About a dozen protesters—mostly women—stood at the edge of New York City’s Union Square Park Saturday as threatening clouds gave way to a brilliant sun. One by one, they shared similar stories of unwelcome catcalls from groups of males and other highly charged social topics, such as abortion, their voices piercing the air with a sense of urgency and newfound passion as they spoke out against misogyny.
“It is a fact that all women, yes all women, experience violence, or the threat of violence by men,” yelled one woman, assisted by other demonstrators taking part in a call-and-response chant. “This is unacceptable. Women are not objects.”
The demonstration was just one of several taking part in other cities across the country over the weekend. Protesters were inspired to take to the streets after a social media movement, #YesAllWomen, prompted women nationwide to flood Twitter with personal stories of unwanted jeers from men, and intrusive sexual advances, among other hot-button topics.
The incident that inspired women—and men—to sound off on social media and in the streets was the horrific slaying of six people in Santa Barbara, California by a lone gunman who took his own life after the May 23 killing spree. It later come to light that he penned a manifesto detailing his apparent hatred of women, fueled by his own advances toward women that were not reciprocated.
The shooting reignited the debate over gun control and ways to better address mental illness, but misogyny has dominated social media discussions ever since.
Demonstrators held signs that read, “Men are not entitled to women’s bodies!” and “Misogyny is Madness,” as speakers took turns to address the smaller-than-expected gathering, while some passersby stopped to hear their message.
“I’m here for my granddaughter and my granddaughter-to-be and for my younger self who was first grabbed inappropriately at the age of 10 and it really never let up until I turned 50 and got my invisibility cloak, which our culture gives to women when they’re deemed less attractive,” said 60-year-old Elizabeth Oguss, a former Syosset resident who now lives in New Jersey.
Oguss felt compelled to join the rally Saturday after she saw the #YesAllWomen hashtag and thought, “my life is in these Tweets.”
She added: “I’m here for the young women who have to get an escort or carry Mace (pepper spray) or put their keys in between their fingers in case they have to land a punch, which they know they’re not going to be able to do.”
As one woman spoke openly to the growing group of demonstrators, a man sporting a cap and a windbreaker chose to hold a one-man counter protest, displaying a large pink sign that blared: “I deserve hot blonde girls! But I’ll settle for anyone at this point.”
Tempers did not flare, but protesters grew tired of his presence and eventually directed their chants in his direction.
“All women are entitled to say no, fuck you!” they chanted several times.
He later scurried away, and the protest went on.
Rafaella Gunz, 20, of the Bronx, stood in front of the crowd and spoke about the constant catcalls that she and her friends hear.
“No woman likes being catcalled,” she said. “No woman has ever responded positively to ‘A-Yo sexy what’s up?’ No one.”
Gunz, who said she was “struck” by the killings in California and saddened by the recent rape and hanging of two teen girls in India, added: “I shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable while walking down the streets of my own city.”
Not all the demonstrators were women.
Christian Malloy, 20, of Staten Island, acknowledged that he was once part of the problem but now is “choosing to be part of the solution.”
He said he was unaware of the protest, but saw the demonstrators and decided to join in.
“Sexism still exists…I want to be part of the change,” he said. “And I’m doing that every single day in my life. I’m seeing acts of sexism, I’m seeing acts of sexual harassment go on and I’m trying to make micro changes. Micro changes are where it starts. That’s how you build up to things like this.”