I have been brainstorming for years the best way to react to catcallers, and I think Caroline Tompkins has found it. Her creative and powerful photo project titled “Hey Baby” turns the lens on her verbal assaulters. The 22-year-old art student claimed walking around her own neighborhood was unbearable and she would constantly be harassed. In taking photos of the jerks that think they are in the right, she is able to turn around and confront the situation, and say, "if you take comfort away from me, I can take comfort away from you."
In an interview with Al Jazeera she stated, “ I have been grabbed, I have been surrounded by men at night walking home…in terms of what they are actually saying—it’s anything from ‘hey baby’ to where they are going to put their genitals on me, what kinds of babies we would have together. There is never a break, it’s relentless.”
Living in New York City means being surrounded strangers, and going through that sort of abuse daily really can cause you to use your art to take your power back. Tompkins tells these catcallers that she is taking a picture of them. They can react however they want, but she DOES NOT ask if she can take a picture, she stands against them. “They have the power to walk away or cover their face or to pose even, but it’s important that they know there is a consequence for their action…it’s important for me to acknowledge that their comments affected me negatively.”
A survey by the non-profit Stop Street Harassment showed that over 87 percent of women in the United States have been harassed, and more than half of these women experienced extreme harassment which involved physical harassment or following her. Although I admit, and so does Tompkins, that only you as an individual can determine if a particular catcall is harassment.
Catcalling may seem trivial to some, but it can lead to violence. This form of harassment is completely about power and control. I am very proud of Tompkins’ project turning the table around on her attackers. I hope she is aiding in bringing more awareness to men and women who might not realize the discomfort and feelings of abuse that catcalling can cause.
Also see this BuzzFeed video about what catcallers are really saying:
Photos c/o Caroline Tompkins.