Like many women across the globe, street harassment has always been a constant, everyday factor in Eliza Hatch’s life. For a long time, the Londoner brushed off the bad behavior. But when a strange man on the street told her to “cheer up” one day, it bothered her. She shared the encounter with friends, and they started talking more and more about sexual harassment in public settings.
In these conversations, Hatch, 23, noticed how normalized the topic was: Being publicly harassed had become such a common occurrence that her friends acted as if it was not a big deal. It was not until her male friends interjected with their disbelief and horror over these experiences that Hatch was inspired to do something about it. “I realized that it wasn’t just the harassment itself that was the problem, it was the lack of awareness surrounding it,” she says.
She decided to channel her frustrations into creating Cheer Up Luv, a therapeutic, online community for women who have “experienced sexual harassment on any scale, in a public setting.” Launched in January 2017, Cheer Up Luv uses photography and text to document what women have dealt with since childhood: Feeling uncomfortable, unsafe and sometimes violated while going about their daily lives.
“Are your nipples big or small?” “Why are you so horny?” “How much to slap that arse?” “So, are you the good type of school girl or the naughty kind?”
She launched Cheer Up Luv before the Harvey Weinstein story broke, but since the #MeToo movement took off, women from all over have contacted her about how they can be part of the project. At a time when much of the media and news cycle focuses on the perpetrators of sexual violence, Hatch’s project is turning the lens back on the stories of victims, making it a much-needed call to action. Small acts of truth-telling can yield large-scale awareness, showing us that the more we talk about this problem, the more we can combat the silence and normalization surrounding it.
The project’s Instagram account is becoming a harrowing record of the microaggressions that are often inflicted upon women in the public sphere, and it’s shifting attitudes around sexual harassment by discussing the issue in a way that is approachable, intentional and illuminating.
In an effort to capture each woman’s authentic experience, she listens to their personal stories and then picks a relevant shooting location. She snaps her subjects in public spaces, such as the train station or grocery store, giving viewers an impression of everyday life while highlighting the normality of harassment. While most shoots have taken place in London and New York, Hatch has plans to expand to Tokyo. Eventually, Hatch hopes to travel the globe to collect other women’s stories and portraits.
She makes a conscious effort to ensure all subjects are comfortable and relaxed when they are photographed.
“I want to show strength in place of vulnerability. In order to achieve this, I like to spend some time chatting or getting coffee with the woman beforehand, so that we are both familiar with each other,” she explains. In this way, Hatch’s project has also become a supportive space where women feel comfortable coming forward about difficult experiences. “They are relieved to finally have someone to talk to.”
The short stories draw attention to some of the uncomfortable truths about being a woman today — how clothing is often misinterpreted as an invitation for poor treatment and how harassment, whether it is unwarranted touching or name calling, can happen to women at every age in any public setting. Along these lines, the account emphasizes the ways in which women’s bodies are seen as objects of desire while also highlighting how little is done to keep them safe, protected or respected. Though each post is rather simple and straightforward, the normalcy of each one further accentuates the gravity of this issue.
As we’re seeing with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, social media can play a big role in breaking down taboos surrounding sexual harassment by getting people to talk about the problem. Hatch felt relieved when #MeToo happened, calling it a eureka moment in history. “It was really empowering to see women everywhere speaking out about the same thing,” she says.