Chalk the Talk: How an Instagram Account is Combatting Sexual Harassment

Photo posted by @catcallsofnyc on Instagram

Maybe she’s feeling confident that day. Maybe she’s not. 

Either way, getting hollered at by random strangers who make her feel like she is nothing more than a sexual object isn’t doing any good. Random adult men telling girls on the street what they’d like to do to their bodies is outdated and frankly, disgusting.

Catcalling has been around for decades, and it’s become such a normalized part of our culture, and many people have accepted it as something that we’ll always have to deal with. Some, however, have been feeling sick and tired of being objectified for simply walking outside their front door. Some people, like activist Sophie Sandberg, decided to roll up their sleeves and inspire change. 

Sandberg created @catcallsofnyc, an Instagram account meant to start a conversation about the issue of sexual harassment, and she shares quotes from women who have been catcalled in chalk on the sidewalks of NYC. While this can be seen as controversial, Sandberg knows that by visually seeing insults that are thrown around meaninglessly, she is able to bring awareness to predatory behaviors.

Photo posted by @catcallsofnyc on Instagram

Sandberg shared with VALLEY her motivations to start this movement.

“I started this account because I was frustrated by the harassment I was facing in NYC,” she says. “Getting catcalled since I was a teenager, I never felt like there was a good way to respond.”

After all, how does one ‘respond’ to sexually explicit comments from strangers as a young teenager? There is no handbook or guidelines to follow. Do you snap at them and risk your own personal safety? Or do you try to ignore the harsh words? Sandberg came up with a third option. 

“I wanted people to see the words of the catcalls and realize how much of an impact they were having on people just going about their days,” she says. “I wanted the Instagram account to show the range of catcalling — including everything from “Hey Beautiful” to the extremely vulgar, sexual comments.”

Photo posted by @catcallsofnyc on Instagram

Sandberg’s account receives messages from people everywhere who share their personal stories about how they’ve faced catcalling. As seen from her Instagram posts and stories, Sandberg chalks them onto the sidewalks for the world to see.

There have been mixed reactions to Sandberg’s movement online.

“Some people love it and support it immediately. Other people get really angry. Sometimes they’re worried their children will see or they just find it offensive. The biggest problem is when people get angry at us for writing these words and are unwilling to understand the message of the project. This already happened, we are just documenting it to raise awareness.”

And, as Sandberg mentions in an Instagram video, it is often young children facing this type of verbal harassment. Some of the messages have been from girls as young as eleven or twelve years old. 

Despite this, Sandberg continues to see the positive effects of her actions.

The most rewarding part of Sandberg’s experience is that she knows “sharing these stories is making an impact in people’s lives.” And it definitely is making an impact — with over 100K followers on her verified Instagram account, it’s clear that she’s making her mark.  

Her inspiration isn’t just limited to NYC. Sandberg’s original @catcallsofnyc account has inspired over 100 other accounts in other cities and countries, all ran by individuals with the same mission: to stop normalizing sexual harassment.

“I was also really surprised when people started creating other @catcallsof accounts around the world,” she says. “It’s amazingly rewarding to see how this has turned into a global movement!!”

To learn more about Sophie Sandberg’s social movement, follow @catcallsofnyc on Instagram


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