Reducing street harassment to 'women's work'

Story highlights

  • Elana Adler cross-stitched harassing comments into 32 samplers
  • The series is called "You are my duchess"
  • The samplers reduce street harassment into a "simple piece of women's work"
"You are my duchess" was one of the first catcalls Elana Adler wrote down in 2008, after she got into the habit of jotting down the unwanted attention she received from strangers in the streets of New York.
Something about it seemed so "dated," she said, and it stuck with her. So would many more of the icky comments from strangers, prompting her to keep a running log of them. Most of the time, she does not respond, and the callers usually seem annoyed by her silence.
When she has responded, the outcome is usually, " 'Who, me? What did I do? How dare you respond to me like that?' " she recalls.
"I never understood what the callers really wanted to get out of it."
Finally, she decided to do something with them. She began cross-stitching them into samplers in what she calls an effort to reduce "the complex emotional experience" of being taunted with harassing, vulgar sentiments into "a simple piece of women's work."
A sampler is a decorative piece of embroidery, traditionally included in a hope chest, that demonstrates proficiency in needlework. It also requires a lot of time and concentration.
"I wanted to laboriously and painstakingly give attention to all these phrases that were verbally thrown at me in a moment," she said. "Needlepoint made sense to me because of its connotations and how it historically references women's work. I also liked the idea of how laborious it was. That these statements would stick to me or be in my mind for a very long time."
She has created 32 samplers for the series, "You are my duchess." She started out with simple words. Now she creates designs around the words, in what she calls the "beautification" of an assault.
"The first time I made one, well, I just sat down and started. Then I wondered why I was doing it because it was going to take so long. At that point, looking at one little embroidered phrase that had taken me 8-plus hours to make, well, I wondered how far I would get doing it. I just wanted to have a large collection of them. Power in numbers.
"The more I did them, the bigger and more detailed I wanted them. Now, if I want to start one, I cannot help but think big. Big is good, but it takes a long time."