When I was around 25, I used to walk to work each morning across 19th Street to a new job I had at a think tank that focused on women’s corporate advancement. Here I applied myself as an editor. The offices were not especially glamorous, but all the staff made an effort to look professional.
I remember getting up in the morning, putting on my silk blouse, my blazer with its padded shoulders (this was the mid-eighties), pantyhose, mid-height pumps. Making up my face. And starting off west along the quiet side street to my job.
Past the school playground. Past the Korean fruit stand. Past the old-fashioned brownstones. Past the construction site.
The construction site. And it was here that it happened. Every day, cat calls. Nothing out of the ordinary. The basics, hey mama, chiquita, etc., including the one I disliked the most: Why don’t you smile? C’mon, smile.
Really, was this a big thing? It didn’t have a devastating impact on my life. But I recall struggling to answer the question for myself, at my desk, as I edited papers exploring how women struggled to cross barriers in businesses dominated by men. All I knew is that the experience of being called to on the street somehow turned me inside out, upside down, made me feel as if all that pride I’d felt getting dressed to go to my fancy job had been smeared.
That was a long time ago, but it crosses my mind once in a while.
So I was pleased to see an artist dealing with cat calls in a way that makes sense. Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh has created a project titled “Stop Telling Women to Smile” that places portraits of women in public places with captions like “My name is not baby.”
How about “My outfit is not an invitation”? Or this one. I think these are great.
So far Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s posted her drawings in Philadelphia and Boston. The project is called “Stop Telling Women to Smile” or STWTS.
This goes a long way, somehow, toward compensating me for those cat calls of long ago, making me feel as if someone is taking care of women on the street the way I felt in that long ago time and place that I was looking out for women in the workplace.