‘Let me see that pussy’ ≠ a compliment
The girl calling out catcallers
A young woman working as a waitress on a Grote Markt terrace asks a group of men who have just sat down: ‘Can I do something for you?’
‘You can do it later tonight’, one of the men replies. The rest of them laugh. But the joke is on him; later, his vulgar reply is scrawled in bright sidewalk chalk where everyone can read it, right next to the terrace.
Media studies graduate Roos de Boer (22) is the one who wrote his words down. She is the founder of @catcallsofGrunn, an Instagram account that aims to make street harassment and intimidation impossible to ignore. She is so dedicated to her project that she decided to commit her gap year to running the account.
I saw there was no Cat Calls initiate in my city, so I immediately created one!
The native Groninger came across the idea for the first time in a podcast. ‘I am a very active feminist in my daily life, and try to educate people on the matter’, she says. But it wasn’t until she heard about the global initiative ‘Chalk Back’ that she became an activist. ‘I saw there was no Cat Calls initiative in my city, so I created one.’
Roos hopes the initiative will convince people that street harassment is a real problem. ‘No one in this city talks about it’, she says. ‘And I think most of the time, catcallers think they are giving a compliment.’
It’s a gloomy afternoon in Groningen’s main market square. Roos kneels on the pavement with a box of chalk. She gets up, dusts off her knees, and snaps a picture. Pedestrians watch, curious. Some approach her to read the message.
The messages are almost always shocking: Slut. I want to fuck you. Let’s see your pussy.
Roos hopes that when people come across the bright, offensive statements, they might feel at least a little bit as uncomfortable reading them as women feel hearing them. She wants to show people how horrible and shocking it is to be on the receiving end of these comments when you least expect it. Maybe that will be enough to change people’s behaviour.
I want women to know they deserve respect
‘I want the streets of Groningen to be a safe place’, she says. ‘I want men to know this is not okay. And if you witness a scene like this, you must act – not just ignore it.’
Roos invites Groningers to share their experiences of street intimidation via Instagram and to add the location where it happened. ‘It’s mostly women’s stories, but everyone is welcome.’ The account has turned into a little community where people can talk about street harassment, share their own stories, and educate each other. ‘I sometimes have a little chat with the girls who post. I want women to know they deserve respect.’
‘Is that about fucking?’
‘When I chalk alone, I do it really quickly to finish as soon as possible’, Roos says. But usually she takes a friend with her when she goes out chalking. ‘Mostly, I am afraid of people tripping over me or bikes being unable to see me since I am kneeling on the floor.’
Some people have no boundaries
A lot of the time, people are just confused by what she is doing. ‘Once I was writing down something like “Say hi to me, slut” and people walking past started saying hi to me, which was really weird.’
Today, as she was chalking on the Grote Markt, a tour guide nearly crashed into her. When he realised she was writing something on the floor he read it out loud, and asked, bluntly: ‘Is this about fucking?’
‘Some people have no boundaries’, Roos says.
The account only gets a few messages a day, and they are mostly in Dutch. But as her followers increase, she hopes to get more submissions. ‘The more DMs I get, the more I can chalk!’ She will start chalking English messages soon as well, to ‘include both Dutch and English speaking people into the community.’
Eventually she would like to get involved in more activist projects. But for now, she encourages Groningers to keep sharing their stories. ‘Hopefully, this initiative will make people think twice before making unsolicited gross comments on the street.’