Eliza Hatch, founder of feminist photography campaign Cheer Up Luv, discusses the many ways misogyny is prevalent in the public realm, and how she is using her platform to inspire and educate. In celebration of International Women’s Day, Hatch curates a playlist of songs by groundbreaking women exclusively for Atmos.
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At 17 years old, Oli was assaulted by a stranger on her way home from a friend’s birthday party. She had left early to minimize the risk of an uncomfortable encounter, yet she describes the moment the stranger slammed their body against hers, grabbing her bum and pressing themselves onto her. The police later explained that there had been a number of similar attacks in the area, but were unable to track down the perpetrator immediately after.
Oli’s story is one of dozens published on Cheer Up Luv, a photo series and advocacy platform founded by Eliza Hatch to amplify stories of street harassment and highlight the extent to which misogyny and sexism in public spaces have become normalized.
It’s a long-standing issue that’s received considerable media attention over the last year after a string of high-profile criminal cases, including the killings of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa in the U.K. and more recently the attacks on seven Asian women by a man in New York City, revealed just how urgent the threat of male violence is to women. The reality is that the outdoors is not yet safe for women and people of marginalized genders. And most governments pledging to do more to protect marginalized genders from sexual violence continue to fall short on their promises.
Since Cheer Up Luv’s inception five years ago, Hatch has launched a podcast alongside the advocacy platform and organizes regular talks and workshops to help educate the next generation about gender-based violence and harassment. On International Women’s Day, Hatch speaks with Atmos about the insidious ways in which misogyny operates in the public realm—and curates an uplifting Spotify playlist in celebration of all women.
Let’s start by talking about that fabulous playlist. What informed the curation of the songs you chose to include?
What I realized when I was putting this together was that around 80% of the music I listen to is by female-identifying or non-binary artists. And so putting together a playlist of female artists wasn’t actually that hard. I wanted it to be full of upbeat music—lots of hyper-pop—that gets me excited and keeps me going.
Can you tell me a little bit about the artists featured in the playlist?
It’s a mix of people that I have been listening to since I was in my early twenties, like Nao, Mahalia and Kelela. And then I’ve also included people like Robyn, whom I adore. I really do think there’s a Robyn song for every occasion. You’ll also find a bit of Charlie XCX, Caroline Polachek, Little Simz, Yaeji, and PinkPantheress. The aim is really to uplift.
I love that. Moving on to the work you’ve been doing for the last five years—what first inspired the creation of Cheer Up Luv?
It was a mix of things. But the catalyst was this one incident, back in 2016, when a man walked past me in the street and told me to cheer up. It wasn’t the first time I’d experienced it, but it was the first time I felt inspired to challenge or question it and not just assimilate it into my everyday life. And so, I decided to speak to my close friends and ask if they had experienced anything similar. Turns out they had—and way worse. It kickstarted a conversation around everyday sexual harassment and how we normalized it as part of our everyday lives.
What shocked me most wasn’t the stories of harassment, but rather my male friends’ reaction to it. They reacted with horror but also disbelief and dismissed some of the experiences we were describing as unbelievable. I became inspired to collect as many stories as I could to illustrate the extent of the problem through art and photography—the best way I know how.
All the photos taken as part of Cheer Up Luv are set in public places, in outdoor spaces normally where the women I photograph have experienced harassment. The aim is to make the connection between the incident and the person who was victimized as apparent for the viewer as possible. Since then, it’s grown and evolved into so much more than a photography series. It’s a platform that has a podcast, and we do regular talks and workshops. I could never have anticipated that.
“We still have a long way to go to truly unpick and understand all the ways in which misogyny can manifest in public spaces.”
You said you wanted to platform these conversations through art because it’s how you best express yourself. I wonder whether you can talk a bit about how the photographic medium helps women reclaim spaces in which they were harassed?
Photography is about giving a platform to your subject. It’s a really simple and really powerful way to do that. The women I photograph for Cheer Up Luv are looking directly at the camera, at the viewer, because there’s a power that comes with creating that kind of confrontation. It’s empowering to claim space by looking directly into the viewer’s eyes—whether that’s me or the perpetrator or just somebody looking at the picture. It’s about the subject challenging the spectator’s gaze.
To many people the relationship between the outdoors and gender-based harassment and violence might not be immediately obvious. Can you explain how you see the connection between the two?
We still have a long way to go to truly unpick and understand all the ways in which misogyny can manifest in public spaces. In order to do that we need to do some unlearning. It can be really tricky and ugly, and people are not going to be learning and unlearning at the same pace, but it’s a part of understanding the insidiousness of the patriarchy. The MeToo movement has revealed just some of the ways in which sexism operates in both public and private spaces—and that there are repercussions.
Having said that, it’s going to take a long time for society to understand that misogyny manifests in every part of public life, just as it does in private. When people think about violence against women, girls, and marginalised genders, especially in the wider context of the world, they think about domestic abuse, child marriage, rape, or sex trafficking—all of these awful realities that need our attention. But as soon as you mention incidents of street harassment, people tend to say Oh, that doesn’t matter or That’s not a big deal. What they maybe don’t understand—or society as a whole hasn’t caught up with yet—is the fact that all of these abuses of power are linked.
That’s in part because of how normalized street harassment has become and how endemic sexism is in society.
Yes. For so long we didn’t have a culture in which women and people who are marginalized could turn around and say, “Stop that, I don’t feel comfortable with you doing that.” It wasn’t ok to speak out or advocate for yourself—that’s still the case for many people. And it’s still the reason why so many people don’t speak out about sexual harassment. The pressure is repeatedly put on the victims to speak out and protect themselves in challenging moments. Meanwhile, the rates of bystander intervention during incidents of public sexual harassment are shockingly low.
That’s also perpetuated by women who have internalized misogyny. That might be a friend telling you what you’re feeling is “not a big deal” or a teacher saying the skirt you’re wearing is “too short.” It’s those patterns of victim-blaming that make you second-guess yourself. They’re why sexism has become so normalized. And it’s not just victim-blaming: we live in a culture that silences victims, that doesn’t believe women and people of marginalized genders, that has a terrible basis for reporting on abuses of power, and that has trust in corrupt institutions like the police force.
“The pressure is repeatedly put on the victims to speak out and protect themselves in challenging moments.”
You’ve borne witness to countless testimonies of street harassment over the past five years. Drawing on your knowledge and expertise, what will it take to end this normalization of gender-based sexual harassment?
We need to have a multi-pronged approach to tackling the issue. The more I’ve worked on this campaign, the clearer it’s become that all solutions start with awareness. They start with awareness, but then they have to end with action—whether that is through education or rallying for policy for change. It’s always been my intention that Cheer Up Luv inspire conversation and reflection. It inspired me, personally, to go into education because I think that education is one of the most important tools we have when it comes to stopping the normalization of sexual harassment in its tracks.
I have very mixed feelings about legislation and policy and how they can be used to better protect women and girls. Let’s not forget that the U.K. government just voted against making misogyny a hate crime. But, ultimately, I think that you do need your government to take the issue seriously in order to send a message, to indicate the severity of the issue. It can’t be one or the other. We need governments to communicate the gravity of the situation and we need proper education on misogyny and sexual violence in order for us to better speak out and condemn violence against women and girls and marginalized genders.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for purposes of length and clarity.