She's making a serious stand against sexual harassment
Almost every woman has been catcalled at one point in their life.
@dearcatcallers is an Instagram page and art project started by 20-year-old Noa Jansma. Over the course of a month she took 25 selfies with men and groups of men in the Netherlands who harrassed her on the street.
Comments under the posts on Instagram are telling. Many are supportive and empathetic. One woman wrote: “Uggggg! I feel scared for you - and awe at same time. I've heard the call - they made me want to disappear.”
But plenty of men have chimed in too. “The problem is, I know from experience that not all women are threatened or even mildly upset by it,” wrote one. “Here is that we have a bunch of hateful and insecure women who are trying to speak for ALL women.”
Jamsa has reignited a conversation that seems to take place every summer about how women can overcome the bane of cat calling whilst educating men on the frequency and seriousness of it.
Taking up the mantle from Shoshana Roberts, who filmed herself being harrassed walking the streets of New York back in the summer of 2014, selfies are a quick and effective way to showcase the problematic mentality behind catcalling – mainly because none of the men in the pictures seem at all ashamed of themselves.
Although Jamsa's month of tracking her catcallers is over, she's pushing forward by lending her account to other women around the world, and by encouraging women to use the #dearcatcallers hashtag. We spoke to her to find out more:
What motivated your first Dear Catcallers post?
Noa Jansma: Well, a lot of art that I make is based on reflecting on the female body. How do I see it? How do others see it? For this project I actually had two kind of motives. An internal/personal and an external one,
The personal one is that I just never really knew how to handle catcalls. Since I was around 12, I experienced this objectifying, sexualising behaviour, and in all these years I have never found a right approach towards it, nor have any of my friends.
I experience catcalling as such a power game. I think catcallers don't actually assume I will give my phone number, they just want the feeling that they can say whatever they want about me, and that I can't do anything back. With this project I feel like I can shift this power ratio, and therefore echo their power game.
Then, I also have a more external motive. Talking to female friends, everyone always knew exactly what I was talking about, while my male friends didn't even know this was still a thing in 2017. They almost didn't believe me, but they were quite curious. Therefore I just decided to show them, and the rest of the world.
How did the first man react, and what is the general reaction when you ask?
Noa Jansma: I thought the man would act aggressive or suspicious, but the opposite was true. They all loved to join the selfie and didn't have second thoughts about it, nor about my neutral face expression. I guess this is the funny, but also sad part about this all – the catcallers themselves don't even understand that their behaviour is not appreciated.
What do you think of the incoming law that will ban street harassment and force perpetrators to pay a fine?
Noa Jansma: In Amsterdam, my hometown, catcalling has been forbidden by law for a year. I think it doesn't change much, since a cop has to catch the catcaller in the act, and thats just really unlikely. I do think the law is nice as a symbolic confirmation that it is generally unwanted behaviour.
Have you ever felt too unsafe to ask for a photo?
Noa Jansma: Yes, in the beginning I was really doubtful in general, because I thought they would be suspicious about it. But also still now, I am being streetwise with it. For example, when I get catcalled in a little street in the dark, I probably won't take the picture.
What has the reaction been like from other women who see the Instagram?
Noa Jansma: In general, really positive. I get so many touching stories and support in my inbox. It's really overwhelming. I guess the amount of attention it got shows how big and how global this problem is. But I also get a lot of messages from men, who thank me for the project and say that it made them reflect on their own behaviour. That's of course really valuable and actually what it's about.