Will New York’s “No Catcall Zones” Put a Dent in Street Harassment?

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April 15, 2015;Christian Science Monitor

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood has given us a lot of think about here. Perhaps even more so for those who don’t understand why women can have such negative reactions to street harassment: “We do not know you and we would not put it pass you to take this opportunity to hurt us.”

One nonprofit is taking that message to the streets of New York City, bringing awareness to a genuine form of harassment that is too often tolerated and dismissed. As part of International Anti-Street Harassment Week, nonprofit clothing company Feminist Apparel put up street signs all over Manhattan and Brooklyn that say, “No Catcall Zone; End Street Harassment.” The campaign is in partnership with Philadelphia-based feminist activist group Pussy Division, and has been fully funded through proceeds from T-shirt sales on their website.

According to an email exchange between the Christian Science Monitor and Feminist Apparel’s production coordinator Alan Martofel:

“There are currently over 50 signs up… We hope to get at least one sign up in each borough by the end of the week, as street harassment and catcalling is obviously a universal issue not contained to any one neighborhood.”

But will these signs themselves battle the problem of street harassment? Maybe, or maybe not. What they will do, which is just as important, is keep reminding the public that street harassment is harassment and it can be prosecuted.

The signs themselves may be seen as humorous to help alleviate some of the seriousness of the issue. But serious issue it is. According to a study from last year by nonprofit Stop Street Harassment, 65 percent of women surveyed reported having experienced harassment. Of those that reported a history of harassment, 68 percent of women and 49 percent of men said they were very or somewhat concerned it would escalate into something more serious. According to the study, men identifying as being gay, bisexual, or transgender are far more likely to be harassed than heterosexual men.

And who, you may ask, is doing the harassing? Overwhelmingly, the most likely harassers were men. It’s not difficult to put two and two together to understand why. In a worldwide culture of the male dominance, some men feel a sense of biological entitlement that has been nurtured and cultivated over centuries. “Many people, especially men, dismiss and undermine these claims [of harassment], wondering why women make a fuss when it’s ‘done in good fun,’ when it’s just ‘boys being boys,’” wrote journalist and ethics expert Tauriq Moosa for the Daily Beast last year. “Yet, dismissal is just an excuse for men to continue this entitled behavior—whether in childish, terrifying online rejections or cat calling.”

Readers may also remember a video from Hollaback! in which a woman walks through the streets of New York for 10 hours and endures countless “Have a good day”s and “Hey baby”s—but also a few men who followed her.

But women are getting stronger and firmer in their responses to this behavior, and unsurprisingly, the Internet is their weapon of choice. After a man groped Julia Marquand, 28, last October and the local Seattle police just shrugged their shoulders, Marquand took his picture and blasted the images on Twitter.

 

This dude groped me in Seattle yesterday. Cops didn’t want the pic. @seattlepd@KIRO7Seattle@strangerslog@komonewspic.twitter.com/O5NYF6NZue

— Julia Marquand (@JuliaMarquand) October 13, 2014

 

By the next day, the Seattle news media was reporting on the story. Eventually, her picture led to the arrest of Daryl Sharma, a level-3 sex offender. The stories of other women also sharing their experiences of sexual harassment say more than statistics will of how prevalent the problem.

 

convinced this story went viral because of all the women in the media who had similar experiences. Thx @seattlish for breaking the story

— Julia Marquand (@JuliaMarquand) October 19, 2014

@JuliaMarquand same guy groped me last week and grabbed my face, wouldn’t let me into my car!

— Ericka winston (@Getsometoys) October 16, 2014

@JuliaMarquand ’08. My 1st wk in Chicago, I was groped at Barnes & Noble on State. Didn’t leave my dorm for 3 days. #gropergate #yesallwomen

— JENN GREEN (@jelrGREEN) October 16, 2014

@JuliaMarquand Bravo