It seems painfully obvious to state that sexually assaulting women is not ‘funny’ or a ‘prank’. It should also go without saying that you can’t smooth things over when you’ve done something unpleasant to women, by doing the same unpleasant thing to men.
Sam Pepper, a popular YouTuber and former Big Brother contestant, uploaded a video over the weekend that shows him approaching various women in the street, and groping their bums without their consent. The ‘Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank’ gathered more than a million views before it was removed from YouTube for violating their Terms of Service.
Viewers were angry, partially because what Pepper did was vile, but also because the majority of women have at some point experienced sexual harassment in a public place and the video’s content was all too familiar. The widespread nature of street harassment means that it forms an ugly canvas, against which our interactions on public transport and in public spaces are painted. It includes catcalls, whistling, sexual comments, groping, flashing and masturbation. It is so prolific that the Everyday Sexism campaign, founded by Laura Bates, receives thousands of tweets every week from men and women sharing their experiences of harassment, and currently has 172,000 followers.
We recognise street harassment because we’re so used to it, and this is why Pepper’s video was not welcomed by the online community. It doesn’t matter who is grabbing your boobs or bum without your permission, whether it’s a ‘creepy old man’ or a young, famous YouTuber. The effect is the same. It compromises bodily autonomy – meaning that your body is no longer yours when in public. It becomes common property, of men who feel able to touch you without resistance or consequence. The same anger and fear and shame is present, along with the weary sense that as a woman in public, you’re forced to put up with this shit.
Sam Pepper has more than 2.4 million subscribers on YouTube, and the majority are young girls. They should not be shown that sexual harassment is a funny or profitable prank that garners viewers while leaving the person being groped without consent as the butt of the joke.
YouTuber Laci Green, who broadcasts a popular sex education series, has released an articulate open letter, addressed to Pepper and signed by several internet stars, including Hank and John Green, Meghan Tonjes, Tyler Oakley and Wil Wheaton. Sam Pepper has released two new videos, explaining his intentions. One shows a female actor pinching the behinds of unsuspecting men, as though by reversing the roles Pepper has made a point with his sad little stunt. Someone should let him know that harassing men doesn’t make up for harassing women.
If the women in the first video are, as Pepper now claims, were actors who were fully aware of the situation, the question of why he turned assault or staged-assault into a prank remains pertinent. Would he have revealed that the women were in on the ‘joke’ had the backlash not been so strong? I suspect not, and kindly request that Pepper keeps his ill-conceived ‘social experiments’ and hands to himself in future. Where’s the unsubscribe button?