An interactive exhibit in Edmonton is repeating abusive comments women have heard on Edmonton streets, with a goal of turning the tables on street harrassment and cat-calling.
It’s called This is What it Feels Like. Participants are invited to step inside a dimly-lit booth, slip on a pair of headphones, and experience it for themselves.
The comments repeated through the headphones were collected from a survey conducted in the city of Edmonton. They include things like “hey cougar,” “your boots are so sexy,” “you’re pretty for a native girl,” and “you’re beautiful — smile for me.” There are multiple expletives and sexually explicit phrases.
Organizer Lisa Federspiel said reaction to the travelling exhibit has included women who say the comments are familiar, and men who admit they’ve uttered inappropriate statements and weren’t aware of their effects.
Exhibit organizers with the City of Edmonton brought the audio recording to the Global Edmonton studios Tuesday and Noon News co-anchor Shaye Ganam listened in during a commercial break.
He called the comments appalling.
“As a man, you have to try to put yourself in a position — if you were a woman walking on the street and some man, or group of men you don’t know, was yelling that, that would be terrifying.
“It’s not just making you uncomfortable; it’s scary, I would imagine. You don’t know what their intentions are.”
“We are making people uncomfortable but only in the effort to bring them to a place where they can begin to have constructive dialogue,” organizer Michael Hoyt said.
“Women need to feel safe in the street as much as anyone else and I don’t think that men quite realize how difficult that can be for women.”
Ganam asked about comments like “smile, sweetheart” or “boy you look nice today,” and how these can also constitute unwanted attention.
Federspiel said being commanded by strangers to smile was one of the most common survey complaints.
“People perceive it might be somehow innocent but it’s not; it can make many people crawl in their skin and feel quite uncomfortable.”
The exhibit has already visited the University of Alberta and MacEwan University. Organizers hope to visit about a dozen locations in 2018, like hockey games and public spaces.
The comments repeated through the headphones were collected from 300 survey respondents. Fewer than 10 respondents were men.
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