Think Sexism Is Dead? ‘The Daily Show’ Catcalling Segment Proves Otherwise

Correspondent Jessica Williams filmed herself being harassed by men on the streets of New York City.
Oct 3, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

What’s it like to be a woman subjected to street harassment? “Come spend a day in my fun world,” invites The Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams. She then whisks viewers off into “Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere,” where cameras follow her as she’s catcalled while walking around New York City.

We see footage of Williams being bugged by a slew of guys—everyone from construction workers to Wall Street types. In case viewers believe the rude and explicit comments are just isolated incidents, something Williams is staging or bringing on herself, she also hosts a focus group of diverse women. Surprise, surprise: Those ladies are all able to share the often sexually graphic details of their own street harassment.

Clips of journalists and media talking heads who believe catcalling is complimentary are brilliantly interspersed throughout. True to Daily Show form, the video has several laugh-out-loud moments—such as when Williams sticks pins on a map of New York City to indicate where her focus group participants have been harassed, and when she shares catcalling prevention strategies. (One involves crazily singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Seriously.)

That said, given that catcalling is so pervasive in the United States that at least two-thirds of American women have experienced it—meaning that most of the ladies reading this have been on the receiving end of unwelcome sexually explicit comments and remarks about their appearance—the clip is both sad and enraging.

“I never know how to respond. Should I respond? Is my safety compromised if I make a response, if I call them out?” asks one of Williams’ focus group participants. That any woman has to wonder is a clear sign that when it comes to gender equality, we still have a long way to go.