Colorful words littered the ground of Washington Square Park on Saturday, but the vibrant chalk letters didn’t convey messages as bright.
CAS senior Sophie Sandberg is the owner of popular Instagram account catcallsofnyc. Last summer, she joined forces with Holly Kearl, founder and CEO of Stop Street Harassment, to host her first chalking event at Washington Square Park. This past weekend, she aligned her second chalking event with Kearl’s International Anti-Street Harassment Week. Kearl started International Anti-Street Harassment Week in 2011 to raise awareness about street harassment by coordinating events with activists around the world. This year, 32 countries participated.
Sandberg started her project three years ago as an NYU first-year. Growing up in New York City, Sandberg was exposed to street harassment from a young age, so when a first-year writing course asked her to immerse herself in a topic and document it on social media, she chose catcalling. She started chalking phrases on the sidewalks where they were first yelled at her and posted them to her Instagram. Sandberg began with her own stories, then her friends’, and soon people were sending in their experiences to the account. Currently, the account has 106,000 followers and has inspired similar pages around the world.
“The more that I raise awareness about [catcalling] and the more people know about it, I think it could become less normalized,” Sandberg said. “Really the goal of the project is to raise awareness and educate people so that they become active bystanders to help people who are facing it and then also call out people who are doing it.”
Sandberg and Kearl want anyone who has experienced street harassment to find a supportive community and feel empowered through chalking their stories.
“It can be cathartic to say this happened to me here, and you’re acknowledging it and saying, ‘I reclaim this space,’” Kearl said. “You’re making a statement and a choice to not be bullied by those harassers and still go to those places.”
Gallatin senior Sarah Bonavich participated in this past weekend’s chalking event and appreciated the opportunity to feel seen.
“It feels nice to put it on display and not hold it for yourself internally and kind of make the rest of the world look at it too,” Bonavich said. “For me, there’s a kind of satisfaction when I see a man walk by and look at a catcall and [I] think maybe that’s going to teach him something.”
Kearl also commented on the importance of fostering an activist community that combats street harassment.
“I think there is a lot of isolation in activism on this issue and victim blaming,” Kearl said. “So being able to come together with like-minded people who are also passionate about this can help you feel less alone and give you the motivation to keep speaking out.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 15, 2019, print edition. Email Emily Mason [email protected]