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'Not alone'

Fed up with street harassment, women of New York and London push back with creative protest

By WITW Staff on May 14, 2019

Women in New York and London are standing up against catcalling and sexual harassment — both in the street, and on social media. Speaking to the BBC, Farah Bennis said she was inspired by the Instagram page Catcalls of New York City to chalk the catcalls thrown at women on the very same streets where they were subjected to them. Since starting on the project on her sister page Catcalls of London, she said she had received more than 3,000 submissions from women asking her to share their testimonials on the London pavement.

“It’s so awful the things that are said,” Bennis told the BBC. “You have really young girls experiencing over-sexualization, very misogynistic things, and violent things said to them … I’ve had so many catcalls that you don’t know if this is a harmless person who’s just saying something or if they’re going to react in a violent way.”

“This campaign has given me the opportunity to give other women a voice to express their frustration,” she continued. “We, as women, have constantly been conditioned to just ignore it and just move on with our lives — take it as a complement. It’s no longer just: ‘Be quiet and put up with it.’ It’s ‘No,’ we’re saying, ‘No, we don’t want it anymore.’”

One woman who shared her story with Bennis, Saffron Savill, said she had her perspective on the world — and men — irrevocably altered after facing persistent sexual harassment from a man on the street when she was 16 years old.

“He was like: ‘Give us a kiss,’ and he was saying it over and over. And then he grabbed the inside of my thigh and was like: ‘Oh, what I would do to you if I was younger,’” Savill recalled. “It really make me anxious about where I go. If I’m alone, what might happen. If there’s a man around I get really scared.”

But the work being done by Bennis and others, she said, had helped her to feel less alone in her experience, and more optimistic that stress harassment could be curtailed.

“It feels like something is being done, like it’s being challenged,” said Savill. “I think that’s why men carry it on, because it’s not challenged. It highlights how often it happens and it brings those girls together. You know you’re not alone.”

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"While visiting my NYC my daughter was harassed near the Times Square M & M store. We were walking when a guy kept yelling 'single? Single? Single?' My daughter responded with 'no thank you'. He then yelled 'Single, say no, don't you speak English'? She was a week from her 18th Birthday and this trip was my gift. It made me feel scared, because I know I won't always be able to protect her." – Anonymous … When I was chalking out this catcall, a man came up to me to ask what I was doing. I told him I have an Instagram account about catcalling and asked him what he thought about catcalling. He went on to tell me a story about his female friend being catcalled while he was with her and how messed up he thought it was. I said that I agreed it was messed up and told him that's exactly what the project is about, excited that we were on the same page. He said, "but wait, 'Single? Single? Single?' That's not a catcall. He's just trying to ask her if she's single. That's different." Clearly, we still have work to do. #stopstreetharassment

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Watch the full interview at BBC News.


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