On my walk to work this morning, I came across an unfamiliar yet intensely intriguing street sign. “NO CATCALL ZONE” it read, with the subtitle: “End street harassment.” The graphic, featuring the silhouette of a feline being hollered at by two figures motioning in the background, is actually kind of cute—but the message—that catcalling and unwelcome comments are, unquestionably, harassment in its purest form—is anything but.
Turns out, the sign I saw is one of more than 50 that’ve been posted around Manhattan and Brooklyn over the past few days, and unsurprisingly, they weren’t commissioned by New York City. They’re courtesy of non-profit clothing company Feminist Apparel—and while it’s unclear how the locations of the signs were chosen (maybe some bad past experiences in those spots?), the timing is what’s important.
According to Alan J. Martofel, production coordinator at Feminist Apparel, the signs were erected in support of Anti Street Harassment Week, which is April 12-18 (i.e., right now), “with the goal simply being to raise awareness of Anti-Street Harassment Week and create some further dialogue surrounding the issue.”
“This is the first community-based activist campaign we’ve been able to fund through the sale of t-shirts on our website,” Martofel explained to Yahoo Style via email. “There are currently over 50 signs up, we do have a few more we’re meaning to sneak up throughout the week, as well as sticker versions of the sign designs. We hope to get at least one sign up in each borough by the end of the week as street harassment and catcalling is obviously a universal issue not contained to any one neighborhood.”
The project was created in collaboration with Pennsylvania-based feminist guerrilla collective Pussy Division, which, Martofel says, has also posted several signs throughout Philadelphia, as well.
“Awareness-building and dialogue-creation surrounding feminist issues is at the core of our nonprofit’s mission, which is why getting these street signs made and up and working alongside Pussy Division in doing so has been such a fulfilling experience.”
Feminist Apparel’s sign campaign is just the latest in a string of recent pushes to shed light on the street harassment epidemic. An Internet-wide debate erupted last fall when a video depicting a woman being catcalled for 10 straight hours in NYC went viral. In 2013, an incredible Craigslist Missed Connections post, written by a Minneapolis woman looking for her creepy street harasser, got tons of press. And projects like Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” and Cards Against Harassment (which, fun fact, was founded by the same woman who posted that Craigslist ad) have been gaining more and more traction and publicity.
As for how long the signs will remain up in NYC and Philadelphia before inevitably (and, unfortunately) being taken down? That remains to be seen. But we certainly hope their message is felt by everyone who comes across them long after they’re gone—whether that person be someone who’s experienced the sugar-coated harassment that is catcalling first-hand, or someone who’s done it to others.
Maybe moving the discussion off the Internet and onto the streets—where the majority of the harassment actually takes place—will finally make a difference.