Fighting back against harassment

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I was at a party a while ago when a guy caught my eye and made a pouty face at me. That face that says, “Come on little girl, why aren’t you smiling and having fun?” Every woman has experienced it at some point. The random guy on the street who walks by you and feels it’s his business to tell you that you should be smiling. Often, the instinct is to just smile so you can avoid a conflict and be on your way. Like many women who are fed up with this dynamic, I just rolled my eyes at the guy at the party and walked away.

It’s an action that seems innocuous to some people–he just wants you to be happy and brighten your day. But it tells women that strangers have a right to expectations about our emotions and that we must perform for them as we go through our daily lives.

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is working to turn this around by raising awareness through her artwork.

On April 5, when you walk down your street, you may see women’s faces looking back at you from the walls—women whose gazes tell you that they are defiant, assertive, proud, and Strong. Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh drew these women for her art project Stop Telling Women to Smile.

Beneath their faces are words that countless women deeply feel and want to say when men they do not know sexually harass them in public spaces, but are not always safe to say aloud:  “Women are not outside for your entertainment.” “My outfit is not an invitation.” “I am not public space.”

This is International Anti-Street Harassment Week and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is organizing an artistic experiment she hopes will impact cities around the world. Anyone can request PDFs of her posters and instructions for how to wheat paste. Then, during the afternoon or evening of Friday, April 4, everyone can put up the posters in their community.

Fazlalizadeh has been touring with the art project and has received encouraging responses.

“I got a lot of comments that night from women saying ‘thank you,’” she says. “And there were also men there who had seen the posters, considered what they said, and appreciated them. These responses show what the work is trying to do: be an advocate and voice for women, and to push men to consider these voices.”

If you want to participate in the wheat pasting action, you can get access to pdfs of the posters here.

Anti-harassment organization Hollaback’s London chapter has their own exciting campaign to cut down on harassment and change the culture of tolerance.

Brought about by street harassment charity Hollaback London, and supported by Everyday Sexism and the End Violence Against Women Campaign, the pledge uses the strapline “good night out”. It is the first coordinated approach to sexual harassment across clubs in the capital.

Venues that sign up agree to put posters in visible places that say: “If something or someone makes you feel uncomfortable, no matter how minor it seems, you can report it to any member of our staff and they will work with you to make sure that it doesn’t ruin your night.”

As part of the pledge staff will be given extra training about spotting and handling sexual harassment. “We want people to feel that if something happens, the staff are on their side,” says Bryony Beynon, co-director of Hollaback London.

It can seem like harassment is a frustrating inevitability, but these campaigns show that we can be proactive in educating people about its real impacts and showing that this treatment won’t be tolerated.

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