When Sophie Sandberg was told to “immerse” herself in something for her writing class, she knew exactly what topic she wanted to tackle: catcalling. She took to the streets of New York City to write down catcalls she and her friends heard, documenting each of them through her Instagram page, @catcallsofnyc.
Sophie, a sophomore social cultural analysis student at NYU, grew up in New York City, so she’s heard her fair share of catcalls – but she’s definitely not alone. According to a global study conducted in 2015, approximately 84 percent of women experience some form of street harassment before they’re 17 years old, sometimes as young as age 11.
Catcalling doesn’t stop at the verbal level. In a 2016 study, The University of Kent found that the sexual objectification of women can lead to aggression and a lack of moral concern for women.
Sophie told Fresh U that she feels street harassment is a major problem that doesn’t get enough attention, which inspired her to create her Instagram page. She now manages a master list on her phone that includes catcalls directed at her or sent to her by friends accompanied by the places they occurred.
For each post, she finds the exact location of the catcall and writes the words or phrases along with her Instagram handle and the hashtag #stopstreetharassment. The content of her captions can vary – whether it’s something she wants to say about the catcall, an additional fact about what happened, or a way to relate it to current events.
“I felt that writing the catcalls on the sidewalk where they had happened would get people’s attention – provoke shock, disgust, confusion,” she said. “It would be a way to raise awareness about street harassment and alert people to the disgusting things men say to women on the street.”
Sophie said catcalls are often masked in what the catcaller sees as a compliment. These “compliments” sometimes include phrases like “hey, beautiful” or “hey, sexy,” but she wants to remind women that “anything said to a woman that makes her uncomfortable is not a compliment and is not okay.”
According to Sophie, the reception to @catcallsofnyc has been positive and supportive. Feminist accounts on Instagram have asked her to collaborate with them, and she has seen other people post her chalk renditions of the catcalls on their own accounts. She said the “most exciting” reactions are when strangers reach out to her to share their stories.
Sophie said that while her Instagram page might not stop catcalling, she hopes it helps empower women who have been objectified.
“I can’t imagine a man stopping and looking at the chalk and thinking, ‘Tomorrow I will stop catcalling women,’” Sophie said. “However, it has certainly helped me find a voice on the issue when I have previously felt silenced by it.”
Lead Image Credit: Sophie Sandberg