Taking Back the Streets

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.”

my  name is not baby

How about “My outfit is not an invitation”? Or this one. I think these are great.

not outside

So far Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s posted her drawings in Philadelphia and Boston. The project is called “Stop Telling Women to Smile” or STWTS.

stop telling

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.


Filed under Art, Culture, Jean Zimmerman

6 responses to “Taking Back the Streets

  1. Wish I could go. I love wheat paste!

  2. Right. It’s not a big deal and it is at the same time.


    Interesting project! While the puritan in me senses that wheatpasting must be illegal, it amounts to vandalism, and the culprits could be prosecuted, I know that street art is a thriving reality, intriguing in its diversity. On Pinterest, when I was *pinning* like mad, I collected a few images for my Street Art Board.

    People-watching might be fun at Tatyana’s meet-up this Saturday at Washington Square Park; will you go?

  4. I have another method with which to share my story with you, Jean. There isn’t enough space here to do it. But I sympathize. I really do.

  5. Sarah

    When guys on the street ask me to smile, I smile involuntarily, and then I always feel manipulated. I never considered it as part of a bigger phenomenon, I just kicked myself later for grinning like a buffoon just because some creep on the street asked me to. Interesting series of artwork!

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