Since she was little, Hannah Provisor, 23, has always loved to draw. She can sit and do it for hours on end and feel like she’s in another world. During her senior year of college at Penn State, she began posting some of her original artwork on Instagram. To her surprise, her posts were getting a lot of attention and people started reaching out to her for commissioned drawings. She’s been hired to illustrate pieces for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and small businesses. Her eclectic pool of clients range from ballet companies to hair stylists.
After graduating from Penn State with a BFA in Musical Theater, she and most of her class moved to New York City. Hannah settled in Bushwick, and loved life in the city. Yet, there was one element of her daily routine that started to weigh on her: catcalls. It happened nearly every time she stepped out of her door and she became anxious and angry. She wanted to do something about it. But rather than responding to cat-callers on the street, she decided to take a different, but familiar approach: art. She began illustrating her catcalling experiences and posting them on Instagram in a series called “Cats Calling Back.” Eventually, she invited others to share their stories for her to illustrate. The response has been overwhelming, and she’s since been featured in publications like The Huffington Post.
I spoke with Hannah about her life since moving to Brooklyn, her dreams for the future, and about how “Cats Calling Back” has built an incredible community of women.
Tell me about Cats Calling Back…
Basically I was really tired of street harassment, and I knew I had friends that were upset by it, and so I thought “I have to do something, this is really ridiculous.” So when I first was brainstorming what I could do, it came down to two things I wanted to change. One, I wanted to focus on the mental health of the women around me and how they internalize cat-calling. And I also wanted to stop the cat-calling. And while that feels really inaccessible, I knew that there had to be something I could do on some level to help the women in my life. I just wanted to start having a real conversation about it because I was just joking about it a lot although it was really affecting me. After I posted the first drawing, I didn’t anticipate how many responses I would get. Then I was Face-timing with my friends and told them “We have to name this.” So my friend said how about “Cats Calling Back?” I made the email address immediately. I gotta give credit to my girls cause I did not come up with that.
What has the response been like?
It’s amazing and it’s hard. I get a lot of stories on a varying scale from someone calling them baby on the street to someone being sexually assaulted. I feel so honored that I can create a space for them and for some reason they feel safe talking to me. When they message me I always have a conversation with them. It’s not just “Okay, I’m gonna illustrate this.” I always apologize, “I’m so sorry he did that to you.” The important part to me is the conversation, making sure that they feel comfortable, and thanking them for wanting to share with me. And then I always ask “Is it okay if I illustrate this and would you like to be anonymous or not?” I do feel like community has risen out of it and I feel less alone and I hope that other women feel less alone. But I’ve also inundated myself with these stories, so I’m trying to make sure that I’m good.
And since the HuffPost article came out, I’ve actually gotten quite a few emails from middle-aged men trying to absolve themselves or give their two cents. Most of them say “I’m so sorry this happens to you, I would never do this” and I think “Just stop at the I’m sorry.” One guy sent me an email that was very well meaning but it was just wrong. He was like “I’m so sorry you have to go through this, I think one way that street harassment can change is if women change their attitude towards it. If women just all took self-defense classes then it would be better.” It’s like the same as “don’t get raped” or “don’t wear the short skirt” and it’s interesting. I’ve responded to all the women in my inbox but I’m like “I’ll respond to the men when I have time, this is emotionally draining.”
So how are you dealing with reading all of these stories and putting this on your shoulders?
My dad is worried about me. But it’s all things I was aware of before so it’s not this new thing that is suddenly crushing me. I think that already happened through my own experience of being catcalled and being sexualized in the world. As a woman, we get sexualized everywhere we go even if it’s a wink from a barista. Drawing itself has always been therapeutic for me. So even though the subject matter is dark, drawing is relaxing and puts me in another world. Also, I have an awesome group of girlfriends that are super supportive and are the women friends that you dream about. I am so, so grateful for that. And just having people that I can talk to like my dad and my mom. My dad is a [licensed Marriage and Family therapist] and is an awesome feminist and he’s really turned into that thanks to this thing he runs called Council, which is based on a Native American practice and is about community building through sharing stories. He’s really good to talk to because I feel like I can air any kind of grief, and if he takes it from me then I feel assuaged, like all the men have taken it now. He’s cool and he lets me call him out on everything. And I did talk to him about how I could get women together to do Council here, and he recommended some resources so that may end up becoming a part of this.
What is a catcall experience that you’ve had?
There is one that I have a drawing of, it was so brief but one of the scariest. It was in LA, and I was walking by The Grove around 8 pm. I was in a really nice, expensive neighborhood. This guy was walking towards me and just as he passed me, he caressed and grabbed my butt. I kept walking but I turned around and then he turned around and just started speed walking towards me. It was horrible. I ran into a Whole Foods and called my mom and asked her to come get me. That was the first thing I posted. I thought it about it one day and thought, “Okay I’m just going to draw this.” I didn’t even think that I was ever going to post it, but then I probably got catcalled one day was like “F*** it, I’m posting this.”
What advice do you have for those that are dealing with catcalling?
There are a couple of important things. One, and it’s so sad, but we have to be aware of our safety first. Before you shout anything back or call them out in some way, make sure there are people around. I usually don’t say anything if no one’s around. I just run out of there as fast as I can.
Second, just make sure you have an outlet and someone to talk to, and not joke to, because it can be really traumatic when something like this happens. For me it was this awakening and knowing how I was seen in the world. I don’t see myself as a particularly sexual being, obviously all humans are, but that’s not how I think about myself.
Third, if anyone calls out and says you’re beautiful or you’re sexy just say “I know.”
Where do you get your inspiration for your drawing style?
My very first love of illustration was Lauren Child, she did Charlie and Lola. I’ve always loved her and a lot of my older drawings look a lot like Lauren Child drawings. Then in the past year I’ve discovered so many awesome female illustrators just from being on Instagram. I don’t have any formal training so I’ll look at illustrators and study how they do it and see if it fits into my style.
Are you still pursuing musical theater?
I’ve kind of come up with this theory, that if I’m successful in one area that I can use connections to be successful however I want. Right now I feel better putting my time into my illustration. I can spend hours illustrating and feel like I’m really doing something, and unfortunately right now I don’t feel the same way waiting eight hours to sing for thirty seconds. I can see myself returning to it but I feel better right now putting the work into illustration and seeing where that leads.
What are you reading right now?
“Period.” by Natalie Byrne. It’s “everything you need to know about periods, period.” Her whole thing is about making periods less taboo. So it’s about every aspect of your period like hormones, and more. It’s cool and inclusive.
What’s something that you’ve gotten to do that only living in New York City can offer?
I love that I can get anywhere and I don’t have to deal with a car or traffic. I can hop on a train and see my friends anytime I want. Getting to see my friends thrive and be in shows, is all right at my fingertips. I can go do anything whenever I want.
What is your favorite neighborhood?
I work in Williamsburg and I love it. It reminds me of home and it’s just cute. It’s not overwhelming like Manhattan but it’s still bustling.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Can I be really idealistic? So, I’m also an actress and love to write. I would love to be able to be illustrating and acting and writing my own stuff. I have a children’s book that I started writing my senior year of college which is completely done it just has to be illustrated. I would love for that to be published and have a whole series of children’s books. I would love to continue to be an activist for women and other groups in whatever way that I can.
What advice would you give to someone who is moving to New York for the first time?
New York is super overwhelming at first and can be draining but allowing yourself time to be tired and take care of yourself, and not beat yourself up if you’re not doing the most right off the bat. I know my first couple of months here all I could do was go to work and sleep. I wasn’t new to cities, but I had been in this really contained college town. I think people come here and are like “I’m gonna go see a show every Thursday and Friday, go out for drinks every night, I have to go here and there, and see everything” but allow yourself to not have to do everything right away.
Photos by Kate Ryan