A good friend recently shared an article with me about Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh who started the art project “Stop Telling Women to Smile” in protest of men harassing her and invading her personal space on the street. The project features portraits of different women, including Fazlalizadeh herself, along with short, concise statements that capture each woman’s experience with street harassment. The posters are plastered across Brooklyn and she’s now taking the project on the road.
I love this project. It’s important that these posters are on the street, confronting these men and (hopefully) forcing them to take notice. I think all women, at some point in their lives, have experienced some form of street harassment. I have many stories to tell. In London, late one night while walking home from Brick Lane, a group of men shouted aggressive sexual remarks at me and after yelling back “no, not interested” was then told I was a “fat bitch”. In Marrakesh, on my way out to celebrate New Years Eve with my girlfriends, had a man on the street literally reach out and grab my breast – as if it were there for his taking. In Esquipulas, where I am living now, I deal with street harassment on a daily basis. I am whistled at like a dog and called white girl, princess and baby. There’s one guy who is particularly fond of practicing his English on me, which involves him yelling sweetie and honey at me, and telling me to “come here, I like you”. He gets upset when I don’t respond positively to his harassment and likes to ask me what my problem is. These are just a few examples.
As Fazlalizadeh rightly points out women are treated as if we are “there for consumption by men” and the streets, for many of us, do not feel like safe spaces. I can relate to this project and to the primal need to rebel against the harassment, to want to force the man to stop objectifying me and to look at and treat me as a person. Many men think that women “like” being treated this way and that they are “just being friendly”. These attitudes make the behaviour all the more difficult to combat, because street harassment, especially in its milder forms, is not taken seriously. It should be. It needs to be, because we have a right to be able to walk the streets free from the hassle, fear and injustice of this type of treatment. I would love to see Fazlalizadeh’s posters crop up in more places – with those words and faces staring down the men who walk by them.