Photojournalist, Eliza Hatch, is reclaiming the streets with her photo series, Cheer Up Luv. Her photos feature women and tell their story of harassment in the environment in which it happened. Here she tells us how the project came to be.
The idea for Cheer Up Luv has been a long time coming. It’s the product of one too many cat calls and strange men telling me to ‘cheer up’ on the street, something that I have found a lot of women go through. I knew I wanted to start Cheer Up Luv after having a heated debate with a few friends about sexual harassment. It started off with the women in the conversation swapping stories about their everyday encounters of harassment and resulted with the men in the room interjecting with their disbelief that we could experience that everyday. We tried to convince them that these things really did happen to us quite often and that whilst certain remarks might seem complimentary from a man’s point of view, to us they were degrading and inappropriate. After this debate, the main issue seemed to be the lack of awareness surrounding harassment and from this I knew I wanted to do something about it.
I wanted to start a project that would show the world the harrowing things that women go through on a daily basis, juxtaposed with images of strong empowered women in public settings. I want the project to say ‘look, this is something the majority of us have experienced and put up with, but shouldn’t have to’.
The range of stories that I’ve received have been vast, from horrible comments to full on sexual assault. Disturbingly, the most common theme has been women recollecting experiences of abuse when they where young girls or in their school uniform. School girls are fetishised a lot and unfortunately, when we are at our youngest and most vulnerable, we get the brunt of it. By the time you’re an adult you’re used to being shouted or beeped at from vans as you walk the street. These incidents might seem minor to some but can be scarring for others.
One of the more irritating comments has to be being told to “cheer up” by a complete stranger. This disarming and totally senseless comment seems to easily fly out of the mouth of someone you’ve never met before; to me, it’s inexcusable. You might experience shock or fear as a complete stranger orders you to do something. You might also feel guilt or anger, because what right does this person have to tell you to cheer up, when they don’t know anything about you or how you might be feeling?
This range of emotion can happen in about three seconds and in my case, has left me feeling unarmed, frustrated and three steps behind thinking of a comeback. As complex as it might sound, it is actually quite simple; women do not like being told to cheer up by strangers.
So from this collection of frustrating experiences, “Cheer Up Luv” was born. My aim is to keep growing the project and hopefully reach a wider range of women. Ultimately I’d like it to be a platform for all women to share experiences of sexual assault in public. Hopefully, by sharing the stories and photographs, I can create a network for awareness of this issue and start to shed some light on something that is hardly spoken about. I would love to collaborate with more artists and activists in the future, and if anyone ever wants to be involved then all you have to do is send me an email! The more we talk about these things, the better.”