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Student turns sexual harassment into street art

By Rediff News Bureau
October 10, 2018 10:28 IST
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Sophie Sandberg writes insults she or other women have heard in chalk on New York's streets to raise awareness about sexual harassment.

IMAGE: One of the many comments Sophie Sandberg has chalked on the streets of New York in an attempt to combat sexual harassment and raise awareness about the issue. Photograph: Kind courtesy @catcallsofnyc/Instagram

'Hey sexy, why don't you give me a smile?'

'Hey baby! Nice ass.'

Catcalls like these made by men at women are a common occurrence across the world -- be it the streets of New York, Mumbai, London, Delhi, Barcelona, Rome...

At a time when the #MeToo movement -- where women are naming and shaming sexual harassers/molesters -- has gained momentum across the world, a student in New York City has declared 'Enough is enough' and shone a spotlight on street harassment with her project, Catcalls of NYC.


IMAGE: The 21-year-old New York University student has been working hard at this project since March 2016. Victims of catcalls or sexual street harassment send Sophie Sandberg messages on Instagram and she documents them near where the offences occurred. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Since March 2016, Sophie Sandberg, a gender and sexuality junior at New York University, has been asking her Instagram followers to send in messages about their experiences being sexually harassed on the streets, detailing the exact location it took place and what was said.

Sandberg then goes to the spot in question, writes the catcall on the street in bright chalk, takes a picture and posts it on Instagram.

When asked why she chose this method of calling out sexism and harassment, Sandberg told the BBC that she has been trying to raise awareness about sexual harassment in New York City and hopes her work will make people think twice about catcalling.

Some of the catcalls as shown by @catcallsofNYC

Please scroll sideways to view more images

'When I started doing the project I realised people get really aggressive and vulgar comments,' Sandberg told the BBC.

'When it first happened to me, it sounded like a compliment, like 'Hey beautiful' and 'Hey sexy'.'

'I felt so uncomfortable. It sounded like a compliment, but I felt like I was being watched and my body wasn't mine. I was only 15.'

IMAGE: Sandberg has chalked out more than 200 images and hopes this movement spreads to other countries as well. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

'The colourful chalk and colourful words catch people's eyes. They force those who wouldn't normally experience catcalling to take a second look,' Sandberg said. As of date, she has posted 205 pictures and has more than 30,000 followers.

IMAGE: Most of the catcalls she receives or the ones she chalks out on the roads are received by women travelling by New York's public transport such as the subway. Photograph: Kind courtesy @catcallsofnyc/Instagram

Catcalling has become an irritating but accepted part of daily life, Sandberg told, and she hoped her project will make people realise it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

'No one questioned or challenged it. It was simply an accepted annoyance,' she said.

'For me, it has always been more than an annoyance. It has shaped my experience in public space. It's affected my confidence and comfort walking down the street. It's silenced me -- I've never felt comfortable responding to catcalls, as much as I'd like to tell these men off.'

IMAGE: Sophie Sandberg hopes her project will help people understand that catcalling isn't merely an 'annoyance', but a form of harassment which can scar a woman's life. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Sandberg hopes her project will spread to other cities across the world.

The NYU student also hopes the project will encourage people to step in the next time they witness street harassment.

'Writing it in the same place that it happened, I hope the person who said the words may remember and think 'Oh those were my words'.'

Dear readers, have you been catcalled? Please share your experiences in the box below:

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