10 Tips to Reclaim Public Space and Resist Street Harassment

Chalk Back uses social media and street art to resist gender-based street harassment—and you can too.

10 Tips to Reclaiming Public Space and Resisting Street Harassment
(Courtesy of Melissa Lombardi)

Chalk Back is calling on all feminists, activists and gender justice advocates to join us and reclaim public spaces. What better time of year is there than in the wake of International Anti-Street Harassment Week?

We’re a global youth-led movement committed to ending gender-based street harassment. Inappropriate comments (“hey sexy!”), vulgar sexual remarks (“the things I would do to you!”), and all forms of street harassment make girls, women and marginalized individuals uncomfortable in public spaces.  We shrink down, walk faster, alter our behavior. Not this week.

Chalk Back uses social media and street art to resist gender-based street harassment and you can too. Here are some expert tips from our young activists on how you can reclaim spaces, fight gender norms this week (and always!) and have fun along the way: 

1. Document your experiences. 

Street harassment is isolating and upsetting. It might sound simple, but by jotting your experience down in your notebook, on your phone, or taking a photo or video of the incident (if it feels safe), you can regain agency. 

“It’s important to have proof that street harassment exists. Some people think that street harassment is a compliment, that it’s a fabrication, that it’s an exaggeration. Documenting these experiences makes me feel powerful and strong. Street harassment exists all over the world. I am comforted to know that there are women who go through the same thing as me. They can’t say we’re exaggerating.” 

—Nati (she/her), @catcallsofbsas

2. Share your story.

Sharing your story is a brave act. You can speak about your experience with a friend, family member or DM us anonymously on @chalkbackorg. There may be stigma or victim-blaming associated with facing harassment. Sharing your story can destigmatize, denormalize and encourage others to share their stories too.

“By sharing my story, I am not allowing the harasser to obtain my mental space and control me.”

—Livvy (she/her),  @catcallsofoxford

10 Tips to Reclaiming Public Space and Resisting Street Harassment
(Courtesy of Livvy Coombs)

3. Educate yourself and others.

Street harassment is a common behavior without borders. However, there is no sole experience of street harassment. Educate yourself about the vast experiences people around the world have with street harassment. Then, you can build solidarity across borders in the fight against harmful gender norms. 

“Reclaiming public space is an individual act within a broader effort. It’s up to a person to educate themselves of appropriate behavior, being courteous towards others, and calling others out when they are in the wrong.”

—Ashley Kwon, @catcallsofmonty

4. Be an active bystander—however you can.

You have flexibility and creativity in how you act as a bystander. First, assess what power and privilege you have in public space. Bystander intervention can be as kind as asking someone facing harassment if they’re okay or as brave as standing up to the harasser. Whatever you do is important and valid. 

“There are many safe ways to intervene… Those who prefer not to act in front of the catcaller can listen and give support. By offering empathy to a victim of street harassment we become an active bystander.”

—Rosalia (she/ her), @catcallsofdr

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5. Chalk back!

Chalking Back means using creative methods to speak back against street harassment. You can use—most obviously—chalk. You can also use other colorful mediums to get the message out. Write out your story word for word and share it publicly on the street or on social media. The goal is to reveal the harsh reality of street harassment and inspire action.

“Public spaces are like opportunities, they’re there waiting to be used to… express your concerns.”  

—Mariley, (she/her) @catcallsofkissimee

“When someone walks by, the first thing they usually think is pretty, colorful or street art. It gives them a happy feeling, but that all changes when they read what is chalked on the pavement. We make the person who reads the catcall feel uncomfortable just like the person who got the cat call… they cannot outrun the confrontation.”

—Ambrien (she/her), @catcallsofams

10 Tips to Reclaiming Public Space and Resisting Street Harassment
(Courtesy of Heidigita)

6. Let the backlash fuel you.

From annoying trolls on social media, to angry people in public, reclaiming public space may come with serious backlash. People wash away our chalk, or even stomp or spit on it. When fighting gender norms, it’s common to be met with anger, ignorance and other negative reactions. Anticipate backlash and let it inspire you to continue fighting.

“I get angry. But it lets me know this work is worth doing, and misogynists are still out there.”

—Sam (she/her), @catcallsofgnvfl

10 Tips to Reclaiming Public Space and Resisting Street Harassment
(Courtesy of Sophie Sandberg)

7. Don’t let the patriarchy rob you of your humor. 

When fighting street harassment, it can be helpful to find levity amongst a dark topic. Battling a troll? Think of a witty response—humor can be a good release. Encountering an ignorant jerk? We like memes and Tiktok trends. Humor is a good secret weapon to challenge harassers and gender norms.  

“It’s very human to deal with sad and unjust things through humor. It’s a way to keep a positive mindset even while dealing with horrible experiences and the frustration that comes with living in a patriarchal system. It’s either humor or screaming the whole time.”

—Lucie (they/them), @catcallsofhannover

8. Find your community of support.

No catcall is stronger than the power of  love and solidarity. Whether it is resisting street harassment as a collective or confiding in your friends- community is essential. You should not have to fight this alone. 

10 Tips to Reclaiming Public Space and Resisting Street Harassment
(Courtesy of Kelsie Joseph)

9. Focus on joy.

It’s tough—but for us to resist we have to focus on the joy of collective action and dismantling patriarchal structures. Zoom calls with our fellow Chalk Back members make our hearts so full.  Reclaiming public space is always a collective activity. Gather with your fellow activists—on and offline—to bring joy to your activism. 

“I try to remind myself that our fight is long-term and that if it were easy we wouldn’t have needed it so much. Hope is my most powerful tool of resistance.”

—Zeina (she/her), @catcallsofcairo 
10 Tips to Reclaiming Public Space and Resisting Street Harassment
Courtesy of Natasha Harris-Harb

10. Rest and repeat.

 

Experiencing street harassment and fighting the patriarchal systems that fuel it is exhausting. Rest in whatever form that looks like. When you are ready—repeat steps 1 to 9 and get your friends to join too, because it takes all of us to #StopStreetHarassment. Move at your own pace.  Let yourself laugh, cry, roll your eyes and smile along the way.  We’re taking these steps with you, supporting and filling in any gaps.

“Rest and pleasure are acts of patriarchal rebellion.”

—Rebecca, (she/her) @catcallsof.bonn 

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About and

Sophie Sandberg (she/her) is the founder of Catcalls of NYC and the founder and co-leader of Chalk Back. She is a gender justice activist with a passion for young feminist leadership.
Natasha Harris-Harb (she/her) is the co-founder of Catcalls of Ottawa and co-leader of Chalk of Back. She is a gender justice activist with a passion for young feminist leadership.