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Eliza Hatch, @CheerUpLuv
Eliza HatchPhotography Isabella Pearce

The Cheer Up Luv podcast is calling out everyday sexism

Eliza Hatch has turned her stigma-busting Instagram account into weekly episodes that aim to dismantle myths and spark much-needed conversation

In 2017, the conversation surrounding sexual harassment changed forever. As the #MeToo movement gained momentum, and men were finally being held accountable for their actions, women no longer felt suffocated by silence, and started coming out in droves to tell their stories.

Just months before this global reckoning, Eliza Hatch launched an Instagram account called @CheerUpLuv, with the aim of platforming these experiences in order to dismantle the structures and beliefs that enable abuse.

Inspired by the common catcalls telling women to “cheer up” or “smile”, and disappointing conversations with her male friends, Hatch started photographing women in public settings and documenting their candid first-person accounts of street harassment.

“Since the #MeToo movement, my work has become more focused on using my platform to call out all sorts of injustices related to gender inequality,” Hatch tells Dazed. “My end goal is still combatting sexual harassment, but I now have more freedom to tackle other things I wouldn’t have had the confidence to talk about pre-#MeToo.”

Now, the 26-year-old has embarked on her next project, The Cheer Up Luv Podcast, which sees her interview artists and activists – including activist Gina Martin, writer Jamie Windust, and #FreePeriods campaign founder Amika George – about their work, and discuss submitted stories of sexual harassment.

Though the podcast had been in the works for a while, Hatch says “like most people, it took a global pandemic to force me to do it”. She continues: “With the reach of my work becoming more limited during the pandemic, and photoshoots on hold, now seemed like the perfect time to start sharing stories through another medium.”

With her podcast, Hatch aims to “dismantle myths and challenge some of the stigmas that have become normalised in our day-to-day lives”. Statistics show that 66 per cent of girls aged 14 to 21 have experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in public, with 19 per cent even facing harassment during lockdown.

“I want my audience to feel the same sense of solidarity that they do when reading a @CheerUpLuv post on Instagram,“ says Hatch of the podcast, “and to be able to gain informed insight into someone else’s lived experience.”

Here, Hatch discusses The Cheer Up Luv Podcast, why it’s so important to discuss sexual harassment, and how education is vital in reducing instances of abuse.

Why is now the right time to launch The Cheer Up Luv Podcast?

Eliza Hatch: With the reach of my work becoming more limited during the pandemic, and with photoshoots on hold or taking place via FaceTime, now seemed like the perfect time to start sharing stories through another medium.

In a broader sense, after the media storm of #MeToo, the conversation surrounding sexual harassment became quite sensationalised, with a lot of coverage taking away from the real issue. There was, and still is, an incredible sense of solidarity with survivors, and people inspiring each other to speak out, but the issue has become somewhat polarised for many people. I often hear men saying things like, ‘You can’t even flirt anymore’. This is why the conversation is still worth having. It grabbed headlines three years ago, but now we need to normalise talking about it, and start challenging stigmas and dismantling common myths.

What were the main challenges you faced while making the podcast?

Eliza Hatch: One of the main goals I had when conceptualising the podcast was to be able to discuss stories of harassment with guests, but retain the light tone of the @CheerUpLuv project. My photo campaign has always been about reframing these experiences by turning them into something positive, and, in doing so, empowering the subject. 

Figuring out how we were going to do this in a podcast was challenging at first. I wanted to be able to have these conversations with guests without it being too heavy and trauma based. The solution to this ended up being not directly asking guests to share their own experiences of sexual harassment, but to discuss stories sent in from the @CheerUpLuv community which have a link to the guest I’m interviewing. For example, discussing a story of upskirting with Gina Martin – the activist who succeeded in making it illegal – or a story related to gender expression with Jamie Windust. This way we could have the conversations that needed having without directly putting the pressure on guests to bare all.

“#MeToo grabbed headlines three years ago, but now we need to normalise talking about harassment, and start challenging stigmas and dismantling common myths” – Eliza Hatch

Why is it so important to publicly discuss sexual harassment?

Eliza Hatch: For too long, people have brushed off experiences and suffered in silence. One of the main reasons I began my campaign three years ago was because my own male friends didn’t believe, dismissed, and challenged my female friends and I on our own experiences. They said they couldn’t believe what we were saying because they hadn’t seen it, experienced it, or been victims of it themselves. One of my male friends even said he’d “love to be pinched on the bum every now and again”.

This is exactly the problem. Many of the cis, straight men in our lives are blinkered to these kinds of issues, and not from a place of malice, but one of inexperience. The more we can bring sexual harassment into the conversation, the easier it will be to tackle the stigma surrounding it, and combat the normalisation of it in society. A huge part of that is being able to have frank discussions with your friends, and in spaces where you can share experiences freely without the fear of being judged or disbelieved.

In the first episode of your podcast, you say sexual harassment is still a controversial topic for some people – why do you think this is?

Eliza Hatch: Sexual harassment is still a taboo subject for a lot of people, and this is because of the narrative that has surrounded it for years. Whenever you hear sexual harassment or assault in the media, it’s often with a headline like, ‘Woman gets assaulted on a bus’. It’s very rarely, ‘Man assaults woman on the bus’. This language plays into the familiar narrative of victim blaming, which is one of the reasons why people are challenged when recounting their experiences – for so long, people have said, ‘You must have been doing something to invite that kind of attention’.

How have men responded to @CheerUpLuv?

Eliza Hatch: Towards the beginning of my campaign, a lot of men were quite shocked and in disbelief, but this was mostly followed by an outpouring of support. I even had older men emailing me to say that they’d reflected on their past behaviour and had realised how unacceptable it was. However, I also got the classic criticisms. I’ve been called sexist, man-hating, and a feminazi from the ‘Not All Men’ crowd. I’ve been trolled, harassed online, and even had a ‘men’s rights activist’ turn up in protest to one of my talks. It seems you’re always going to get a mixed response when you’re talking about anything related to gender equality in a public way.

From your discussions with people, how do you think street harassment has changed post-lockdown? I’ve found people are catcalling me more now – do you think there’s an element of pent-up pandemic frustration making harassment worse?

Eliza Hatch: This is an interesting one. When we first went into lockdown and the streets became empty, I thought that catcalling and street harassment would diminish – how wrong I was! I found that whenever I was catcalled or harassed, it was actually 10 times scarier because there was no one else around – and with the added threat of COVID-19. After doing a poll, I found that many people were having similar experiences, and said that wearing a face mask didn’t seem to make a difference at all – in some cases, it actually amplified the abuse. 

A quote that really stayed with me after reading through some posts on the Instagram account @cutecatcalls was, ‘Do your knickers match your mask?’, which encapsulates the whole issue in one sentence.

“Many of the cis, straight men in our lives are blinkered to these kinds of issues, and not from a place of malice, but one of inexperience” – Eliza Hatch

Sexual harassment often goes unreported, due to victim blaming, arduous legal proceedings, and low conviction rates. Now, there’s a campaign to get it taught in schools – what influence do you think education would have on rates of harassment and reporting?

Eliza Hatch: When I was at school, there was such a lack of education around what was acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the classroom that my friends and I just brushed off every experience we had with ‘at least it wasn’t rape’. This was mirrored in the actions of some of my teachers. If boys tried to put their hands up our skirts, we would be told off for the length of our skirts. If boys pinged our bra straps, we were scolded for wearing colourful bras. The bottom line was: if you experience sexual harassment, it’s your fault for attracting the attention. That’s an unhealthy attitude to have ingrained into you from a young age. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that education would have a positive effect on these statistics, and would make both girls and boys feel safer in school.

The Cheer Up Luv podcast is out now, with new episodes dropping every Thursday. Listen here.