Cat Calls of the World


(Image via @catcallspdx on Instagram)

Micaela Gaither , Series Editor

“Our goal is to give people a place to share their stories of harassment, use it to raise public awareness and ultimately denormalize catcalling.” – Sophie Sandberg


 Catcalls, they’ve been happening for so long, and for some, it’s an unfortunate norm. Let’s be honest, we can’t keep pretending this is normal.  That this is an “okay norm”. Thankfully one young college student took it into her own hands to break this filter of normalcy surrounding catcalls. Her name: Sophie Sandberg.

 Street harassment is a serious issue, and unfortunately, it is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. Anyone can be a victim of catcalls, and it is a traumatizing and forever changing experience. Victims lose their sense of freedom of expression, feeling like what they are comfortable wearing makes them targets, and no one wants to be targeted because of their wardrobe. Sophie Sandberg was one of the many victims critiqued for her outfits, and was also one of the many who was told it was “no big deal” or they are “just words”. She was told that to avoid being attacked, SHE should change her clothes. It became her fault that she was harassed. She was silenced and objectified as a child, but when she was given the opportunity to fight back, she took it. She started Chalk Back to finally use her voice against the years of being imprisoned in silence. In her own words, “I want others facing harassment to take action, reclaim the streets, and not question for a second whether it was their fault.”

 As social media becomes more and more prominent in our lives, it also becomes one of the more effective ways to make a change in society. In 2016, a movement began and it spread across the world: Chalk Back. Chalk Back, or Catcalls of NYC, began when Sophie Sandberg took the first piece of chalk and began fighting back against the norm of street calls. She started the Instagram account @catcallsofnyc in March of 2016. The movement is referred to as Chalk Back because Sandberg will receive messages from victims of harassment and then will go to the place it occurred and chalk out what was said in brightly colored chalk. 

New York City, the home of Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, and the origin of Chalk Back.  It’s filled with bustling streets and honking taxis, but also with street harassment. For the movement, Chalk Back, New York City is the center of it all. With New York’s diverse cultures, there comes diverse and varying reactions to the chalking of the catcalls. As there are two sides to a coin, there are really two different reactions; positive ones and negative ones. There are those who really support it and think it’s a great idea, some going even as far as thanking the chalkers. In contrast, there are others who believe it isn’t right for the words to be in such a clear view for children to see, and they often get very upset at the chalkings. Sophie herself has experienced having some people wash away her chalking with water right in front of her. That’s just the civilian reaction though. Unfortunately for members of the NYC account, authorities are less receptive to their chalk messages. There have been a few occasions where members of the chalking team have been arrested for chalking. Recently, a member was arrested for chalking outside a school due to the harassment occurring within the school. 

 New York City was the hearth of Chalk Back, and like all fires, it grew. To this day the movement continues to grow throughout the world‒there are over 50 different accounts operating worldwide. It has even spread to our neck of the woods, with the account Catcalls of PDX opening in winter of 2018-2019. 

Catcalls of PDX is run by Jamie, Olivia, and Teiler. As previously stated, the account opened up in the winter of 2018-2019. Inspiration for the PDX account came from admiration for the NYC account. However, the current operators aren’t the ones who began the PDX chalking, they had the torch passed down to them. The members of PDX are members of an organization, SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape) that operates through the school, so as the creators graduated, younger members kept the fire burning. 

Portland has a different atmosphere than New York, so our PDX chalkers have a different response from civilians and authorities. The most commonly received response from civilians is just for them to walk by without paying it any attention. However, there are often the ironic catcalls that occur while the chalkers are chalking in big and populated areas where multiple people pass through. At one point, there was a father who didn’t feel comfortable with the vulgar words where his 8 year old could see them, but their response was asking how comfortable do they thought the 12 year old girl was when an older man told her this. Seldomly, the chalkers get a positive response from passer by, who ask about their cause and they receive support. In contrast to New York, Portland chalkers have no response from the police, and the chalkers make sure to not chalk on private or corporate property. 

Interestingly enough, the Portland chalkers are still in high school, unlike the New York chalkers. That begs the question between homework and tests, how do they find time to chalk? Being as they are also members of SAFER, after their meeting after school for SAFER they go out and start chalking out catcalls. With the winter weather bringing rain and snow, though, chalking is becoming more and more difficult. 

Chalking isn’t just for members of SAFER. They would love to have more people, high schoolers included, come out and join them in chalking. During spring, they hope to host a chalking event to gather students and adults alike to chalk all over Portland. 

Anyone can join the cause to chalk back against street harassment. There are over fifty accounts that are spread across the world, connecting so many people from across the world and giving a voice to everyone, minorities and majorities alike. Chalk Back and other similar movements have the power to connect so many people together from multiple ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Chalk Back is open for anyone and everyone: it is a way for people to speak up and support each other, and it’s a way to create connections between multiple people.

Thank you to Sophie Sandberg and the team from Cat Calls of PDX for answering and helping me make this article.  

“We are high school students too! Do not settle for injustices simply because you feel as if you are too young to make a change, we are the next generation so what better way to build a better future than starting as soon as we can.” – Cat Calls of PDX