Next time you’re out and about and hear someone holler at you, call you sexy, or make kissing noises, don’t get mad and react—just take a selfie. Yes, with the catcaller.
It’s a practice 20-year-old Noa Jansma, a student from Amsterdam, has incorporated into a full-blown Instagram project called #DearCatcallers.
Beginning in August and extending over a month, Jansma snapped a selfie with every catcaller, or group of catcallers, that dared verbally harass her in the street. The photo captions detail just how the harasser executed the harassment, be they stalking her for minutes on end, or yelling at her from a car window.
In opening posts for the project, Jansma wrote that she aimed to create awareness of everyday objectification of women in a manner that reveals the context of these encounters with street harassment, but also re-empowers herself within the situation.
“#DearCatCallers, it’s not a compliment…By making the selfie, both the objectifier and the object are assembled in one composition. Myself, as the object, standing in front of the catcallers represents the reversed power ratio which is caused by this project,” Jansma wrote.
Scrolling through the Instagram page, the audience learns a few things off the bat—the street harassers she takes pictures of are all men, all different ages and ethnicities of only men, perhaps even from men in groups of two or three. Her harassment takes place in a myriad of places, with Jansma wearing various outfits and hairstyles, walking out and about at different times during the day.
The most striking detail, however, is how the men present themselves in these selfies. Jansma, stone-faced and unimpressed, stares at the lens or the screen, but these men—they smile. They show their teeth, they put their hands and arms up in a pose, taking up space. They sometimes even feel so emboldened as to get right next to her and put their arm around Jansma, resting their hands on her shoulder.
According to an interview Jansma did with Dutch newspaper Het Parool, as translated by Independent, only one of the men asked her why she wanted to take the photo.
“They’re not at all suspicious because they find what they do completely normal,” Jansma told Het Parool.
These men express no shame, because they feel no shame. They have no idea that what they’re doing is uninvited, comes across as pathetic, and often makes the target of their harassment feel violated. Jansma shows that men just don’t fucking get it.
These same men argue with women in the comments of Jansma’s posts, prattling off the typical excuses of why catcalling should be seen as harmless and fun: Women should feel flattered to be complimented, and for men to censor themselves, it would be considered “social suppression,” as one of the commenters put it.
Of course, even more telling than the photos of men laughing and waving behind her are the ones that don’t exist. While Jansma shared 24 photos of her catcallers, the ones we’ve missed out on are of harassers who made Jansma feel too unsafe to ask for a photo. Therein lies the truth of catcalling: To men, street harassment is a game, but to women, it puts their lives in danger.
With her month-long project finished, Jansma’s already put out a call to other women who might feel emboldened to publicly shame their catcallers. And while street harassment in Amsterdam will be punishable by a fine as of this January, Jansma feels the law, while symbolic, will be difficult to impose.
“To show that it’s a global phenomenon and that this art-project is not only about me, I’ll pass on the account to different girls around the world,” Jansma wrote, encouraging women to direct message her and send her their own #DearCatcallers posts. “Thank you for all the support and messages. It has made it clear that catcalling is still a common occurrence that many of us are dealing with.”