Stop Telling Women To Smile is a project by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, designed to make men realize that yelling at women on the street isn’t really a great way to get them to like you.

The posters--which you can see around Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Washington, D.C.--contain portraits of friends, colleagues, and herself, with messages like “My name is not baby, shorty, sexy, sweetie."

Researchers estimate that at least 80% of women around the world experience some form street harassment at some point in their lives.

The project isn’t just about solidarity, it’s about reaching the people who can stop street harassment: the men who commit it. She says: "You are not entitled to a smile, or a conversation, or our time, because women do not owe you anything simply because they are women, and you are a man.”

2013-03-14

Co.Exist

"My Name Is Not Baby": This Street Art Combats Street Harassment

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women To Smile posters seek to remind men that just because they see a woman on the street, it doesn’t entitle them to a conversation—or even a smile.

Street artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is over being told to smile by men on the street. “It comes in different forms,” she says. " ‘Smile for me’ ‘You’re too pretty not smile.’ ‘Smile. It can’t be that bad.’ And each time I perceive it as a man feeling entitled to tell a strange woman how she should present herself in public in the form of a lame come on.”

Researchers estimate that at least 80% of women around the world experience street harassment at some point in their lives, which includes everything from the type of comments Fazlalizadeh describes to groping, flashing, or assault.

But Fazlalizadeh isn’t just pissed about the prevalence of street harassment: she’s trying to take action. Around Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Washington, D.C., she’s pasted more than 30 posters of portraits of friends, colleagues, and herself, with messages like “My name is not baby, shorty, sexy, sweetie."

“I’ve put them in places where I’ve personally been harassed, and where I know street harassment is prevalent—which, honestly is everywhere,” she adds. “So, I’ve placed them on mailboxes in downtown business areas, on abandoned buildings in residential areas, on spare walls in tourist areas. Anywhere I can.”

The street art is more than just a message of solidarity with women who have endured street harassment. Fazlalizadeh hopes her work reaches “the people who can stop street harassment”: namely, “the men who commit it. And to them I say, leave us alone […] Do not grasp us by the wrist, we aren’t your property. Do not whistle at us, we are not dogs. You are not entitled to a smile, or a conversation, or our time, because women do not owe you anything simply because they are women, and you are a man.”

Check out Fazlializadeh’s documentation of the project "Stop Telling Women to Smile" on her blog.

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27 Comments

  • Rose Bigham

    This issue hits close to home for me and not just because I've been told by several - many - men to smile over the years.   I found it annoying and presumptive, sometimes even worse, depending on the day. 

    Then the day came when I was at the grocery store, minding my business, grabbing some groceries.  My mood was grim, and for good reason.   I was not putting out a vibe to flirt; I just wanted sustenance.

    In the dairy aisle a man came up alongside of me while I was choosing some eggs.  I mumbled 'Excuse me' and moved aside in case I was blocking access he needed.   

    "You need to smile!" said the man, getting in front of me.
    "Um.  What?"Show me your pretty smile!  Things can't be all that bad!" he said.  

    I was so stunned at his outrageous presumption that 1) he had any right to tell me what expression I should use and 2) that he presumed to know what was going on in my life.  Or that whatever was going on in my life wasn't that important.   

    Because on this day my only sister was dying from a terminal brain tumor after a long battle.  Her death was imminent, and everyone in my family was barely functioning.  Her two young daughters would soon lose their beloved mom.  My sister was 36 when she was diagnosed, and she would die at 41.   We'd been through multiple craniotomies, chemo, radiation, gamma knife .. .just about everything one could do to destroy the human body, and leave very little of my funny, smart, and loving sister behind.

    So on THIS day, when this random man told me to smile?   I actually did not have it in me to respond appropriately, which would have been to punch him in the face.  Yep.   Instead, my jaw just dropped.   I think I said, mumbling, "You have GOT to be kidding me." And possibly, 'Go away."  

    His reply?  "Jeez, bitch, I was just being friendly!" 

    And that, my friends, is why I don't generally carry firearms.  (I would not do well in jail.)   It is none of his goddamn business what's going on in my life, and he does not deserve my time or energy to explain what is going on, and in fact I should have just told him to Get. The. Fuck. Out.  The expression on my face is MINE, and I choose to be real. And whatever I choose is my choice, not his.  How dare he presume to tell a total stranger how to feel or how to look?  

    If you see a stranger who fascinates you, and who you'd like to talk to, then smile and wave at them and see if they are receptive.  THE VERY LAST THING YOU SHOULD DO IS TELL THEM HOW TO FEEL OR HOW TO LOOK.  

  • AlisonBlack

    It think there is a fine line here and the name of the campaign, though i do get it, is a bit of a misnomer. Guys dont always get subtelties, and if you tell them flat out not to talk, smile,wave, or adress you in any way, they will do just that. (Case in point 'snakeeyes4u's" comment below.) And maybe with some men, and in certain neighbourhoods thats a good thing, I get it. But this campaign needs a disclaimer because not all streets and not all men are the same. You cant claim to know men if you've only been adressed by the ones targeted in this campaign. Best of luck ladies!

  • Soph

    Love the Posters!!! Nice drawings, and and I can really relate! Don't know how many times I have been told to smile by strange men on the street, or on public transport or at the pub. You don't know what I might have been through that day, I might have a very good reason for not smiling. It does not come across as politeness but rather condescending.

    I find many of the comments disturbing, I don't know any women who haven't been victim of some kind of harassment. We have not reached equality when women can't walk home at night without fear. Several of my friends have been attacked and raped on the street, and taxi's don't seem to be any better, a friend had to jump out a moving taxi only a few weeks ago. I have been stalked, touched inappropriately on public transport and continuously wolf whistled and beeped at. I know that not all men act this way but those that do give the others a bad name, so maybe instead of coming over all defensive when women highlight this mistreatment, you can talk to your fellow menfolk and come to women's aid if you witness harassment.

  • Sugar Vendil

    When random dudes just say hello, or hold doors open, or are just clearly being nice, it's pretty obvious and it has to do with the body language and tone they use as much as the words. I'm sure I can speak for many women when I say we don't usually get upset with friendly gestures. But oftentimes it's harassment, which takes energy for the idiot who thinks I will actually smile, and energy for me to tell him to f*** off.

    So men who didn't 'get it' before should just read this article and SMILE because you learned something today!

  • Jessy Yesi Acissej

    The privileged white male backlash I'm seeing in the comments is annoying. As an Asian American female, I'm especially creeped on by men who just assume I'll be submissive, easy, or polite. I make sure to say something back like "Don't say that shit to me" or I will even cuss them out if what they say is particularly demeaning. Asian and other minority females are particularly exoticized by men, and men who don't feel like they are in a position of power in their own lives will often try to exert power/make themselves feel bigger by loudly and raunchily objectifying us. I support this artist 100% and will likely make similar posters in my own neighborhood. I get cat-called every single day in one form or another; that is NOT OK and I should not be made to just SMILE the harassment away. I have cussed men out once they start to get too in my face, and I hope that makes them think twice about trying to sleazily pick up a nice-looking girl. I shouldn't be made to feel like I should wear a burqa every time I leave my house. I should be able to just exist and do my own thing. You don't see these guys having to smile to appease every stranger that walks by... Give me a break.

    ALSO: research the sexualization of minority women. If you Google "Asian," the main results will likely be pornographic images. As an intelligent strong woman, I hate being reduced to just another walking porn fantasy every day of my life. While wearing full clothing. Consider that when you defend misogyny with your naivete and privilege.

    Thus, I think even more so as a minority woman, Tatyana's work is SO IMPORTANT. Thank you Tatyana!!!!

  • Natalie Lasance

    Well to all those people (men) who are taking this deliberately the wrong way, the posters don't say, "don't smile at me" or "don't hold a door open for me". They are saying don't sexually harass me.

    Until you've actually walked a mile in a woman's shoes, stop assuming that you understand the effects of street harassment. You have no idea how awful it is to never be able to walk down the street and feel safe or confident that you won't get harassed.

    I live in East London and let me tell you the reason I can't walk down a street smiling at people or saying hello is because 9 times out of 10 I will have someone shout something disgusting at me, wolf whistle or even follow me home (has happened several times, is terrifying).

    Also in my experience, a lot of these "friendly gestures" do turn sour, which is why women don't trust strange men who want to interact with them. As an example, I once had a guy in the street try and high-five me. I said politely, "no thank you'. He then proceeded to shout down the street that I was a whore and a slut. Real nice guy.

    Women quickly learn to keep their heads down and not interact with strange men for this reason. It's very sad, but it's true, and you can blame the men who harass women for this.

  • $27180517

    I will now never be polite to women again...no hellos, no smiles, no chivalry.. so much for human kindness and I mean this for any complaining "oh you don't know what they're going through" ...screw that its a polite gesture get over yourself 

  • Andrea

    What a logical response to this campaign! Polite smiles and holding doors is clearly exactly what this artist is addressing! Men nodding politely at women passing by is *just* the kind of thing that this artist is against. 

    I'm so glad you pointed it out, because here I was thinking that she was trying to prevent invasive, sexist, and often threatening street harassment. But clearly she - a woman - doesn't know what she's talking about, and you - a man - know exactly what it's like to be a woman and experience what she experiences. 

    On a less sarcastic note, if you can't tell the difference between "smiles, hellos, and chivalry" and street harassment, then you're probably extending unwanted overtures to female strangers and you *should* stop. No one will mind,

  • $27180517

    I'm glad you took my comments so literally, seeing I was making light of the rest of the comments on this article. And don't worry, I'll be sure to shut the door in your face, just so we feel equal. I won't mind.

  • SMG

    It seems that men are increasingly being told (by women) what they can and cannot do. I'm all for equal rights, but not for any special treatment (including laws targeted at one sex). If women want to be treated equally then stop demanding being treated differently. Men strike up conversations with other men in the street all the time, branding this as harassment creates inequality (which is what 'true feminism' strives to combat). As a generalization (this article is full of them): women seem to like chivalry (allowing women a seat on the bus/train, holding doors open, paying the bill, lifting anything heavy, being the main breadwinner) and dislike any legitimate logical discrimination (not getting paid when they miss work due to 'woman problems', not being hired for construction jobs that require lifting heavy objects, not hiring a pregnant woman, the list is endless).

    tl;dr - if you want equality don't demand preferential treatment.

  • Sugar Vendil

    "Men strike up conversations with other men in the street all the time..."

    No they don't.

  • scowler

    Would you tell a man to "Smile" or call him "Baby"?  We're not talking about special treatment. We're talking about the same treatment.  It just seems like special treatment because it will require some special effort on the part of men who are so accustomed to seeing women as something other than people that they don't even know they're doing it.  

  • Cqmoi

     Who is demanding preferential treatment?

    This is not about "striking up conversations". The poster doesn't say "my name is not Excuse Me" or "my name is not Hello". It says "my name is not Baby". Calling someone Baby is not "striking up a conversation", it is talking down to someone; literally infantilizing them.

    Women aren't constantly telling me what not to do. If they are to you, it's probably because you're doing something disrespectful.

  • Logical Person

    "Men strike up conversations with other men in the street all the time, branding this as harassment creates inequality (which is what 'true feminism' strives to combat)."The thing is, the issue at hand is not "striking up conversation." The issue is men policing women's physical appearance and countenance. Men telling women to smile is a specific phenomenon that perpetuates the idea that women exist in the public realm for men's sake. Men are allowed and expected to deal with real and pressing concerns, whereas women are expected to be ornamental. Therefore, men are allowed not to be beaming all the time, whereas a woman is not performing her womanly duty if she is not. Both women and men do, in fact, have more pressing concerns than whether or not their appearance brightens-up other people's day. But when men (or women) tell women to smile, they are in effect "reminding" women that they ought to make their physical appearance a priority, and insinuating that whatever reason they have not to smile is not as valid as a man's reason might be.And yes, those are gross generalizations you're making about women. The fact that you would assume that most women "like" chivalry is just further evidence that feminism still has work to do on our society.tl;dr: People who are told to smile by complete strangers are overwhelmingly female. Asking for that to stop is not asking for preferential or special treatment, it's asking for equality.

  • Realist

    Good to know that no man may ever speak, smile, or look at a woman ever again. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is teaching a whole new generation of young women to hate every man they ever come across because obviously they are all bad. Seems like the incongruous generalizations, stereotypes, and sexism is the key to solving all problems. May no human being ever be friendly to another human being ever, unless they are of the same sex. Don't you think we have a problem there? 

    I agree with this statement: "Do not grasp us by the wrist, we aren't your property. Do not whistle at us, we are not dogs... women do not owe you anything simply because they are women, and you are a man." That, I believe is good advice to the young women of today, and giving them the power to say no, is fantastic. Telling them to believe in total generalizations of men, is not, just like men shouldn't think every woman is their "property" or subject to harassment. 

  • Cqmoi

    Utter bullshit. There are no generalizations being promoted in this campaign. Did you read the part where it says she puts up posters where women have actually been harassed?

    Don't cry "victim" just because someone is saying enough is enough.

  • i hate twittter

    "Good to know that no man may ever speak, smile, or look at a woman ever again. "

    Where does it say that?
    This isn't about friendly interactions. This is about unwanted interactions and people demanding you do what they want.

  • Realist

    The men who do this: "Do not grasp us by the wrist, we aren't your property. Do not whistle at us, we are not dogs... women do not owe you anything simply because they are women, and you are a man." cause the hatred. What I am saying is, not all men do this. Golden rule, treat others as you would want to be treated. Men need to do this, and so do women. 

  • A Woman

    She isn't teaching women to hate every man they come across. The men who do this stuff are the ones causing the hatred.