‘Stop Telling Women To Smile’ Project Tackles Gender-Based Harassment With Street Art



CREDIT: American Apparel

“Give me a smile, baby.” It’s a request most women have gotten at least once, but often much more frequently than that.

Women experience constant pressure to interact with men in a certain way, and one of the most common ways women are harassed on the street is being asked to smile. It’s a pervasive street harassment tactic that has inspired responses ranging from blog posts to comedy sketches to sweatshirts. It’s also inspired a street art campaign that’s about to come to a city near you.

Stop Telling Women To Smile” is a public art project created by the Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. “I started this project as a way to explore social activism through public art. I wanted to express myself and address the type of harassment that I was personally experiencing in Philadelphia and Brooklyn,” Falalizadeh writes on a Kickstarter page that’s currently raising money for the project. “As a portrait artist I wanted to use the images of women, personal friends and colleagues of mine, to humanize women in the public spaces — giving faces and voices to the bodies that are sexualized on the street.”

The drawn portraits, which Fazlalizadeh designed to be plastered on public walls, include captions that are intended to speak directly to offenders of street harassment:

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Falalizadeh first started the street art project in 2012, and now hopes to expand it and create new pieces in up to eight additional cities — potentially Baltimore, Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Since starting a Kickstarter page just a week ago, she’s already far exceeded her fundraising goal. “I’m really overwhelmed by all of the support this project has been getting,” the artist wrote on her blog on Wednesday. “I started this thing just experimenting with wheat paste. Just throwing up some art outside to talk back to dudes on the street. But, now it’s something bigger.”

Two organizations that work to combat street harassment, Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment, are partnering with Falalizadeh to plan community events related to her project in some of the cities that she’ll visit. Falalizadeh also hopes to film the project, and potentially take it international. Supporters can either contribute to her Kickstarter or order prints of her work to plaster in public places in their own city.

It’s not the first creative responses to street harassment that’s cropped up in New York City. The city council and the activist group Hollaback recently partnered to create a smartphone app that allows residents to immediately report incidences of street harassment. It helps eliminate the onerous process of filing a formal complaint and sends the information about harassment cases right to the mayor’s desk.