An Amsterdam student was harassed on a train by two men who filmed the harassment, so she decided to flip the script and take photos with the men who harassed her, in an Instagram art project named #dearcatcallers.
Noa Jansma’s project kicked off on August 29th and ended on September 20th. During that month, the 20-year-old took photos of all the men who catcalled her on the street. And she didn’t do it secretly or sneakily; she flat-out asked the men to take a picture with her.
In the pictures, Jansma stands in the foreground looking serious and unimpressed while the men stand in the background, smiling. According to Jansma, only one man asked her why she wanted the picture in the whole month. “They really didn’t care about me,” she told Buzzfeed, in a later interview. “They never realized that I was unhappy.”
The project had its roots in a classroom discussion about street harassment. Jansma realized that, while almost all the women in the room were familiar with the phenomenon, most of the men were not.
According to Jansma, the men, “didn’t even think that this is still happening” and some didn’t believe her even when she explained it to them.
The pictures reflect that gender divide, with Jansma’s harassers standing smiling in the background while she looks at the camera, unsmiling.
Over the month Jansma posted on the account, she racked up fifty thousand followers. And the online response has been intense.
Jansma says that the response to the project, both positive and negative, has been “powerful.”
In the comments on her Instagram, many accused her of being “too sensitive” or only objecting because the men “weren’t attractive enough.”
But many also sent Jansma messages of support or their stories about similar personal experiences. In an interview with Buzzfeed, she said, “It has made clear that catcalling is a common occurrence that many of us are dealing with.”
And even though the month is over, Jansma doesn’t want the project to end.
In the last post on the @dearcatcallers Instagram account, Jansma wrote, “My month of posts has ended, but that doesn’t mean that catcallers are in the past as well.”
To that end, she’ll be passing the @dearcatcallers account to women across the world “to show that it’s a global phenomenon.”
She’s also invited women to use the #dearcatcallers hashtag to document their own personal experiences, and some women are already taking her up on it.
Jansma believes it’s the perfect way to flip the script. “They come in my privacy, I come in theirs.”