How Second-Wave Feminists Fought Catcallers

Forty-five years before Hollaback’s controversial catcalling video, there was the Ogle-In. Second-wave feminists’ solution to the ubiquitous problem of street sexual harassment was comic retribution, not racially troubling surveillance.

In the fall of 1968, a young Brooklyn woman named Francine Gottfried became famous for working on Wall Street. Not for her day trades. Word got out about Gottfried’s 43-25-37 figure and her predictable commute. Soon, thousands of men began lining the exit to the subway to catch the clerical worker on her way to work. “Her comings and goings in a yellow sweater and red skirt attracted a panting noontime audience of 6,000, a shower of ticker-tape and an announced offer of $100,000 to appear in night clubs,” says a news report from the time.

The mayhem inspired second-wave feminists Karla Jay and Alix Kates Shulman — who had recently participated in a sit-in at Ladies Home Journal — to organize an “Ogle-In” on Wall Street to catcall, wolf-whistle, sexually harass, and even, in one case, grope male workers.

The Ogle-In and its organizer Karla Jay are featured in She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, a new documentary film about the history of the women’s movement. Director and producer Mary Dore told the Cut she set out to counter some of the cliché stereotypes about the women’s movement, like that they hated sex, men, children, and humor (check). “The Ogle-In was one of so many clever things the second-wave feminists did,” Dore said. “They were smart about getting the press to pay attention. This was before the internet, nobody knew how to even find an Establishment group like NOW, so they came up with these stunts.”

Without glossing over the conflicts within the movement (in particular, its blind spots about race and class), Dore focused the film on grassroots organizers like Jay, she said, because it’s more inspiring to see average (i.e., those who never had Gloria Steinem’s mediagenic gifts) women taking the leap to activism. “It’s so easy to disparage and say, ’Oh God, they were looking [at] their navels.’ If they hadn’t had consciousness-raising groups, nobody would have been able to talk about being battered, raped, or the fact that their sex lives were completely horrible,” Dore said. “Telling the truth is revolutionary.” Including when the truth is “Check out the legs on this guy.”

Watch the Original ‘Hollaback’ Video