BANGALORE: Our society is known to make light of sexual harassment by calling it eve-teasing and making it sound cute. The protagonist in our films stalks his lady-love, pulls her dupatta and badgers her till she falls hopelessly in love with him. Such a definition of wooing in mainstream films has led our young men into not taking a woman’s ‘no’ seriously. It has blurred the line that separates light-hearted pranks and punishable-by-law harassment.
And it’s not just our films. Log onto YouTube and you will find thousands of videos doing exactly the same — making jokes about a very serious social issue. Most recently, Sam Pepper, a YouTube celebrity and former Big Brother contestant, posted a video titled Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank. Pepper wore an oversized hoodie and walked the streets of Los Angeles with a fake hand tucked into his pocket. He stopped women on the streets and asked them for an address, and when they turned around to direct him, he pinched their bottoms with his real hand. When the women looked around in shock, he said it wasn’t him and pointed to his fake hand still in his pocket.
The video became a turning point in his stint as an Internet celebrity, as his admirers began criticising him for offending the women on the streets just to make a popular video.
Pepper then released two more videos that claimed to be sequels to the first one, the first of which featured a woman going around pinching men’s bottoms. He followed it up saying that street harassment happens to men and women alike.
Bloggers on the Internet reacted strongly to this and said that Pepper had whipped up the ‘sequels’ to paper over the cracks and come across as the good guy.
He has also created several other disturbing videos like How To Make Out With Strangers, How To Get A Girlfriend, Fingering Strangers In Public, and How To Pick Up Girls With A Lasso. Every time, he tried to pass them off as ‘social experiments’.
In An Open Letter to Sam Pepper, popular blogger Laci Green wrote, “We are deeply disturbed by this trend and would like to ask you, from one creator to another, to please stop. Please stop violating women and making them uncomfortable on the street for views. While it may seem like harmless fun, a simple prank, or a ‘social experiment’, these videos encourage millions of young men and women to see this violation as a normal way to interact with women.”
The criticism snowballed into confessions from fangirls who said that they were at some point sexually harassed or raped by Sam Pepper. Dottie Martin was the first to publish a video, in which she recounted her experience of being groped by Pepper when she went to watch a movie with him. When she tried to get away from him, he had made her feel guilty using his status as a celebrity, she shared, and said that she was talking about the two-year-old incident to make sure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Another 18-year-old girl filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department last week and further released a video online, in which she described her nightmarish experience at Pepper’s house where she was raped.
“Sam Pepper doesn’t understand the word ‘no’” she said. She went on to add that people should not watch his social experiment videos and believe that he is an Internet hero.
These days, supporting women’s empowerment and advocating for women's safety has become an ‘in’ thing among celebrities, real and pseudo alike. And it is uninspiring to see that in several cases, the dirt lies right under the surface.