Film student Sofie Peeters moved to Brussels to pursue her craft, but when she got there, she was constantly harassed by an assortment of males as she walked through her neighborhood. Haunted by the experience of being sexually catcalled and insulted, even called a slut, and wondering what she was doing wrong, the young student decided to secretly record the harassment that plagues women in a city that is often equated with European charm.
The film opens with a shot of Peeters wearing a dress and staring out of her apartment window. She says:
Do you know that dream where you suddenly realize you’re naked? You walk down the street, and everyone’s staring at you. You’re ashamed, everyone stares. You’re doing something wrong, but you have no idea what it is.
Peeters collected commentary from young women living in Brussels who had experienced regular harassment in Belgium’s capital. Many women said they prefer not to wear skirts, that they use their ipods as a way to avoid hearing the insults thrown at them from the men. Still many other young women will redirect the routes they travel through the city to avoid the catcalls and some will even avoid public transportation.
The young film student also interviewed some of the young men who call after women. She asked them why they like to yell such insults and jeers. One young man said, “To pass the time, you know.” Another older man said, “If nobody looked at you, wouldn’t you feel bad? You should be thanking us, ‘Thank you for making me feel like a woman.’”
She also asked the young men how she can make it clear she does not want such attention. They told her she should be married, and if she wasn’t, she should fake it and wear a ring. Peeters wittily concludes, “So I need a man to be able to walk the streets peacefully?”
Problems of sexual harassment are common throughout the world, but western Europe has seen a new wave of discussion about the prevalence of this occurrence. The Guardian notes that issues of sexual harassment in France, where a new law is being drafted, and where no law currently exists, has hit home for many people. Just a few weeks ago, a female member of France’s National Assembly was catcalled and hooted at while trying to give a presentation.
Peeters’ film has ignited debates about the sheer number of women who feel intimidated by these types of masculine advances. The feminist group Osez Le Feminisme from France filmed a role-reversal video in which they sexually harass men to illustrate the absurdity and cruelty of the treatment.
The film and the debates it has inspired highlight that the vast majority of women feel objectified and dehumanized by such treatment. While harassers may claim that their calls and phrases are a way to make a woman feel valued and sexy, that is hardly ever the result. Belgian and French politicians have both claimed that new legislation and fines are on the way to making the streets safer and more appealing for women. The question remains, how can such legislation be enforced when women such as Peeters are called at up to 10 times a day by anonymous and intimidating groups of men? Who will report the cases and will women be taken seriously by authorities when they do contact officials?
Photo Credit: DIMSFIKAS