How to Fight Street Harassment with Chalk

Catcalls of NYC was started in an effort to raise awareness about street harassment. The Instagram account is used to create community, share stories and provide a space to talk about street harassment. The public chalk, on the other hand, is used to grab passersby and make them think about the experience of being catcalled. The sidewalk chalk illustrates the vulgarity of the words and the scope of the problem of street harassment.

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Starting a “catcallsof” account is a great way to do this in your community. Both the Instagram account and the public chalk are important parts of running an account. But, if you’re in a place where its difficult or impossible to chalk, sharing stories digitally is another option. If you feel uncomfortable chalking, reach out to others in your community and ask for help.

As more people around the world join the movement and begin chalking, I wanted to compile a list of advice for running a “catcallsof” account. Over the past three years, I’ve learned a lot about chalking and engaging with people in person and on social media. I want to share with those starting out so they can use the tips I’ve learned over time.

I’ve been so lucky to gain a community through Catcalls of NYC and meet people from different places and backgrounds that I never would have met otherwise. As of now there are “catcallsof” accounts in more than 20 places the country and 25 places around the world. From Iran, to California, to London and Ohio people are using their “catcallsof” accounts to fight back against harassment. I hope that many of you will join us in taking to the streets, creating community and ensuring that our experiences be heard (or rather, seen). Join us in chalking back. And if you do, here are my tips:

1. Keep Calm and Chalk Back

I am very angry about street harassment. The comments people submit to me on a daily basis are disgusting, violating, objectifying, etc. I hate that so many people, women, girls, non-binary and trans folks, have to deal with this behavior. But when I go out to chalk, I try to leave this anger at home. I give passersby the benefit of the doubt. I am open to conversation. And if someone gets angry at me for what I’m doing, I try to take the highroad and disengage. Your safety always comes first. So if you feel uncomfortable talking to someone, try to ignore them.

2. Educate

Chalking is a great way to get the word out about the “catcallsof” project. When people stop and look at the chalk, tell them about your account. Explain to them that you’re fighting back against street harassment by writing the harassing comments where they originally happened. Tell people it’s a global movement. As much as they’re willing to listen to you, talk. 

3. Respond to Haters on Instagram

First and foremost, this account is about education and raising awareness. Insults and comebacks feel great. Witty jabs are fun. But it’s important to balance that out with dialogue and productive conversations. It’s okay to disagree with someone, but if they mean well and want to learn, it’s best to engage them in conversation and hopefully make them see your side of the argument. Some people are genuinely ignorant about catcalling and street harassment. If these accounts can be used to educate them and make them aware of the problem, that does a world of good.

5. Gain Media Attention and Followers

Email your local newspaper. Email national news sources. Plan an event to engage your community. Post as frequently as possible. Respond to people’s messages and comments. Message other feminist accounts on Instagram and tell them about your account. Ask them to share. Street harassment is an issue that so many people deal with. If you reach out to others, they’ll want to help get the word out.

6. Have Fun

Maybe it sounds lame, but, have fun! Street harassment is a serious, difficult and upsetting topic. But running a “catcallsof” account doesn’t have to be. Chalking back is empowering. It’s a method of reclaiming a spot where someone was harassed and creating a beautiful chalk writing. Enjoy it.