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Taking a Stand Against Catcalling!

Q&A with Caroline Tompkins

Karina Hernandez | 11/14/2014, 2:50 p.m.
Caroline Tompkins, a 22-year old photographer hailing from Ohio, is the challenging catcalling norm with her weapon of choice, her ...
Men posing for the camerafor Caroline Tompkins' Hey Baby project. via http://www.carolinetompkins.com/

Imagine walking down the street on your way to school or work, you’re minding your own business, and suddenly a man yells at you, “Hey sexy, what you got underneath those clothes?” It’s sickening at first, but now envision being invaded with these kinds of comments every day whenever you’re on the streets. Nowadays catcalling is a norm in majority of women’s lives, but one brave soul refuses to let it become her reality.

Caroline Tompkins, a 22-year old photographer hailing from Ohio, is challenging this norm with her weapon of choice, her camera. In 2011, Tompkins began the “Hey Baby” photo series, in which she captures the men who have verbally harassed on the streets. The series is Tompkins’ way of fighting back catcalling by shedding light on the ongoing issue and the men who partake.

Karina (Q): What inspired you to create the project? Was there a specific incident that prompted you to create the project?

Caroline Tompkins: It wasn’t necessarily a specific incident. I had moved to Brooklyn and it just became this relentless amount of comments and demands from men on the street. It just got to the point where I would start talking about it with other people and the conversation was always about me and what I could change, like, “maybe you should dye your hair darker or maybe you should wear different clothes.” It was like, well, this isn’t the conversation which we’re having [laughs]. I’m not the one that needs to change. I’m a photographer, so I felt like this was my tool that I could use in terms of re-appropriating that power and also starting a conversation about catcalling.

Q: What’s your opinion on the public’s attempt to blame women on these types of situations? It’s something that’s so common.

CT: Obviously it’s something I disapprove of [laughs]. It’s awful. It’s unfathomable that it does become that conversation and it’s not about what we’re doing as a society that creates people to catcall.

Q: How do you get the men’s pictures? What’s the process in getting their pictures?

CT: I realized pretty early on that catcalling is much about power. It’s a power play between the street which is historically a male space, and a private space, being a more female space. As females enter the male space, it becomes sort of a power control and power dynamic that is shifted. So for me I needed to exert my own power. By that I mean I wouldn’t ask them if I could take their picture, I would sort of demand that I take their picture or tell them “I am taking your picture” because they didn’t ask me if they could say these things. It’s also a performance for me in a way. I don’t consider myself an aggressive person by any means so it’s something that I need to build myself up to and say “I have my camera, I’m going outside, I’m going to do this.” It’s hard, it’s not an easy thing to do. I think it’s important for me to remain confident and strong.