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Catcalls of NYC is a grassroots initiative and collective that uses public chalk art to raise awareness about gender-based street harassment. We solicit stories of harassment and their locations in New York City. Then, we go to those locations, write out the comments word-for-word in sidewalk chalk alongside the hashtag #stopstreetharassment, and post the images on social media. The goal is to provide a space for story sharing, spur dialogue on the streets and online, and ultimately promote cultural change.
I started this project in 2016 because I believed that writing these comments on the streets where they happened would draw public attention to street harassment — a behavior that was often ignored and belittled as “just words.” I wanted passersby to face these colorful words and understand their impact. Moreover, I hoped to build a space where people could speak openly about their experiences without shame. In this political environment, stories of sexual harassment being heard and believed is powerful and should not be taken for granted. Violence against women and the regulation of our bodies is a critical cultural issue that has taken on new urgency in the age of Trump. This project gives many a space to fight back and reclaim agency.
Sophie Sandberg is a gender justice activist, artist, and founder of the popular chalk art initiative against street harassment, Catcalls of NYC. She is involved in local efforts to combat gender-based violence through public art, education, and events. She also leads Chalk Back, an international youth-led movement, consisting of 150 “Catcalls of” sites around the world. www.chalkback.org
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