When Sofie Peeters moved to Brussels for a film degree, she found herself confronted with a depressing problem almost every time she left her front door. Walking around her local neighbourhood, the mixed, working-class district of Anneessens, at any time of day she would be greeted with cat-calls, wolf-whistles and jeers of "slag" and "how much do you cost?"
Sick of wondering whether it was her fault for wearing particular clothes, she made her end of year film on the topic, armed with a hidden camera to record the street harassment.
Female acquaintances admitted the problem was so bad they never went out in a skirt, avoided the metro, never made eye contact with men, avoid walking certain streets, never wore shorts and in one case, only ever left their house by bike.
The student film, Femme de la Rue, a shocking account of everyday sexist insults in the street, is now at the centre of a political and social storm in Belgium and across its borders. After it was shown on TV and at a screening last week it has become an internet success and triggered a public debate....
In the film, she walks round her neighbourhood wearing jeans and a cardigan and then a knee-length summer dress and flat boots. A hidden camera shows that both times, men – from youths to groups of older men on cafe terraces – leer, cat-call and proposition her. She is called "whore", "slut", "bitch" and told that she looks up for sex. One man follows her saying she should come to his house or a hotel room. She says she gets this kind of comment eight to 10 times a day.
More at the New Statesman:
A lot of attention has focused on the fact that a lot of the men in Peeters’ film are immigrants to Belgium, mostly of African origin. But in various TV and newspaper interviews, she’s made pains to emphasise that she wasn’t targeting a particular community - Anneessens, the neighbourhood in central Brussels where she lived and where some of the film was shot, is a predominantly North African area, so it just reflected her own experience not that of the whole city or all women.
She told Flemish channel VRT:
“It was one of my biggest fears. How to tackle this subject without making the film racist? But this is the reality: when you're walking around Brussels, in 9 cases out of 10 these insults come from a foreigner. ”