Combine chalk and passion and beautiful things can result. I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with the founding members of EmpowerHer*Voice Dublin, Esme, Sully, Kitty and Niamh, about how they use chalk to instil change on the streets of Dublin. EmpowerHer*Voice is a non-profit community-based platform for women and people of marginalised genders. While EmpowerHer*Voice (EH*V) was started across the pond and has its headquarters in London, Esme is the founder of EmpowerHer*Voice Dublin, which has seen surreal growth in recent weeks after the beginning of the #chalkback campaign. Inspired by @catcallsofnyc, EH*V wanted to give due attention and space to the derogatory words which are so commonly and casually strewn about on the streets of Dublin. “She’s not as pretty as I thought” is an example of a comment made by a passer-by about Molly Malone. This was the comment that would inspire Esme and Sully to come back to Molly Malone with chalk, and write “groping isn’t good luck” beside her, hoping that people would think twice before touching her breasts for good fortune. “We feel it’s indicative of such a bigger issue, because people of marginalised genders experience groping on a daily basis.”
“If [that first year] had heard that, and that was the first thing that was told to her after her first experience [of assault], that’s going to inform everything she thinks about what she deserves and how she deserves to be treated by men”
That same day, Sully took chalk to the pavement outside of a well-known club in Dublin, WigWam, to tell her own story: “I was groped here, the bouncer said ‘What did you do to instigate it?’”. The event in WigWam was a fresher’s week event. While Sully was there with friends who supported her, she recognised that there could have been a first year in her place, who could well have gone to that event alone. As Esme put it: “If [that first year] had heard that, and that was the first thing that was told to her after her first experience [of assault], that’s going to inform everything she thinks about what she deserves and how she deserves to be treated by men.”
EH*V posted Sully’s catcalling post on November 9, when they had just 720 followers on instagram. Within a day this number doubled, and within a week it rose to 2,500. Their stories were hitting home and people were resonating with these situations. According to Niamh: “It’s been nearly magical what’s gone on this week for us.”
“By putting these words in writing, EH*V hope that people realise how abnormal the excessively normalised behaviour of catcalling is”
EH*V opened up a Google form for people to submit their own stories of being catcalled in Dublin, which they would then chalk in the places where the events occurred: “It’s chalking back, it’s taking back the power of the words they’re saying.” By putting these words in writing, EH*V hope that people realise how abnormal the excessively normalised behaviour of catcalling is. When someone reads what was said and when words becomes tangible, perhaps they will remember it. This leads to significant progress in recognising how damaging catcalling actually is, in comparison to the blasé attitude typically given to most instances of it.
“The goal is not to boycott or shut down any club or institution, it is to make these places check themselves, and to improve nightlife for the better for everyone”
With an increased amount of followers can come increased levels of criticism. While 90% of the feedback the community has received has been astoundingly positive and inspiring, some have said that calling out clubs in particular could be a negative thing for the already suffering Dublin nightlife: a don’t-kick-someone-while-they’re-already-down mentality. However, while EH*V acknowledge that they will make mistakes in navigating a new space with a new audience, the goal is not to boycott or shut down any club or institution, it is to make these places check themselves, and to improve nightlife for the better for everyone. At the moment, it seems as though going out in Dublin is a trade-off situation. You can’t have both fun and safety. Having a night safety monitor in a club is a luxury, but it shouldn’t be: it’s the bare minimum and a necessity. After calling out WigWam, the club took EH*V on board to help them improve safety in their clubs, with a new and improved code of conduct, and the introduction of a night safety monitor. The goals of EH*V’s #chalkback campaign have started to realise themselves as they’ve continued, and they hope to see this role become a reality for every club in Dublin.
However, clubs aren’t the only institutions which are in need of change. In terms of Molly Malone, EH*V want to put bodyguarding the statue on their weekly agenda, and help people realise that groping her really isn’t all that normal: something which causes people pain and upset on a daily basis shouldn’t be seen as good luck. Adding a plaque which acknowledges this or receiving some other form of recognition from the tourist board could be a goal well within reach for EH*V.
We also discussed the need for improved resources with regards to consent workshops and training for Trinity staff and students alike. Having received an anonymous submission about being catcalled in Trinity by construction staff, Esme was in disbelief: “I don’t think catcalling should happen ever, in any environment, but there is something particularly upsetting about someone being catcalled in their university. And not that it is ok, but you expect it in the street, you do not expect it in the place you’re being educated.” EH*V were ambitious about making Trinity a safer place for its students, and changing the culture around the way people of marginalised genders are treated.
The future of EmpowerHer*Voice Dublin goes far beyond chalking, however. While Esme, Kitty, Sully and Niamh want to keep chalking for change, they’re adamant about not dropping the ball on anything that they’ve already been doing, and what they do best. EmpowerHer*Voice provides safe community spaces for people “to feel safe and relaxed and heard and seen”, whilst providing them with the opportunity to meet new people and learn new skills. They run regular art classes, as well as larger exhibitions which often feature art from their workshops, the profits from which are all donated to charity. Speaking from experience, the events EH*V organise are truly extraordinary and special. EH*V hope that since gaining a new audience they can bring new faces to their events, and provide a
space for even more people “to rest their bones”.