Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Sophie. I'm 22 and a recent New York University grad with a degree in Gender and Sexuality. I’m passionate about making public spaces everywhere safer for everyone who faces harassment. I love cats, baking, rock music and street art. I started Catcalls of NYC my freshman year of NYU for a class project. Since then, people around the world have created similar accounts to bring the movement to their city. Now that I'm no longer a full-time student, I hope to create a sustainable structure for “Chalk Back,” which has now become an international youth-led movement to end street harassment. When did you start your account? I started Catcalls of NYC in March 2016. Why were you inspired to start an account? I was inspired to start Catcalls of NYC because growing up in New York City, I faced harassment from a young age. When I told my parents about it, they told me to ignore it. My dad even told me to dress differently. I started Catcalls of NYC because I wanted to make sure that everyone facing harassment knew that is wasn’t their fault. I wanted folks to be able to share their story and start a dialogue about street harassment. I decided to write the comments word-for-word in chalk because I wanted people walking down the street to be forced to confront this behavior where it was happening. And by posting the images on Instagram, I could show people how widespread and common this behavior is.
Why do you think “chalking back” is a good method to raise awareness?
I think “chalking back” is a good method to raise awareness because so many people ignore street harassment. They say it’s “just words” or “no big deal.” By writing the comments down in colorful chalk, we’re able to make people feel the impact of these words.
Why do you think ending street harassment is important? It’s important to end street harassment so that everyone feels safe in public spaces, so that people are free to dress how they’d like, and go about their daily lives in peace, without fear of harassment. What’s your favorite thing about your city? My favorite thing about New york City is that it’s constantly full of surprises! How can your city better address street harassment? I think all folks in New York City— authorities and regular people-- should have to take mandatory trainings on how to intervene if they see someone being harassed. What do you hope is the outcome of your account?
I hope my account educates people who wouldn’t normally face harassment and emboldens them to intervene if they see someone being harassed. I hope that people who are facing harassment feel comforted by the act of sharing their story.
What’s the most difficult street harassment situation you’ve experienced?
I still remember my first experience with catcalling when I was on my way to my first day of a summer job at age 15. I had gotten dressed up— a purple sun dress and white sandals-- to make a good impression on my boss. All I remember from that day is that almost every block, a new man would say something to me. “Hey beautiful” “Gorgeous” “You’re sexy” etc. etc. I had no idea what to say or do. I felt so extremely uncomfortable in my body, and in public space. I ended up feeling like the harassment was somehow my fault because of what I was wearing. I thought that I was provoking the behavior.
What does being a part of this campaign mean to you?
I feel so excited and inspired by all of the young people who have decided to create "catcallsof" accounts. Because of them, what was originally a class project has turned into a global movement. The bravery and commitment of everyone in the “Chalk Back” movement is truly inspiring to me. I love that we’ve been able to create this community, from the ground up.