Eliza Hatch is a 23-year-old photographer whose project, Cheer up luv, is raising awareness of the everyday street harassment that women experience.
“It’s something that has been a long time coming, I didn’t really know I was ever going to do this project but the feelings and themes behind it have been current throughout my whole life,” she says of the project, which she started in January. “Then you’ve grown up in a city like London your whole life, you get exposed to so much stuff that you take it for a normal experience, like all kinds of street harassment”. Earlier this year, someone just said something so throwaway to me on the street, they told me ‘cheer up’ or whatever. I was like, you know what I am just done. I am so done. It was really just one too many catcalls away from happening”. And now it has happened.
After speaking to her close friends and women in her life – to decipher whether this issue was actually an issue – Eliza was surprised that each one she spoke to had more than a handful of stories to tell. “The more people I started asking, the more I was like ‘oh, this is a bigger deal than I thought it was’. It’s been kind of incredible because women are just coming forward to me completely of their own intentions and they want to share their stories.
“Some people have never even been told anyone about these things before, the majority of the women I’ve been speaking to have felt: too ashamed or embarrassed, they didn’t think it was a big deal, they didn’t want to cause a fuss, they just thought it was normal, and they thought it happened all the time. That is when I realised how much of an issue it was.”
When I asked Eliza about any recurring themes in the stories she’s been told, there was a worrying amount she said, that began with, “When I was ten, or 12” or, “When I was in my school uniform”.
“The vast majority of the stories happened to these women when they were kids or on their way to school, which is horrible. It’s horrible to read one story that starts like this, but when every second story I get sent in by a completely different person it is gross and horrible”.
Another repeated act in the stories Eliza has heard are of men masturbating on public transport, in the street and other public spaces – or exposing themselves. “It’s something you think is not common… but it is common. And it must be common if so many girls are telling me the same stories. It can’t be just one rampant man going round getting his kicks.
“I never realised the extent of women experiencing events like these”. Eliza said the more she continues with the project, the more women she meets with and speaks to, gives her more fuel for the fire to keep on raising awareness.
“Awareness is probably one of the biggest issues surrounding it. Before I even started this project I used to have conversations with my male friends and they would be horrified these things happened, and some of them wouldn’t even believe they did. Other people wouldn’t even believe that certain things were classed as harassment, like being told that you look beautiful by a stranger or being told to smile. They wouldn’t think that’s harassment because it’s disguised as a compliment, but actually, you’re still being verbally accosted by a completed stranger and they’re making comments about your appearance. It’s not necessary, and it’s unwanted.”
Eliza plans on continuing to photograph as many girls who want to share their story. “Eventually, I would like the word to keep spreading and for people to be taught this at a younger age, maybe even go to different cities and photograph other women around the world. I’ve had a huge amount of women from other places apart from London who want to share their story, this doesn’t just happen in London, this happens absolutely everywhere”.
After only dabbling in photography before starting this project, Eliza said “it’s been a learning experience for me as well, getting to grips with photography, but it’s been enjoyable. I really love this project, meeting these women, and taking their photo. It’s a great combination of things.”
Follow Eliza’s project @cheerupluv on Instagram – and take a look at some of the stories below.
I was 19, and I had just moved to Paris. I was on a crowded train and standing in the middle of the carriage. There was a guy behind me with his torso against my back, and then he started to move against me. At first I thought it was because he wanted to get off the train, but then he started to whisper in my ear. I don’t remember what he said because I was too scared, but I could just feel his body against mine. I turned around to face him, trying to look angry, but then he put his hands on my hips and started grinding on me. So I stepped in his toes as hard as I could then he finally let go. I stormed out of the train straight after.
One day I was in the subway in Paris. I was on my way to a casting dressed as my character, in a short dress with some heels. I was waiting for the metro and a man in a suit came along and started talking to me. He asked if I had a phone number because he wanted to give it to one of his friends who thought I was beautiful. I said no to him and then he said I was being arrogant, I didn’t say a word. He stayed next to me, staring at me, and I was so scared that it felt like hours until the train came. I wanted to tell him to fuck off but I couldn’t. Then he spat on my shoes three times and nobody in the station moved a finger. The metro came and I finally got on, the man stayed on the platform and he went straight to another girl.
Between the ages of 14 and 16 I had random men masturbate whilst staring directly at me three times. Each time I was at a bus stop, each time I was alone except for the men, and each time I was in my school uniform.
I was sat at a bus stop on my own until a suited man walked over and started talking to me. He stood in front of me, told me he liked my hair, then called me beautiful and forced himself onto me. He grabbed my face 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. I ran down the stairs, pressed the bell and and he got off the bus. He told me he had to walk me home as he lived nearby, I refused and he still followed me at every turn. I walked faster and faster, walking through an estate close by trying to confuse him and ran as fast as my legs could carry me.
When I was about 14, I remember one night I was walking down a flight of stairs to a train station platform. This young man, maybe mid 20s was walking up the stairs and as he did he put his hand up my skirt. The whole thing lasted less than 20 seconds but it felt like a lifetime. The worst part is, when I looked back at him- horrified- he smiled. I don’t think I’ve ever told someone that story.
Once when I was about 15, a man was following me on the street in the middle of the day. He kept asking me, “Why are you such a slut?” and “Why are you so horny?”. I was quite scared, but when I saw a young couple coming towards us I was glad there was someone who could help. I stopped dead in front of them and turned around to the man following me saying loudly to leave me alone and stop following me. The couple looked alarmed but did nothing, and walked right around us.
Catcalling started when I was 11. When I had just moved to Israel, I was turning a corner and a grey pickup truck was honking at me from behind. They where saying things I couldn’t hear because I was so frightened. I started walking faster and one of the men in the back reached out of the window so I started to run home. As I was running home, they continued to honk and spat out the window at me.
I was sat outside a cafe waiting for someone and I heard, “Hey you, light skin, lightie, hey you lightskin”, repeatedly. I refused to look towards the direction of the caller but eventually they stood right in front of me giving me no option other than to look at them. He then continued, “You know I was calling at you, why you ignoring me. I think you should give me your number, I really like you and I’d show you a good time.”
When I was about 13, I was taking the train in the middle of the day. A drunk guy got on and was shouting about bitches up and down the carriage. He came, sat next to me, touched my leg and asked me why I was no fun, about an inch from my face. Everyone was watching but no one said anything.
Words by Eliza Frost