Women

#IsThisOK: how a bold short film from Manchester is tackling street harassment head-on

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Amber Sunner
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Is This Ok campaign

The campaign led by Labour MP Andy Burnham takes an eagle-eyed approach to lower levels of gender-based violence, sending the important message that such intrusions are unacceptable.

Earlier this year, Stylist launched #AFearlessFuture, an initiative calling on the UK Home Office to raise public awareness about male violence against women. Now, a new campaign from Greater Manchester’s Gender-Based Violence Board has been released that asks #IsThisOk when women experience street harassment.

On 16 December 2021, the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, tweeted a short film showing a woman being sexually harassed to launch the campaign. The one-minute 30-second clip depicts her doing simple things like heading out for a run, grabbing a coffee and going on a night out – but being constantly harassed while doing so.

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In one instance, she is jeered at while photos are taken off her without her consent and sent to a group chat. In another, suggestive comments are made to her – “I bet you look much prettier when you smile” – by a stranger on the street. After ignoring this remark, the film shows the man becoming aggressive as he shouts at her: “You’re not even that fit!”

When she’s told she’s “asking for it dressed like that”, she appears frightened – even more so when one man says “she definitely wants it”. She looks into the camera and, on the verge of tears, asks: “Do you think this is OK?”

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At the end of the video, statistics are shared from UN Women UK which frame the video in an important light. They say that 71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, this number rises to 86%. Meanwhile, more than 95% of all women did not report their experiences of sexual harassment.

The video is the first in a series of public-engagement activities on the issue. The Greater Manchester Gender-Based Violence Board will inform the campaign’s development. The film tackles the problem directly, targeting the men who engage in the unsolicited intrusions shown in the video and framing them as the problem.

In response to the campaign, Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor for policing, crime and criminal justice, Baroness Beverly Hughes, said: “The tide is now turning on what was once deemed tolerable behaviours such as catcalls or unwanted sexual comments or jokes. It was never OK in the past and it’s not OK now.”

Mr Burnham has confirmed that the campaign will be taken into schools, colleges and communities in 2022. He said in another tweet: “Men, lads and boys across GM [Greater Manchester] need to own this one and lead the change we need to see.”

After the tragic killings of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, a campaign that tackles street harassment directly and raises awareness about such abuse is welcomed. 

Men cannot feel entitled to say and do whatever they want to women and girls. We should be made to feel safe in all aspects of daily life, especially when doing errands or meeting friends — simple things that men can do virtually without any unwanted attention. This is a right that should be extended to everyone regardless of gender. Although this film is a step in the right direction, it shouldn’t be up to local councils to tackle gender-based violence alone. Stylist believes it’s time for the UK government to launch a nationwide campaign that finally addresses the issue head-on.

For information and support on issues of rape or sexual abuse, call the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. 

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