More than a catcall

Sophie Sandberg tackles everyday harassment by taking it back to the streets.

Catcalls and wolf whistles have long been a part of street culture. They range anywhere between a simple Good Morning to someone yelling out what they’d do to you sexually if given the chance. This form of harassment occurs on a daily basis and in some extreme cases people have been followed by these catcallers.

With the events of the 2017 #MeToo movement a spotlight was placed on the different types of harassment that people face daily. Many people were forced to question the ways in which they treat people and where the line was between accepted behavior and harassment.

Catcalls of NYC

A few years ago, a group by the name of Rob Bliss Creative documented what it’s like for a woman to walk the streets of New York City. The woman, a volunteer, spent about 10 hours walking around the city and what followed her throughout her journey was the catcalls and wolf whistles of multiple men. Seeing this happen in real time shocked a lot of people. Many claimed that they were unaware that this was happening to such a degree.

Since the #MeToo movement and the Global Women’s march, many people have started to raise more awareness about the daily harassment people face in public.

One of them is Catcalls of NYC, an Instagram page that collects submissions of street harassment and where they happen in New York city. Creator Sophie Sandberg goes to those very spots and writes down the comment, in chalk, along with the hashtag #StopStreetHarassment”. Sandberg then posts the images to her Instagram page in order to raise awareness, create dialogue and to show people the impact that words have.

Catcalls of NYC

Growing up in New York, Sandberg says that she is constantly exposed to street harassment, whether it is directed at her or someone else. One example stands out for her and eventually served as the catalyst for the Catcalls of NYC page.

One morning, after dressing up quite nicely for work, Sandberg stepped out of the subway and was met with dozens of comments about her body and the way that she looked.

“I felt so much like I was at fault for provoking the comments, like there was something wrong with what I was wearing, and it made me feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable,” says Sandberg.

She adds, “I didn’t know how to respond to these things and they made me extremely uncomfortable. [It] upset me that I had to face these things and everyone else had to face these things silently.”

Sandberg wanted to do something to bring attention to this issue, to highlight this menacing problem that people have to face regularly.

“I wanted it to catch people’s attention and I wanted it to be colourful, says Sandberg.

Catcalls of NYC

Three years since she launched her page, Sandberg receives more than 30 submissions a day of street harassment claims. And it’s not only her site that receives these submissions. Since the launch of Catcalls of NYC, more than sixty other pages have been set up to highlight street harassment in various parts of the world, including Bangladesh, Cyprus, Colombia and Mexico. 

Over these last couple of years, Sandberg has received incredible support from people around the world thanking her for the work that she’s doing to raise awareness.

“The support is mainly people thanking me for what this account does for them. They’re excited that people are talking about street harassment and sharing stories,” says Sandberg.

Often those who are sending through these submissions have never had anyone listen to them or are dismissed for being too sensitive.

She notes that her account has helped men, who she believes tend to not experience this kind of harassment as regularly as women, learn about the behaviour and understand its impact.

Sandberg has received lots of messages from men who want to help and say “I can’t believe you have to deal with this all of the time, how can I step in when I see something happening, what’s the best way to intervene.

“And I think these are really productive discussions to have because that’s really what we need,” she adds.

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Thandiwe Msebenzi uses photography to expose the consequences of misogyny

Two campaigns that raise awareness by altering public spaces