Hey Catcallers, Stop Telling Women to Smile

When the weather gets warm in Spring, it’s hard to contain my immediate urge to rush outside in a sundress—goodbye winter layers, hello strappy sandals! But every year, in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I’m reminded of an unpleasant consequence of shedding those layers: The annual uptick in catcalling.

“Hey baby, give me a smile,” is a common refrain on the block where I live. So is good old-fashioned wolf-whistling and lascivious commentary about whatever I’m wearing. Even if it’s well-meaning, it can bring your mood down in a hurry. Smiling shouldn’t be a stranger-mandated activity, or a default stance just because of your gender.

Like me, Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is sick of it. So she’s waging a public art campaign against catcallers with a message as straightforward as its title: “Stop telling women to smile.”

Fazlalizadeh is primarily an oil painter. But in 2012, she began tacking up posters around Brooklyn neighborhoods as a way to respond to the uncomfortable catcalls she had encountered.

“I thought it was important to talk about street harassment where it actually happens,” she writes on her website. “I thought it was important to speak up for myself.”

Fazlalizadeh began interviewing women about their experiences with unwelcome comments on the street—everything from “Hey Boo” to “Where’s that smile?”—and created posters with black-and-white portraits of women along with their message to would-be harassers. Catcallers, if you’re listening, here’s what some of those women Fazlalizadeh interviewed have to say: “You are not entitled to my space” and “My outfit is not an invitation.”

“I’m putting a face to these words,” she writes. “It’s not just ‘hey, street harassment is bad.’ You actually get to see this person’s face, this woman’s face, who goes through it daily.”

Each poster has a black-and-white drawing of a woman with a message written underneath. The installations serve as striking public service announcements about empowerment, messages like “Women do not owe you their conversation” and “You can keep your thoughts on my body to yourself.”

Her work has been so widely successful that Fazlalizadeh is taking it on the road. Later in April, she’ll join Open Walls Baltimore X, a Baltimore-based street art festival, to bring her message there. And that’s a real reason to smile.

For more on the project, in the artist’s own words, check out this awesome video she just posted on her project’s website: