How many times have you been walking down the street, minding your business and y’know, acting like a normal human being, when suddenly you’re confronted by a complete stranger who is apparently confused as to why there’s not a huge, deranged smile plastered across your face as you walk alone?
Leering towards you, he delivers the charming line, “Give us a smile, love” – as if your facial expression is something he has rights over because it’s in his eyeline.
As satisfying as it would be to turn around with a seamlessly delivered response, schooling said catcaller on their sexist ways, the moment often escapes us as we clam up with rage and bewilderment – not to mention the fact that situations often turn aggressive when you do manage to say something.
Eliza Hatch knows this feeling only too well, and recognises how difficult, not to mention frustrating, it is when denied the opportunity to express yourself.
That’s why the photojournalist and set designer has started her own project to highlight the overwhelmingly present issue of casual harassment of women in public, from catcalling to inappropriate physical behaviour.
And by continuing to discuss the issue, she’s helping to combat the idea that prevalence means accepted.
Taking the form of both an image-led project and Instagram account, Cheer Up Luv acts as a “platform for women’s voices to be heard, and to take ownership of experiences that were out of their control”.
London-based Hatch describes sexual harassment as “common and often ignored by strangers”, reflecting that “we rarely complain or make a fuss because we are so used to it.”
So to raise awareness of the issue, the 22-year-old has been shining a light on as many women’s stories of harassment as possible by publishing photos and stories of all those willing to be featured.
Similar to The Everday Sexism Project, the beauty behind Hatch’s idea is that each story is important and significant no matter how initially shocking. She recognises that women have become so conditioned to being treated in this sexualised way that many don’t speak up about their experiences as it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.
Cheer Up Luv aims to reverse this by encouraging women “who have experienced sexual harassment on any scale in a public setting” to come forward. Each story is written as a direct quote from the woman telling it, which is made even more impactful by the beautiful but poignant photos shared alongside, taken by Hatch.
Stories vary, from disturbing remarks made at a distance to jarring accounts of women being sexually touched on public transport. A recurring theme in many of the testimonials is that observers of harassment often turn a blind eye, making it desperately clear how much society needs educating on why such behaviour towards women isn’t acceptable.
One contributor for example, known only as Natasha, describes how her and her friends were walking near the beach in Brighton when a man began to follow them and make comments.
She recounts, “A man began walking back and forth past us, making comments and stopping to stare each time. We had watched different men follow girls along the beach, sexually harassing them and making them feel uncomfortable as they walked from the sea back to their belongings. The final time this man came over to us, he made a slapping gesture and said, 'How much? How much to slap that arse?' – we were all fully clothed.”
No doubt you have had a similar experience yourself, or watched a scene play out much like it.
A young woman called Reannon also shared her ordeal, describing how she was followed onto a bus by a man who proceeded to reach underneath her skirt.
She explains, “I was sat at a bus stop on my own until a suited man walked over and started man walked over and started talking to me. He stood infront of me, told me he liked my hair, then called me beautiful and forced his lips close to mine, for a second I froze then I pushed him away. I saw my bus and got on, he followed me onto the bus, sat next to me and tried to run his hand up my skirt. I screamed and told him to fuck off, nobody believed I was in danger.”
These incidents both happened in broad daylight, in public places with other people around. But despite being on a busy street or a bus loaded with other passengers and CCTV, the experiences feel isolating and terrifying – especially as the perpetrators clearly feel they can get away with it.
Speaking to ELLE, Hatch insists that the only way for things to get better is to keep talking about it: “If we keep speaking up about the issue, then yes [change is possible].”
“The more attention it gets the better, and if we begin to teach that all forms of harassment are unacceptable at a young age, to boys, then we are influencing change.”
The project has been rapidly gaining popularity, no doubt due to its relatability, with Hatch reporting that “women have been approaching me from all over the world asking to be involved, through email and Instagram.”
No matter your age, background or beliefs, this is a subject nearly every woman can identify with and needs all of our input to take ownership of.
If you have a story you would like to share with Hatch, you can contact her by email through the Cheer Up Luv website.
Main image: Pexels