If you’re looking for a place to park in New York City this week, you might be surprised to see that “No Parking Zone” you’re eyeing is also now a “No Catcalling Zone.” The signs, first reported on Tuesday, are a street art collaboration between New York-based non-profit Feminist Apparel and Philly-based feminist collective Pussy Division to highlight the prevalence of street harassment during International Anti-Street Harassment Week.
Street harassment is “pretty much everywhere,” a rep from Pussy Division told ANIMAL over the phone, but because they can’t put a sign on every square inch of the city, the groups had to place the signs strategically. Feminist Apparel’s Alan Martofel, who moved to NYC from Philly recently, “thought it would be cool to connect it with people’s actual experiences and we did, too,” said the rep, who identified herself as Gia. They used an app by Hollaback!, the NYC-based anti-street harassment group whose catcalling video went viral late last year, to identify places where a significant number of women have reported street harassment. Feminist Apparel set up signs in NYC, while Pussy Division handled Philly.
“There are currently over 50 signs up, we do have a few more we’re meaning to sneak up throughout the week, as well as sticker versions of the sign designs. We hope to get at least one sign up in each borough by the end of the week as street harassment and catcalling is obviously a universal issue not contained to any one neighborhood,” Martofel wrote via email. “This is the first community-based activist campaign we’ve been able to fund through the sale of t-shirts on our website.” One of the designs, which features cats, is not part of the collaboration and is exclusively by Feminist Apparel.
The signs are clever and even amusing, but the fact that they serve as necessary reminders is a little depressing. “We think that the government could be doing more,” said Gia. “It’s not that the government needs to criminalize or outlaw people harassing others the street,” she explained, but they can “push forward an agenda” that educates people about street harassment. She cited the MTA’s recent unwanted sexual contact campaign and a Philadelphia City Council hearing on the subject as positive developments. “It’s a beginning,” she said, but the city could certainly do more.
Though it is an under-researched subject, studies show that women feel less safe than men in developed countries, and a majority of women surveyed across the world have experienced street harassment in their life. And harassment, which often leads to shame and fear, “doesn’t always stop at catcalling,” Pussy Division reminds us. “It can be on the spectrum on gender-based violence.” Hollaback! notes that these types of comments are “culturally accepted as ‘the price you pay’ for being a woman or for being gay.” Women of color and people who identify as LGBT face it at higher rates.
Pussy Division is a small and anonymous collective, almost entirely comprised by women. But Feminist Apparel was criticized in the press several months ago for failing to include women and women of color; some artists accused the company of lifting original art. It has since gone non-profit. When asked if the criticism bugged the predominantly female Pussy Division, Gia said, “It wasn’t a concern for us because we weren’t aware of it, but we do believe that [Martofel] has been working towards trying to represent and listen to women.”
If you want to get involved with Pussy Division, the best way is to send them a message on Facebook.
UPDATE: When asked to comment about the signs, which are unauthorized, a spokesperson for the DOT responded with the following statement: “While we understand the concept of this campaign, these signs were placed without permission. DOT has not received any formal complaint about them but we are proceeding with their removal as we are made aware of the location (s) and/or come across them.”
(Photos: Pussy Division)