Antonia Quell: the dedicated student

A portrait of Media Management student Antonia Quell

 © Antonia Quell

FHWS student Antonia Quell started a petition in the summer of 2020: "It's 2020. Catcalling should be a criminal offence." This aims to ensure that sexual harassment which is not physical can also be prosecuted. Who is the person behind the petition that started a huge debate? A portrait.

"If we’re talking about dreams, I would say that I would love to be the host of a late night show and it would be called TONIght where the TONI is the centre of attention and I would absolutely love to write a book, but under a pseudonym so no one would know it was me." The 21-year-old's hypothetical ideas for the future just spill from her lips. "Handball, roller skating, anything to do with music, vegan food, normal stuff like hanging out with friends, feminism". Antonia Quell counts these as her hobbies. Feminism in particular has come strongly to the fore since last summer. That's when she initially came up with the plan of just quietly and unobtrusively starting a petition. But it didn’t stay "quiet and unobtrusive".

Courage to give support

With every signature, the petition that she had started together with Niklas Dietrich gained more publicity and thus also had increasing impact in the media. After only one month, it reached the 50,000 signatures required to submit a petition to the Petitions Committee at the German Bundestag. "I didn't think that it would cause such a big chain reaction," Antonia says with a laugh as she sweeps her shoulder-length hair back. Until last autumn, her blonde locks reached far down her back. But then in October, she cut it to shoulder length, donated the braids and posted the result on Instagram with the words: "One of my wiser decisions." But not the first.

In the summer of 2020, the then 20-year-old initially launched her petition on her own, but enlisted help from those around her as it progressed. "Of course, I'm always willing to learn and I don't think I would have got this far if I hadn't trusted people at the right time. To a certain extent, you need mistrust of authorities, but you also need trust and must also be able to say: you're right." The two initiators also got expert advice from Prof. Dr. Achim Förster at FHWS. “Ms Quell took my course on copyright and media law in the 2020/21 winter semester,” explains Förster. "She didn't really need help. I noticed right away that this whole project of Ms Quell's is really very well thought out, that she has looked at the subject matter in depth, is putting a lot of energy behind it, and is pushing the whole thing forward in a very structured way."

Quote by Antonia Quell: "I wouldn’t have got this far if I hadn't trusted people at the right time."

Firm stances in each area

The student, who grew up in Fulda, is not only politically active, she is also an animal lover. "I used to have a dwarf hamster, but it died after a very happy life of four years." Now she has no pets. She is against the concept of pets. "I am vegan, after all. I'm sure that has something to do with it," she explains. "I think animals are great, I respect them. But I don't need them within my four walls." Antonia found veganism through the activist Greta Thunberg. "I was a little late to the party. I already knew that meat consumption was not so good, but did not know the background. There are these three pillars: animal welfare, sustainability and your own health. That's when I could relate to everything."

With veganism came her first entrepreneurial experience in the form of her own cookbook, which she sold on Instagram. "Before, I could never cook and now I can cook very well," she says as she checks on the curry she's making for dinner. The kitchen in her apartment is basically just two stove tops. Her apartment is small, but just as structured as its occupant. The student has systematically placed plants in almost every corner. She has decorated her walls with her own art. Most of the pictures are from her own digital pen. She also drew the logo for her petition herself.

Photo of Antonia Quell
Antonia Quell is studying Media Management and would like to start her own business later on. (© Lea Göbel)

Between insecurity and self-confidence

When it comes to the petition, the normally bubbly student becomes more serious. After all, the name Antonia Quell is on it – and people know who they can address their comments to. They range from supportive statements to comments that contribute little to the discourse. "Someone commented under other pictures of me: 'Nobody would catcall you anyway' or something. You wouldn't believe it for a second, but the hate! Why don't you respect me as a human being?" There's a lot she doesn't read through. Antonia does not get involved in unnecessary discussions where she would literally be talking to a wall. While she wouldn't shy away from verbal confrontations on the street, she draws a line at the comment section on Instagram. "I think that it's hard when you think you're getting somewhere, but then you see that there are still people who don't understand at all," explains her best friend Lea Göbel. The two met seven years ago while playing handball. “Antonia herself has also grown so much over time and she's learned so much through all the events. You can tell she's already putting a lot of time into it.”

Quote by Antonia Quell: "I form my own opinion of myself."

Antonia wants to continue to actively shape her environment in the future. She says that she grew up with privilege and therefore feels she has an obligation to give back. "That's why I want to be self-employed later and definitely make a positive change with the future company. I think it comes across as totally naive," she adds with a grin. Prof. Dr. Förster is confident about this, however: "I think we can definitely expect a lot from Ms Quell in the future and she certainly has a successful professional future ahead of her, whatever she ends up doing." If Antonia had known at the time what was in store for her with the petition, she probably wouldn't have dared to do it, she says. "But I think the realisation that anyone and everyone has a say is so important," the student explains. The uncertainty of that time seems to be a clear advantage for her future. "I realised I have more self-confidence because I had just done it," she explains proudly. "I form my own opinion of myself."

Catcalling

According to a publication from the German Bundestag's Research Services catcalling is considered a "criminally relevant insult". And it continues: “The term, which originates from colloquial English, is predominantly used to describe harassment in public spaces through shouting, talking, whistling, or other sounds with sexual connotations [...].”

Petition: "It's 2020. Catcalling should be a criminal offence."

  • Petition launch: 11 August 2020
  • Goal of the petition: Make catcalling a criminal offence
  • Antonia Quell's definition of catcalling: non-physical sexual harassment
  • Number of signatures collected: 69,444
  • Current status: The petition is before the Committee on Petitions for a vote

Link to the petition

Photo of Anna-Lena Gröh

By 
Anna-Lena Gröh