Growing up in New York City, Sophie Sandberg began experiencing street harassment when she was 15 years old.
Now a 21-year-old student at New York University, Sandberg is attempting to combat street harassment with a project titled “Catcalls of NYC.” Sandberg asks her Instagram followers to send her messages about their experiences with catcalling, including letting her know where in the city the harassment took place. She then goes to the location of the incident and writes the catcaller’s quote in big, colorful chalk letters.
The results are unnerving but powerful.
“By writing the comments on the sidewalk where they happened, I raise public awareness about the issue,” Sandberg told HuffPost. “The colorful chalk and colorful words catch people’s eyes. They force those who wouldn’t normally experience catcalling to take a second look.”
The quotes range from smaller comments such as “Hey baby” to ones that are much more explicit and derogatory, like: “Lift up your dress. Show us that pussy.”
Some phrases ― such as “Nice chinky eyes” and “Hey Mexico, fuck you” ― show the intersection of sexism and racism.
“No one questioned or challenged it. It was simply an accepted annoyance,” Sandberg said of street harassment. “For me, it has always been more than an annoyance. It’s 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.”
Sandberg said she hopes this project will prompt people to intervene the next time they witness street harassment.
“I want people who feel silenced, objectified or victimized, to understand that they can be agents of change,” Sandberg said. “One voice can contribute to a collective movement. With that, we have power and we cannot be silenced.”
See more from Sandberg’s “Catcalls of NYC” project:
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