Never go anywhere without your headphones.
Look straight ahead.
Cross the street to avoid a group of men.
Clapback at him for even trying it, because not today, sir.
Women around the world have their ways of dealing with street harassment, a common problem that picked up media interest recently thanks to an illuminating (and problematic) viral video that came out last year. (A hidden camera captures a white woman walking down the streets of New York, ignoring the unwanted attention of increasingly aggressive men—men of color, more often than not.)
When it comes to street harassment, the men are the ones with the voices—telling us, in sometimes graphic details, their thoughts about our bodies. But a traveling art project is doing its part to let women talk back.
“Stop Telling Women To Smile” by Tatyana Falalizadeh is an art project that tackles gender-based street harassment. “I started the project because I wanted to talk about my experiences with street harassment,” the Brooklyn-based artist says in a Kickstarter video for the project. “It was my way of speaking back to my harassers. Guy who say things on the street that are unwelcome.
“I thought it was important to talk about street harassment where it actually happens,” she continues. “So instead of doing a painting, I decided to try something new and go outside and talk about street harassment there.”
Falalizadeh conducts interviews with women who have experienced street harassment. She then creates a poster that’s a portrait of her subjects with the words they would want to say back to their harassers, and pastes them around the city using homemade wheat paste. The women’s gazes are as direct and unwavering as their words that all boil down to one thing: I am not here for you.
“I’m putting a face to these words,” Falalizadeh says. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, street harassment is bad.’ You actually get to see this woman’s face who goes through this daily, and what she wants to say about it.”
The project, which started in 2012, has become a major success—her Kickstarter campaign was fully funded and Falalizadeh is using that $30,000 to expand the conversation about street harassment beyond New York City. She’s gone to Chicago, Atlanta, and recently Mexico City, to share women’s stories using her posters.
Along with bringing “Stop Telling Women To Smile” abroad, Falalizadeh is also working on a new project called “Kinship,” a line of T-shirts she’s collaborated on with photographer Texas Isaiah Valenzuela. The shirts will list the names of black cis- and transgendered women who have been killed due to sexual violence. There’s also a zine in the works that discusses an even darker side of street harassment: women who have been killed for turning down a man on the street.
“This project is not just propaganda, and it’s not just a PSA,” she tells New York Magazine‘s The Cut. “So when I think about social-justice issues, and how we shift our culture to a place where this isn’t normalized behavior, I’m thinking about how I can do it in an artistic form.”