If you’re a woman, there’s a big chance you’ve had someone say something along the lines of “give me a smile, baby” while walking down the street.
While from the outside this may appear harmless, it’s a form of street harassment, something that many women deal with on a daily basis, so much so that it has become a part of many women’s everyday routine. But the problem is, when something becomes so routine, it’s easy to not say anything, to simply accept it and keep walking.
Harassment is harassment, and simply being a woman does not mean that you need to smile at men, or interact with them at all. Harassment of this form assumes that men have authority over women, it assumes that women are happy, go-lucky creatures, that are walking this earth for the benefit of men.
This kind of harassment, no matter how many positive words are involved, is not seen as a compliment.
A new street art campaign aims to take on this type of harassment, forcing us to see the gender-based street harassment for what it is and to think about it.
“Stop Telling Women to Smile” is†public art project created by the Brooklyn-based artist†Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. As she puts it, it’s her “way of speaking back to my harassers.” The idea is to humanize women in public spaces, using art to give voices and bodies to the women that are sexualized in the street. From StopTellingWomentoSmile.com:
“Street harassment is a serious issue that affects women worldwide. This project takes womenís voices, and faces, and puts them in the street – creating a bold presence for women in an environment where they are so often made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”
Fazlalizadeh’s drawn portraits are accompanied with statements that speak directly to the harasser, like “women are not outside for your entertainment,” “my outfit is not an invitation,” and “harassing women does not prove your masculinity.”
The project started in Brooklyn in 2012, and the goal is to take it to cities across the country. Want to take the art project with you wherever you go? There’s also a†Stop Telling Women to Smile t-shirt.
But such a project doesn’t come without controversy. As†Fazlalizadeh wrote on her blog, “The STWTS posters are often defaced with gendered insults and abusive language and imagery. When it happens, it highlights the type of abuse that the work was initially created to speak out against. But, this particular defacement is so violent. It demonstrates that women are subjected to violence and aggression from men even as a piece of art.”
In a world where there is plenty of unwelcome, unwanted commentary directed at women, hopefully this will create a space for women to speak up for themselves, and also remind our culture that street harassment is not a small thing and that we should all be working to stop it.
You can take part in the Stop Telling Women to Smile movement on Facebook.
Photo Credit: Stop Telling women to Smile
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