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Activists put up “No Catcall Zone” street signs in NYC and Philly

No cat calls signEd. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

As the recipient of hundreds of instances of gender-based street harassment — ranging from verbal to physical — I have often wondered why we don’t have street signs telling people not to harass. After all, we have signs against littering, not cleaning up after your dog, and loud noises.

Street harassment is just as problematic as any of these social problems. Several instances or a scary attack can cause harassed people to change their lives and limit their time in public spaces. Women are disproportionately impacted and as a result, street harassment prevents gender equality.

My idea for a street sign isn’t new. In the late 1980s, artist Ilona Granet worked with the New York City Department of Transportation to install temporary anti-harassment street signs by the World Trade Center, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, and in Battery Park, but I haven’t heard about any other street signs in the USA….until this week!

"No catcalling any time" sign

Over the weekend, members of Feminist Apparel and Pussy Division put up 25 street signs against catcalling in Philadelphia and New York City. They will put up 25 more this week in New York City. They worked with a street sign manufacturer to produce them and released them specifically for International Anti-Street Harassment Week, which is taking place April 12 – 18.  Their goal was to create “further dialogue surrounding the issue of street harassment,” Alan Martofel, production coordinator for Feminist Apparel, told me.

Since it is a form of guerrilla activism, they did not gain permission from the city to post the signs and they are unsure how long they will be up. But they say that already they are having an impact.

One of the members* of Pussy Division, a group based in Philadelphia who has done other street art activism, such as posting “stop rape” stickers and spray painting anti-harassment messages on sidewalks around the city, told me, “We’ve had so much positive feedback. A lot of people will share harassment that just happened to them and say they are happy to see the sign and feel less alone.”

For her, the goals of the project are to spread the message that street harassment is an important issue everywhere and to help survivors. “We would like people who deal with street harassment every day to look at it and feel validated about their feelings of really hating going through it and feeling objectified.” She continued, “We are taught — especially women — that this is part of life and that we should deal with it and be happy about it. But we’re not happy about it. It’s important for harassed people to hear from other people who are on the same page as them.”

no catcall zone signPussy Division engages in guerrilla activism because they are tired of rape culture and harassment and wanted to find a way to speak out on a large scale even though they lack the resources that companies and big organizations have. Putting their messages out on the streets in creative ways has helped them reach people from the grassroots level without much cost. Each of their actions are spurred on by the knowledge that they are helping people feel less alone and helping spread awareness.

I know I would feel better if I saw one in my city in Virginia.

If you want to see a street sign against harassment in your community, Martofel urges you to “do it”!! Contact a local sign manufacturer. Work with a graphic designer. And, if you want the signs to have some level of permanence, see about working with city officials.

In the meantime, consider participating in International Anti-Street Harassment Week by writing pro-respect sidewalk chalk messages or request a “Stop Telling Women to Smile” poster and put it up in your community on Friday, April 17, for the International Night of Wheat Pasting. However you choose to do it, bringing the message that street harassment is not okay to the streets can have an impact.

* She wanted to be anonymous for safety reasons.

Holly Kearl is the founder of Stop Street Harassment and International Anti-Street Harassment Week. She is an author and works for UN Women, Aspen Institute and The OpEd Project.

Holly Kearl is the founder of Stop Street Harassment and International Anti-Street Harassment Week.

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