A woman is defined by "the soul" inside her — her own voice, intent and motives. It is by her strength, and not her weakness that we should should calculate her worth rather than compartmentalize, consume or categorize her identity. But for all that poise and power — both perceived and physically lived — that same strength can be undermined in a fleeting moment.
Word bombs like "hey baby" or “let me see that smile" create metaphysical clashes on the streets calling into question whether petulant catcalls are misogynistic (but harmless) or are actually societally sanctioned sexual abuse.
Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh has challenged the perpetual pattern of ideas that women "owe" strangers answers or affection to their advances. In her street art series aimed at “addressing gender based street harassment,” Fazlalizadeh creates posters depicting sketches of women fed up with the hassling, and wheat-pastes them on city streets for all to see. The series is aptly named Stop Telling Women To Smile.
What began as a quest to share her own experiences has turned into a national tour. Fazlalizadeh collaborates with women nationwide who feel that their cities could benefit from her progressive series. The project consists of sitting down with women affected by solicitous hassling and listening to their stories. Fazlalizadeh then creates a portrait of the woman, subtitled with text that embodies their experience:
Critiques on my body are not welcome. My outfit is not an invitation. My name is not baby. Women do not owe you their time or conversation.
Street harassment is a serious issue that affects women world wide. This project takes women’s 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." -Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's official site
Fazlalizadeh’s project, reminiscent of the Slut Walk movement, is appropriating a collectively shifting mindset between what is and what should be considered an acceptable interchange on the streets. STWTS has branched out far beyond Brooklyn to cities like Chicago, LA, and now to an ecstatic Oakland, who's eager to support the series.
Big cities are public jungles ripe with wondrous fruits and caves for all people to discover...
But that doesn't mean it's OK for any person — regardless of sex, race, size or creed — to feel unsafe or marginalized because of their proximity to less- enlightened individuals.
So yeah, stop asking us to smile.
Image courtesy of the official site for STWTS