How video 'pranksters' are cashing in on the abuse and harassment of women
How video 'pranksters' are cashing in on the abuse and harassment of women published by Mooba
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Posted on 2016-06-03
Writer Description: Brandon
This writer has written 186 articles.
hen 22-year-old student and writer Paulina Drėgvaitė headed to Trafalgar Square last week, she was simply planning to meet a friend in central London and enjoy the good weather. As she sat on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a young man approached her, told her it was “national kiss day” and asked her to kiss him. She smiled and said, “No, sorry, no.” Instead of accepting her answer, he demanded to know why. She answered: “Because I have no desire to kiss you.” Again, he persisted, asking: “What if I show you my nipple?” At this point, she told him to “fuck off”, and asked him what right he thought he had to speak to her in that way. Laughing it off with a sarcastic comment, he walked away.
It wasn’t until the following day when a friend sent her a link to a Facebook video that she realised the man who had approached her was Jack Jones, a self-styled online “prankster” with a Facebook following of almost 3.5 million people. Without her knowledge or consent, he had filmed his interaction with Paulina and used her as the punchline on a video titled “national kiss day”.
The video, which ends with Drėgvaitė saying “fuck off”, has since been viewed over 700,000 times, and has 12,000 likes, 850 shares and more than 600 comments. To her horror, Drėgvaitė realised that hundreds of the comments focused on her, describing her as ugly, stuffy, stuck up, arrogant and dumb, calling her a snotty cow and a feminazi, and speculating about whether she was on her period.
“I was physically shaking,” says Drėgvaitė. “I feel sick and violated. The video was put up without my consent and now thousands of people are calling me a fat cow because I refused to kiss a man I had no desire to kiss.
“Some people have advised me just to let it go, but I feel like this event is so symptomatic of the everyday sexism that women face: getting harassed in a public space and then being bullied because of it.”
Jones is just one of a host of online “pranksters”, mostly young men, whose videos often show them approaching, scaring or harassing unsuspecting women in public spaces under the guise of “banter”.
Often euphemistically described as “social experiments”, recent examples to hit the headlines have included YouTuber Sam Pepper’s compilation of grabbing women’s bottoms in the street and Brad Holmes’s video showing his partner Jenny Davies in pain after using a tampon he had rubbed chilli on as part of a “prank”. Though several sites removed the chilli video after campaigners pointed out it normalised relationship abuse, many mainstream media outlets continue to host it.
More and more vloggers are making money and enjoying notoriety built on the harassment or abuse of women. Regardless of whether or not some of the “pranks” are staged, you only have to look at the thousands of comments on the videos to see that they are playing a part in perpetuating misogynistic and abusive attitudes towards women and normalising harassment. With titles such as “How to pick up girls” and “How to get any girl’s number”, the videos often encouraged viewers, implicitly or explicitly, to replicate the same tactics themselves. It is not uncommon for sexism and racism to intermingle in the harassment depicted.
Where the videos centre on a female partner, they veer uncomfortably close to the controlling and coercive norms that often mark an abusive relationship. One Brad Holmes video, for example, shows him slashing a piece of clothing he had bought for his partner with a knife in front of her and stamping on a brand new set of hair straighteners while she begs him not to, because she fails to answer questions about history and football correctly. In another, with 10m views, he cuts her hair without consent while she sleeps.
Soraya Chemaly, director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project, says:
Pranks and jokes say a lot about what society thinks is acceptable and, unfortunately for girls and women, what’s acceptable is high levels of physical aggression, denigrating humour and non-consent. You see that trifecta not only in the actions of harassers, who are socially supported, for example, by views and likes, but in the institutionalised policies of social media companies, whose policies tend to reflect mainstream norms.”
In many cases the women involved can be left, like Paulina Drėgvaitė, feeling frustrated and helpless. She reported the video to Facebook and asked for it to be taken down, but received a message in response saying that it did not contravene community guidelines. A spokesperson for Facebook has since said they were investigating both the “national kiss day” and the chilli tampon videos.
While each of these videos is subtly different, as a whole there is something very troubling about the triumphant rise of internet stars who are dealing in the currency of female harassment and humiliation, with sexual success positioned as the ultimate goal. To legions of online fans, the message is clear: any woman is fair game; their presence in public space is an invitation for harassment and you don’t need to take no for an answer.
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