Coming from a small village in the Cotswolds, street harassment culture was something I never really experienced, bar the occasional comment from strange men outside clubs or my mum warning me not to wear certain outfits late at night. It wasn’t until I moved to Sheffield that I was forced to confront the issue head on. I was shocked at how often my friends from big cities told me they had been harassed and even more shocked when I experienced it for the first time myself. I felt reduced to a sex-object, my personal freedom limited by the threat of leers and unpleasant comments.
A good friend of mine, Evie Hairsine, expressed a similar sentiment. “I felt suffocated and alienated by the misogynistic abuse I was facing, when all I wanted to do was exist in my body and use it like any human being should be able to”, she told me about facing catcalling when trying to exercise outdoors. This feeling, and the desire to fight back, led her to form an anti-street harassment campaign, Our Bodies Our Streets, which I jumped at the chance to be a part of. Our Bodies Our Streets is a student-led movement, focusing on reclaiming the streets of Sheffield – both physically and politically – to empower people to use outdoor spaces without fear of abuse.
So, what are our goals? We want to raise awareness of the prevalence of street harassment in Sheffield, teach bystander intervention, challenge perpetrators, and encourage people to reclaim agency over their bodies and public spaces. We want to break stereotypes about perpetrators only being ‘white-van men’ and reveal how various forms of inequality intersect with the experience of street harassment. We are, in short, an intersectional feminist campaign that wants to stick the middle finger to catcallers.
The current global political and social environment means that reclaiming our bodies is now more important than ever. A new abortion ban in Poland and the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court show us that the threat to a women’s power over her own body is growing every day. Street harassment culture is just one facet of today’s increasingly patriarchal climate. Dismantling it is going to take long-term systemic change in our society, but Sheffield feels like a good place to start.
Our Bodies Our Streets is a campaign that utilises both online and in-person activism. Our social media, particularly Instagram, has become a vital tool for publishing research, providing education, and reaching out to victims. We are also using it to promote our Experience Map, an online database of where people have been harassed and catcalled around Sheffield. At the start of October, we launched our art series, in which we are using creative mediums to raise awareness about street harassment culture and explore its mental and emotional impacts. Our future plans include collaboration with our university sports club and This Girl Can to empower people to exercise outdoors free from fear of harassment.
Since we started Our Bodies Our Streets last July, I can already feel more of a dialogue about street harassment being opened up. Sheffield is a place where we should feel safe and, while that might not be the case right now, change is happening. So, watch out catcallers, because Sheffield’s streets belong to everyone and, from now on, we’re taking them back.
If you want to get invloved and supports O.B.O.S you can check out their website here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/0316180203b2456fb7a0de13fa7e285a
You can also follow them on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/ourbodiesourstreets/?hl=en