Just Smile

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Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadah. Photo by Carla C. Waldron via tlynnfaz.com

For the last five years I’ve been a transit-dependent person. What this means is that I spend a lot of time on foot, a lot of time standing waiting for buses, waiting for trains, and it may or may not surprise you to know that I experience at least one form of street harassment nearly ever day.

There is a spectrum of severity to these experiences but their regularity does not make them easier to endure and their consistency has resulted in a vulnerability that can sometimes feel overwhelming. I’ve never gone unaffected by someone who yells to try and get my attention, intentionally standing back to look at me up and down, walking up to me and putting their faces inches from my own, or honking their horn or making suggestive faces from their car.

I often try to brush these experiences off but I know they’ve affected me. When I’m getting dressed in the morning and purposefully choose to wear clothes that hide my body, when I avoid eye contact on the sidewalk, when I rush to get home before the sun goes down, when I choose not to participate in activities that require long trips, when I hold my breath as I see someone walking towards me at night. I know it affects me.

I experienced the worst form of street harassment in my previous neighborhood. Sometimes I would walk past groups of men seated on the sidewalk who would feel the need to comment on what I was wearing, talk about my body, or inform me that I’d be prettier if I just smiled. Sometimes these men would have the audacity to become outraged when I would ignore them and they would stand up and yell profanities at me as I walked away.

It can be difficult to talk about experiences of harassment but sharing experiences is an important step in raising awareness about the issue. Not only to let those who are being harassed know that they are not alone, but to educate the public about this important issue and reiterate publicly that this  is not something that we should just accept as a society.

Artist Tatana Fazlalizadeh has attempted to raise awareness about this issue in a very creative and public way by creating posters that reflect women’s stories and struggles with harassment. Ms. Fazlalizadeh says that her work “attempts to address gender based street harassment by placing drawn portraits of women, composed with captions that speak directly to offenders, outside in public spaces.”

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Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Photo via stoptellingwomentosmile.com

She goes on to say that “Street harassment is a serious issue that affects women world wide. This project attempts to take women’s voices, and faces, and put them in the street – creating a presence for women in an environment where women are a lot of times made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”

By bringing this work in to the public realm, Ms. Fazlalizadeh creates the opportunity to simultaneously speak to those being harassed, those doing the harassing and those who may not have the issue on their radar.  She is empowering those who may feel victimized by giving them a voice and by allowing visitors on her site to obtain her posters for FREE!, she is strategically given those who want to raise awareness about this issue, the opportunity to do so in their neighborhood.

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Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Photo via stoptellingwomentosmile.com

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About The Accessible City

urban planner, california

2 responses to “Just Smile”

  1. christie c. says :

    i appreciate this post, anna. keep up the great writing.

  2. Araceli Garcia says :

    Thank you for putting out there a story that many of us women can relate to. I think it is important to raise awareness about this issue and treat the problem from its roots. The importance of your writing gives me hope that we can possibly breed a new generation with more respect and zero harassment.

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