Back in 2017, after a less-than-pleasant encounter with a man on the street, photojournalist Eliza Hatch founded Cheer Up Luv. An online community on Instagram, Eliza photographs and interviews victims of street harassment — giving gravity to incidents that women and people of marginalised identities are often asked to brush off and try to forget. As lockdown pushed Eliza’s shoots onto FaceTime and interviews onto Zoom, she started looking for a new challenge. Fulfilling a long-held ambition of hers, she’s launched a podcast with guests such as HUNGER fave and period poverty activist Amika George and non-binary model, writer and speaker Jamie Windust.
Below, we get the lowdown on her new project and talk about how the pandemic has changed street harassment in ways we couldn’t predicted…
Can you tell us a bit about Cheer Up Luv?
Cheer Up Luv is a photo campaign I began in January 2017 which retells accounts of sexual harassment. Contributors are photographed in locations related to their experience, and their stories are posted online via the Instagram account @cheerupluv. I was first inspired to start the campaign after a man said “cheer up love” to me in the street and my main aim was just to raise awareness about sexual harassment, collect stories and educate others. But as the campaign started to grow, it became clear that it was about reclaiming stories and taking ownership of past experiences by reframing trauma and giving the power back to the subject.
Why did you want to turn your project into a podcast?
I’ve wanted to create a podcast based on my Instagram series @cheerupluv for a long time, but it seems I needed the world to come to a complete standstill to get the push I needed to finally do it. In another sense, I wanted to challenge how we navigate certain topics in our everyday lives. There are so many issues that become sensationalised in the media and then polarised by the public before we really get a chance to deconstruct them. This happened post #MeToo and continues to happen with so many other issues like race, gender, politics and feminism. I wanted to create a space that’s reflective of my online platform Cheer Up Luv, where we can openly discuss these issues and break them down in an informal and open way, whilst dismantling myths, and tackling the things that are normalised in society.
Do you think lockdown has impacted the level of street harassment that people experience?
I think a lot of people felt that if there was one good thing to come out of lockdown, it would be emptier streets and therefore less harassment. But upon speaking to members of The Cheer Up Luv community, and after having a few scary experiences myself, I found it to be quite the opposite. Initially, I really enjoyed the empty streets as I ironically thought the harassment would subside but after a particular experience I felt a lot more vulnerable, and that’s not even accounting for the added threat of COVID-19.
When I walked down what was once my busy local high street, I found that I was being harassed by men in passing vans, who were beeping their horns and shouting things out the window when they stopped at traffic lights, because there was no one else around. Usually, the street would be packed and it would be a lot harder to get away with things like that, even though they still happen regularly. I think in some ways the empty streets have actually encouraged cases of sexual harassment because there’s no accountability.
I’ve had my fair share of people on the street coming up to me or shouting things at me since lockdown actually, so I can definitely back that up. Kind of on a different note, why is it so important to have an intersectional focus when we approach the topic of street harassment?
Ultimately, it’s something that can happen to anyone. We often hear the stories of mainly white cis women and girls play out in the media, but harassment is not something that is limited by gender or race. According to the charity Stonewall, fifty-three percent of trans people aged eighteen to twenty-four have experienced a hate crime or incident based on their gender identity, and forty-four percent of trans people avoid certain streets because they don’t feel safe. There are also many other intersections of sexual harassment which go unnoticed, like racial harassment and islamophobia.
What are your thoughts on the recent campaign to have misogyny recognised as a hate crime in the UK?
I think it’s extremely important and that it deserves everyone’s attention. Causal, internalised and outward misogyny has been allowed to run rife in society, completely unchallenged, and now it’s time to recognise that violence towards women, whether physical or verbal, is a hate crime. We need campaigns like this and the Our Streets Now campaign to make street harassment illegal, to validate that what we are experiencing is wrong. If there were actual incentives in place to deter harassers and perpetrators maybe they wouldn’t be happening in the first place. As it stands, there are very few systems in place which support victims and actually encourage people to report incidents. Making misogyny a hate crime would not only protect citizens, but it would restore faith in a system that has failed so many people in the past.
What do you want to achieve through Cheer Up Luv?
When I first started @cheerupluv, my goal was to focus on combatting the normalisation of sexual harassment, raise awareness about an issue I cared deeply about and document as many stories as possible. Three years down the line, my goal hasn’t changed, but now I have a platform to address the other key issues I am passionate about. I hope that Cheer Up Luv continues to grow and inspire people to speak out, and encourages solidarity between survivors and all people who have experienced sexual harassment and violence. Ultimately, I hope it changes people’s perception of sexual harassment and provokes offline action and a change in society.
What are your hopes for the future?
In all honestly, I hope that Cheer Up Luv continues to surprise me. I never thought it would turn into what it has, and I hope to it continues to grow and change and share stories creatively, whilst aiming to raise awareness and combat sexual harassment. As I get older, I am learning to be less rigid with the way I work, and the issues I focus on. I hope that through the podcast, Cheer Up Luv can reach a wider audience, and challenge how people go about their day to day lives.