In 2012, Brooklyn-Based Artist, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh started a campaign called “Stop Telling Women To Smile” as a response to the street harassment she witnessed in her city, but like all issues involving women, the movement has sparked crass criticisms from the public.
Street Harassment can be as innocuous as telling women to smile or as vile as proclaiming one’s sexual intentions. Fazlalizadeh’s group responds to these unwanted catcalls by creating and placing posters expressing their discontentment to harassers on the streets. Her group has been growing rapidly in popularity these last few years. Women outside of Brooklyn have started creating their own STWTS-inspired posters (here is the group’s blog where you can find out more). However, not everyone is in favor of the movement.
The featured image above is of Fazlalizadeh in a STWTS poster. It shows a seemingly kind-hearted “be happy” message and a far less discreet phallic image within inches of one other. The broken poster is like a visual representation of actual street harassment–unwanted accolades and advice, dick trophies, and all. It follows the same progression that street harassment tends to follow. A woman from STWTS’s video said “it’s an everyday thing. There’s a range from what [harassers] think is nice like ‘hey beautiful.'” To avoid harassment, women have to take alternate routes that get them home safely which doesn’t always promise a comfortable trip. Street harassment can easily escalate to a situation that can cause physical and psychological damage too. StopStreetHarassment.org found that 9% of street harassment victims were forced to do something sexual while another 30% said they were targets of public masturbation. Depending on how a Women responds to harassment, a seemingly innocent exchange on the streets can become really uncomfortable really fast. “You’re supposed to be so grateful,” says a woman from STWTS, “they’ll still get mad if you don’t respond, [like] you’re welcome bitch.'”
STWTS isn’t averse to confronting criticisms whether that criticism is rational or foolish. They themselves posted the defiled poster on their blog to show where they stand, even as it became more and more grotesque. I sent them an ask on their blog to understand how they deal with criticisms.
Markus Villa: “Does the backlash STWTS posters sometimes receive discourage or strengthen your cause?”
STWTS: “It strengthens it. I’m not ever discouraged from continuing this work because I feel very strongly about it’s importance. I don’t think that this project is perfect and I’m open to critiques that could help to improve it. However, most of the backlash does not come in the form of critical analysis of how this work can be better. It comes in the form of people calling me a man-hater and drawing dicks on the faces of the posters. When people deface these pieces with gendered insults and phallic imagery, it’s only reinforcing the point of the work – abuse against women – thereby fueling the cause.”
It’s baffling to think half the population still has to bid for respect. You can support Fazlalizadeh’s cause by visiting their shop, creating and posting your own STWTS posters, or leading by example and simply treating everyone you meet with integrity and respect.