslims also should respect the western culture by not bringing and forcing their culture in the westerner’s faces.

          So this Islam, you should dress and practice your religion in PEACE but if someone is different than you they don’t deserve to be respected

          FUCK OFF

          • Mohammed Rashwan

            Don’t be ridiculous, it’s this type of ignorance that gets people thinking like that. A woman has the right to cover herself up just as much as another has the right to show her skin, except what you said is kind of funny because in North America (which is a western civilization) you can get arrested for being naked in public. Take note of that because it was my example. Also, when you go to a country, you should respect it’s customs… if it’s a muslim country don’t show up naked and certainly don’t insult their religion. If it’s a western country just be polite and do as you please within the constructs of the freedom you have. This is my opinion, I am not a symbol of Islam but I am a follower, that type of mentality that you displayed and ignorance is what get people talking the way you do. They are not forcing their culture by covering themselves up, because it is their freedom in the western world to do so. The people in the western world should have the respect and let them do so, and not be a bunch of hypocrites. If you’re saying that covering themselves up is forcing their culture on someone, then you’re an @$$hat and a hypocrite, because you are someone trying to make them go against their values (even though they are allowed) and reveal their skin, which, in fact, FORCING YOUR CULTURE, or what delusions you have of it being your culture, upon them.

            Also, why do you visit such websites about Islam, and refuse to listen to the perspective of those of that are followers of the faith ? Try understanding their perspective, instead of criticizing it. Yes it is my choice to lurk or redirect my gaze, but their comes a point of balance where you have to be fair. I can guarantee you wouldn’t be able to look away if the most beautiful woman in the world was in front of you naked.

    • Mohamed Mostafa

      This going to be long ..
      When any person do a negative action toward any other person let’s count it as the maximum sin, let’s count it as killing, is there any good reason for someone to kill any other person? Of course not, and by applying this equation to harassment, there isn’t any reason for any person to harass any another person, and as what the person ‘was wearing’ to make himself ‘got killed’ going to sound a ridiculous reason, the same applies to harassment, what the victims were wearing will never be a reason for anything.

      But there’s tools we can use to avoid getting killed, and there’s tools we can use to avoid getting harassed, and Hijab is one of them.

      Hijab is like a seat belt it’s NOT the driving wheel, wearing the seat belt isn’t necessary for the driving process, you can go to work and come back home multiple times without the seat belt and nothing happens or goes wrong, but in case if you had an accident – God Forbids -, Wearing a seat belt highly effects your probabilities of getting ” Dangerous injuries, Small ones or Nothing at all ”

      For example, I love speeding, I check my phone every minute, and the seat belt is actually an undesired load on my chest, But when I drive, I wear the seat belt, I put my phone on silent mood & I keep an eye on the speed limits, Yes, it’s against my well, but as safety comes first, I have to follow the rules. its like ‘Helmets’, we want to enjoy the breeze while we are riding the bike, but we against our well put the Helmets on, not because we blindly follows the rules, but because actually that Helmet can avoid huge amounts of permanent injuries in case the biker fells heads first.

      So our well is one thing, and our safety is a complete different thing, and as our safety differs from a place to another, of course the safety tips going to change.

      There’s roads with speed limits (60km/h) and others with speed limits up to (120km/h), and those speed limits were set in an alignment with the quality of road, and set upon the probabilities of having an accident if we passed an actual speed limit, and as the asphalt might be slippery or you might find an animal randomly put himself in front of your wheels, it also might happens while you are on foot, you might find another animal in a form of a man cross your road for any reason, trying to harass you in any form or any way, its not your mistake that there’s a wild animal on the asphalt, animals shouldn’t be on asphalt, you should be speeding as much as you want and that will never be a good reason for that animal to be on the asphalt, because it’s illogical to limit my speed the whole road from home to work because of a probability that a wild animal going to put himself on my way in the same Space-time, But it happens, you might be a good driver and can actually avoid the animal without hitting him or letting him makes you go off-road, but in case you’re not, the seat belt most probably going to save your life ..

      It’s exactly like the pepper spray any woman can keep in her bag, a tool to avoid getting robbed or raped, to avoid someone trying to get what he doesn’t owe, and same works with Hijab, it’s just a tool, Your tool not like most of the people thinks its vice versa, you can use for your own safety whenever it’s needed, but logically, you shouldn’t be paying a penny buying a pepper spray, you pay your taxes and the government should be securing every single inch in the country for you 24/7 to walk whenever you want wherever you want, its your right, But until that happens !? you want to risk your own safety examining the improvements in government social and national security ?!

      Most studies shows that the maximum amount of rapes accidents happens in the time between 02:00Am and 04:00Am , let’s say that again …. ” its your pure right, to walk Whenever you want, Wherever you want, And Wear Whatever you want and be completely safe and secured, its your right and you have the right to fight for this right from anyone trying to take it from you”, but let me ask you a question, walking alone at 03:30 am in an isolated public dark place, does it sound like a good idea ? the answer is yours if its dangerous or not, and as you might be walking in a dark isolated place and putting the top of your finger on a pepper spray inside your bag, you might also grab your scarf and put it around your hair and partly your face, for the sack of protection and protection only, any drunk man passes by you at this exact moment, having an intention to make any action towards you, might Mistaken you with an over 50 years old woman and that might save your life. ahhh we don’t need to repeat saying “That Man shouldn’t be Drunk and walking in the street”, it’s totally a complete waste of time, it’s a different cause, our cause is her safety. because fixing the society is already what we all seek.

      In China, the dust became unbelievable, everyone in the street is walking wearing a mask, For Gods sack who love to walk around with such a mask ? No one, But +90% of the population wearing that mask, for the sack of safety, and for the love of the life, and hoping that that dust vanish and they get back to their life totally free from the obligation of having to wear a mask, same with Hijab, it’s for the sack of the safety exactly like I said, like a pepper spray or an electric teaser, Because Harassment is a disease hitting the joints of almost every living society, It’s like Ebola, its dangerous, it’s lethal and most importantly it exists. you,me and the owner of the video fight for the same cause, and fighting to kill the same diseases, the difference that you are trying to find the cure and we want to prevent the infection, and what we both wants is that under any circumstances she didn’t get the Ebola, you are working to find a cure for the sick society and the Metwaly giving awareness to prevent the infection until that happens, The Video maker thinks that both team have to coordinate and work in an alignment, you the writer just Don’t !.

      And Hijab, It’s a protection like any other protection tool, We use them with or against our well for one purpose & one purpose only, Our Safety, it’s the helmet that prevent a biker brain to become spoiled on the asphalt, its a baby car seat prevent his biscuits thin bones from accidents, its like protection people use not to get Aides, it’s like an umbrella people use to prevent the rains, its Like Hijab to avoid harassment in the sick society. Yes, it’s just rhythm with them just like that.

      Even the only time Hijab ( In English ‘Barrier’ ) was referred to it in the Quran, it was presented as nothing but a source and a tool for protection, It’s at 33:59 ;

      ” O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. ”

      Let me repeat “That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused.” , ” Be known and not be abused” , its just synced with every thing I understand about Hijab as a protection tool, woman use to be known and not be abused, known as a Muslim (which means have a different rules) and that actually help her avoid any one who tries to abuse her verbally or from anyone trying to fake a quick relationship. It’s like a Jacket she keeps in the trunk of her car, and wear it when its get colder, Also Hijab …. when it’s late, when it’s dark it works much better than pepper spray – re watch the video above – , a woman can wear it when she’s in a gathering to avoid any undesired approach from any one, it works much better than “I have a boy friend”, It’s a tool, a protection tool she use it for her safety, and when she wants to express her identity, it doesn’t have a form a shape or a colour, its up to her, and every other woman, because it’s for safety purposes only, because if we look at the wide picture, by the perspective of Islam we live here to develop the planet, and the first step to develop the planet is to protect the Human race from extinction, and because we were supposed to be working together as one species, work on a plan with harmony like bees and ants, and every woman as a potential wife and mother, or having any other key role in the family accordingly the hood, accordingly a the city accordingly the world, Her safety somehow effect the whole planet, her physical, psychological and mental safety and stability have the major effect, because that’s reflects on her kids, effect their identity and personality, effect the future Men & Women and accordingly effects the planet Earth future, No woman will ever feel comfortable with someone naming parts of her bodies out loud, she’ll not give her son the same warm hug if she saw polite smiles all the way back home not a continues verbal abuses and she might if things got worse, she might not have the chance to hug him again, it’s her life that’s everyday is on the edge and the future of her kids Mental state & personality, that’s why there’s no greater battle for the woman to fight more than her safety.

      And seriously it’s a silent video, came afterwards 2 questions “What do you think?” and then, “You be the judge.” !!

      My answers to both questions is as follow,

      Q :“ What do you think? ” “You be the judge.”

      A :“ I think the woman in the second part of the video get less harassment than the first one, I think it work as a simple protective tool and don’t requires any effort or training”

      So Yes its one dimensional video, but it’s a dimension was never discussed in that way before, And you came with the same dimension we focus on each time, and with some facts totally cut out of its context, Taking Egypt as an example is completely wrong and serve no point, 80% of the Egyptian popularity is under the poverty line, 60% of Egypt’s population is illiterate and still in 2014 can’t read or write, Egypt come last in the quality of education, worst health care in the world, and we are the highest population in the world with multiple diseases like breast cancer & virus C, and we have people dies everyday on the roads more than any other country, Where else in the world the harassment egg will find a better place to hatch ?! No it’s not Hijab and its not Islam, .. so if you want to connect the dots between religion and politics, so Egypt is under a military ruling that works everyday to brainwash the people and make them busy fighting shit-loads of worthless battles, and not fighting the main battle, the battle of freedom, and they even can’t leave, so the pressure and the depression with the poverty plus the ignorance led them to explode, and that’s exactly what Islam is fighting against, Most of the people of the world recall the photos of bloodshed in the news as the only reference to Islam, but with another perspective Islam the world largest and long lasted civilization came without the prison being part of it, Islam Is freedome !! Hijab have nothing to do with harassment in Egypt, For Example Egypt women are over weighted compared to the women of the world, using your logic going to make the weight of the woman connected somehow to her chances to get back home safe, it’s completely pointless.

      And I don’t also think the video is Dumb, actually the article is what serves no purpose, The video is about a ‘test drive’ for a human clone in a car with and without a seat build at speed of 60 Mph , one got some serious injuries and the other is almost safe, So what is the point the writer trying to make by telling us a story about someone who were wearing a seat belt and died in an accident anyway, and the seat built is not doing nothing and we should focus on making an accident-free roads where we can drive the way we want and be safe, that’s exactly how it sounds in my ears, and it’s a complete proof that there’s a repulsive force came out once the idea of the woman clothes have any relation with the harassment is on the table -and positive thinking well never be repulsive to any idea-, It’s not necessary to point your finger to Egypt or elsewhere, just keep your eye balls on that girl walking in the streets in the video, which one is safer and which one is in peace.

      And also, Its becoming more cliché than a cause keep repeating that any woman have the whole right to wear what she wants, it’s sound exactly like that scene in the Mars Attacks : ( We come in peace .. We come in peace ) all over the microphones while on the ground everything is burning and on fire, lets go over this point. we don’t have to mention that the Earth is a sphere rotating around the sun not the other way around every time we want to speak about the galaxy, we are in 2014 supposedly we had passed this point from ages, and lets not start with When you continued “In fact, there is an issue within Muslim communities where some Muslim men problematically insult Muslim women” , Well, this going to take almost double the amount of what I wrote already and that can’t be happening, but let me pass this information to you, “According to the social progress index, a major scientific study comparing development and well-being among all 132 nations of the world, The United Arab Emirates ranks number one in treating women with respect”, The UAE …. An Arab Muslim Country came from the same area most of the people thinks it was the source of all the world ignorance, With a percentage of 95% of women wearing Hijab – more than Egypt – and the women there feels completely safe, free and more important, feel respected.

      It’s a social experiment, it should be watched, it should be studied, and it should get analysed, and we should thank the video maker for his efforts, The social experiments/ the surveys is an attempt from its makers to understand the society, it’s something helping us people to understand ourselves and find out our problems, it should be appreciated, and it will never ever be a pointless, a dumb or a bad idea.

      And Islam, its really big, Its really huge and Its really deep, so I think any writer before pointing a finger to “Issues between Muslim men and Muslim women within the Muslim Communities” , should actually knows partly what he’s talking about, he should actually read more about it, about that thing who transformed Ignorant sheep shepherds to a thousand years Rulers of an Empire extends from China in the far East to Spain at the end of West in only 25 years, the founders of most of the current sciences, the founders of the burning gasoline and the developers of medicine, the first ever to think, attempt and try to fly, or at least we should wonder why the hell after all the propaganda and rumours surrounds Islam, its still, the most spreading Idea, while until this moment a person who just put a spot light on a solution for the disgusting social disease spreading all over the world, got attacked by writers as if he was part of the problem not delivering a suggested solution built on a ten hours experiment, not just 15 minutes on the internet and a cup of coffee.

      That’s all about the Hijab dilemma, the world never ending argument and the most consuming debate in History about …. Piece of Clothes.

      • Не Сегодня

        Tell me why Egypt and Afghanistan have the highest rate of harassment in the World when they are veiled LOL

        So this is it, a woman harassed here is Islam to blame the woman thus any muslim man is welcomed to harass her after all she is so evil that she got harassed

        Wait a minute, so I as a man when i want to rape or molest a woman I will choose a MUSLIM one because apparently Muslims and Islam will be too busy blaming her and I will have enough time to search for my other victim


      • Angelina Malloy

        Your first two paragraphs were great. The rest was twaddle. 80% of all rapes are down by a relative. Considering you don’t need a hijab around a relative what does that do to help? Rapes are opportunistic, not in lust. Its about power. Hijab won’t stop a man who has an inkling and the opportunity. That’s garbage. NEVER EVER make a woman responsible. NEVER EVER offer up excuses for deviate men. A man rapes a woman and your offer is why men in the east cry ‘she deserved it because she didn’t wear hijab’. Rape is the same numbers around the world. Unfortunately women in the middle east are too afraid to come forward as they need 4 witnesses or could be stoned or hung for adultery or honor killed by their own family. You can’t make out rape is higher in western countries. Its completely false SO it makes your argument FOR hijab MOOT

        • NO they’re not, “in the U.S., including within a family –stepfamilies more predisposed than biological families (4). 1 out of 6 women and 1 out of 33 men have experienced rape or attempted rape in the US (2). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “38% of victims were raped by a friend or acquaintance, 28% by “an intimate” and 7% by another relative, and 26% were committed by a stranger to the victim. About four out of ten sexual assaults take place at the victim’s own home. (3)”

      • Angelina Malloy

        And p.s. Maybe you should read up more on women in Egypt. They are NOT happy. The men take those surveys. Only men attend women conferences. Women have little rights. They can’t even drive

        • Maybe you should read about women in: Senegal, Mauritania, Indonesia, Jordan, Turkey, etc.

    • Both men and women should be responsible for our choices. To say that the buck falls only on men makes women seem child-like and irresponsible. Is that what women want to be treated like children? As if they don’t know certain clothes cause attention and others don’t. When a woman wants attention she knows how to dress when she doesn’t she also knows how to dress. And men have their role, Islamically to lower the gaze. Generally to not harass others. But I wish we’d be honest and state the obvious, the way you dress has an effect on how people treat you.

      • Не Сегодня

        It is funny considering women who suffer from excessive sexual harassment are mostly living in Muslim countries like Egypt and Afghanistan.

        • “Women who suffer from excessive sexual harassment are mostly living in Muslim countries like Egypt and Afghanistan.” According to who or what? 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual harassment in the US.

          And the idea of lumping together “Muslim Countries” is just a joke. Qatar is not like Saudi Arabia and neither are like indonesia and so on and so forth. You’re statement is a slew a words strung together to fit in to the already existent anti Islamic climate.
          state facts with sources not your opinion dressed as such.

          • Angelina Malloy

            He speaks fact. In Muslim countries they want women to stay home and be ‘dumb’ and not take ‘mens’ jobs – because it messes with their ego. I have a Pakistani friend who said she covered properly but every time she went out she was harassed as a teenager. Since coming to Australia she said she has never been disrespected. Because in western culture we are equal and TAUGHT TO RESPECT. And not believe in a 1400 year old book that repeatedly says women are not equal to men.

            • This statement… again with the “in Muslim countries” I’ve now lived in/ visited four different Muslim countries and I was born and raised in the West. My experience with street harassment: Harassed in my hometown of Brooklyn, NY (it is a norm), harassed in Jordan, left alone in the United Emirates, left alone in Qatar. It is not a “Muslim Countries” issue. That’s nice that your friend wasn’t harassed in Australia however the facts are that almost 1 out of four women experience sexual harassment in the states and a large number are raped. But really this argument grows old. I’m not interested in whose pain is worse. The problem of street harassment is real and needs to be addressed and changed everywhere. Your misrepresentation of Islam as a religion that oppresses women is old, boring and beyond cliche it doesn’t deserve a response

            • Angelina Malloy

              A large number. Good to see you make it up as you go. Fact is studies have shown there’s no difference in rape numbers in the west and the middle east however its hard to gauge as women are not likely to report rape in middle eastern countries. Crap like needing 4 witnesses, or honor killed, or being tried for adultery, lashed hung or stoned for being raped is also a great deterrent for women coming forward to. Yes dear Islam doesn’t repress women at all. Just because in sharia you come under property, Mohammad said himself women are not worth that of a man, a woman can’t inherit property under sharia, a womans testimony in court is worth half a mans…i could go on all night but how about I stick with this story and say to find any excuse for a man to rape a woman…then yes that belief system opresses women

            • This is such a joke, a women *can* inherit property, she can work and her money belongs to her whereas the money he makes must be spent on his wife and children, women are not property in Islam and never were. Women keep there last last names unlike in the west where women were considered property and took (and still do) take their husbands last name. A woman’s testimony is not worth half a man’s as an absolute… you should actually study Islam and not merely read the latest headline

      • Не Сегодня

        hey ASSHOLE

        Who are these, aren’t they muslims and veiled!!!

        • I’m not sure what your referring to or why you feel logic isn’t efficient enough to express yourself without resorting to name calling and cursing. That’s unfortunate.

      • Angelina Malloy

        I doubt you are a woman and if you are then shame on you!

        • Lots of shame to go around I’m sure

    • Jekyll

      Men are evil Men should die Men are useless….the only real truth isn’t there ?

    • Jekyll

      Sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny are universal…actually David, please don’t try to make a sentence by sticking all the brownie points you find.

      From street videos….feminism…gotcha…point well made.

    • Angelina Malloy

      Maybe google Egypt harassment of women who even wear niqab. What are they trying to do? Make women stay at home so they don’t work

    • Zaman Ali Rizvi