MEOW: A Digital Platform to Combat "Catcalling"


Meow ("Men's Empathy Of Women") is a digital platform that was developed in the Smart Objects class, designed collaboratively between MFA Products of Design student Josh Corn, and MFA Interaction Design students Song Lee and Shane Strassberg. "The street harassment of women is rampant, along with the common prejudice that women 'ask for' that harassment based on the way they walk, dress, or behave, " argues the team. "Of course, the problem lies with the men involved," so they framed their work a challenge: How might we address street harassment, acknowledging men as the problem, but somehow "empowering" men to be the solution?

 

"The men on our team were completely blind to the severity of this issue that women must confront EVERYDAY. And in our obliviousness to its scope, we become accomplices to our group's—men's—abhorrent behavior. We wanted to change that."

 

The group set three goals for themselves:
1. Create awareness of the problem for men;
2. Build empathy for women experiencing harassment; and
3. Try to change men's perceptions and behavior around this issue.

The way the Meow platform works is simple and quite ingenious. Women simply pin the Meow Recorder onto their clothing in the manner of a brooch—though various form-factors were explored—before going out. Once activated, the device continually records and buffers the last 15 seconds of sound on a loop...until its button is pressed.

When a woman experiences vocal street harassment, she hits the button, and the device immediately grabs and sends the audio clip as a text message to the male friends and relatives that she has preselected from her contact list in the accompanying MEOW app. The men receiving the message then listen to the clip of the offensive message that she just experienced—in practically real time. "The hope is to put men in the shoes of a close friend or loved one who was just—in the last 30 seconds—personally street harassed," says the team. "Then perhaps, the next time they or a friend think about catcalling someone, they will remember how their friend was catcalled...and stop."


In addition, the men participants will also be prompted to visit a web page where they can learn more about street harassment and how to be a part of the solution. Here's another demo of the device and use case (since repetition is very much a part of the conditioning of using the platform!):

"To be candid," acknowledges the two male designers, "we were a group of two men and one woman—and neither man brought this idea to the table. Why? Because we don’t deal with this form of harassment in our daily lives; it’s something we don’t even have to consider." Indeed they added, "the men on our team were completely blind to the severity of this issue that women must confront EVERYDAY. And in our obliviousness to its scope, we become accomplices to our group's—men's—abhorrent behavior. We wanted to change that."

Another version of the platform could do away with the separate recording device pin, and instead use the microphone found on most typical earbud wires as the listening device," offers the team. "Many women will walk with their earphones in—even if there's no music playing—precisely to discourage unwelcome advances. So if this were a software-only app, it wouldn't require the purchase of any hardware, and may, in fact, enjoy even more use.

The designers created a ‘live' prototype of the project’s functionality that was showcased during NYC Design Week 2016 in the Design Collective Grouphug's show "Judge Me," whose theme was around prejudice. show. The demo allowed users to speak into a laptop browser and then have it sent via SMS to themselves or someone they chose. You can try it out here (but will need to use Chrome or Firefox desktop browser). It is a bit glitchy as it was designed for a specific tablet at the event and only runs in Firefox or Chrome browsers (not Safari, nor on iOS devices).

Learn more about Song Lee's work at thesonglee.net,  Josh Corn's work at joshcorn.com, and Shane Strassberg's work at shanestrassberg.com.