Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s provocative public art project “Stop Telling Women To Smile” gives voice to what many women wish they could say back to harassers.

Fazlalizadeh has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help take the project to cities around the country. Setting her goal at $15,000 to cover costs of travel, materials, and film documentation, the campaign ends on October 3.

Rewards for donating to the STWTS Kickstarter campaign range from “Stop Telling Women to Smile” T-shirts to original drawings, posters, and, for a pledge of $5,000 or more, a custom-painted oil portrait of you or whoever you want. For $8,000 or more, you get to travel with the artist to two cities and participate in conversations about stopping street harassment.

Fazlalizadeh tells Co.Design, “I didn't add any explanation of the project to the posters because I wanted them to be simple, direct, and to the point. I didn't want them to look like a PSA, or some MTA campaign. There is the face of the woman portrayed, and her direct statement. It's similar to the comments we hear from men outside. It's quick, it hits you, you keep moving.”

“The thing about this work is that it quickly moves from the street to the Internet. And that's where a lot of conversation has happened, making it easy for me to track the responses," says the artist.

The portraits are in black-and-white, making them stand out against buildings of any color. And the lettering is designed to catch your eye in the midst of urban bustle, says the artist: “Whatever the focus word in the text is, I use the larger, bolder typeface. In most of the posters it's the word Women."

She created the portraits from interviews with subjects about their experiences with street harassment.

In Brooklyn earlier this year, Fazlalizadeh says, “A man came by and wrote his response in the white space of a poster. He disagreed with what the work said and explained why. A few days later, a woman wrote on the poster in defense of the work. And then someone else responded, and someone else."

"After a few weeks, the poster was covered in different handwriting. It was sort of like a comments section. To see a dialogue like that happen in the environment, on the actual work, was pretty fascinating.”

"I have noticed a lot of reactions from men who didn't know what street harassment is, or that some things they’ve said or done to women outdoors is perceived as street harassment. There has been some learning," says Fazlalizadeh.

Co.Design

A Kickstarter Crusade To Get Men To Stop Telling Women To Smile

A provocative public art project in Brooklyn and Philly to stop the harassment of women goes on Kickstarter to take it to other cities.

Street harassment that ranges from annoying to unprintable to outright threatening is ubiquitous in most cities, and women are usually left with no choice but to treat it as another lousy inevitability of urban life, like high rent or rats in the subway.

Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s provocative public art project “Stop Telling Women To Smile” gives voice to what many women wish they could say back to harassers. In March this year, Fazlalizadeh began wheat-pasting a series of posters around Philly and Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood, graphite portraits of women emblazoned with sharp slogans: "Stop Telling Women to Smile," "Women Do Not Owe You Their Time Or Conversation," "Women Are Not Outside for Your Entertainment," “My Outfit Is Not an Invitation,” and "My Name Is Not Baby, Shorty, Sexy, Sweetie, Honey, Pretty, Boo, Sweetheart, Ma.”

Now Fazlalizadeh has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help take her celebrated project to cities around the country. Setting her goal at $15,000 to cover costs of travel, materials, and film documentation, the campaign ends on October 3.

“The thing about this work is that it quickly moves from the street to the Internet. And that's where a lot of conversation has happened, making it easy for me to track the responses, Fazlalizadeh tells Co.Design. "I have noticed a lot of reactions from men who didn't know what street harassment is, or that some things they’ve said or done to women outdoors is perceived as street harassment. There has been some learning.”

Rewards for donating to the Kickstarter campaign range from tote bags and T-shirts commanding “Stop Telling Women to Smile” to original drawings, posters to put up in your own neighborhood, and, for a pledge of $5,000 or more, a custom-painted oil portrait of you or whoever you want. For $8,000 or more, you get to travel with the artist to two cities and participate in conversations about stopping street harassment.

In Fazlalizadeh's straightforward designs, some of the subjects look daggers at the viewer; others are defiant or subtly pissed. “I didn't add any explanation of the project to the posters because I wanted them to be simple, direct, and to the point. I didn't want them to look like a PSA, or some MTA campaign," she explains. "There is the face of the woman portrayed, and her direct statement. It's similar to the comments we hear from men outside. It's quick, it hits you, you keep moving.”

The portraits are rendered in black-and-white, making them stand out against buildings of any color. And the lettering is designed to catch your eye in the midst of urban bustle, says the artist: “Once I decide what the text will be, I compose it using two fonts. Whatever the focus word is, I use the larger, bolder typeface. In most of the posters it's the word Women."

The public nature of her project lends it a collaborative, in-progress element. In Brooklyn earlier this year, Fazlalizadeh says, “A man came by and wrote his response in the white space of a poster. He disagreed with what the work said and explained why. A few days later, a woman wrote on the poster in defense of the work. And then someone else responded, and someone else. After a few weeks, the poster was covered in different handwriting. It was sort of like a comments section. To see a dialogue like that happen in the environment, on the actual work, was pretty fascinating.”

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38 Comments

  • Sarah

    This campaign is as ridiculous as they get. These days, it's hard enough for guys to approach women because of the stigma of being labelled a creep. It's women like these that make the normal girls who don't mind being approached feel like they should not be receptive to a regular guy who finds them attractive and would like to get to know them better. 

    No one owes anyone their time or conversation, but what a lonely world we would live in if everyone had that attitude.

  • That is a smart comment, Sarah. As you say, there must be balance in everything and courting is a delicate subject.

    I believe some basic, HEALTHY rules should be taught without going overboard with the crazy feminist way with 'stare rape' and similar nonsenses. Men will always smile unwillingly, while looking at attractive women and try to approach them... unless you brainwash them or administer pills that turn men gay. (but then you would have another problem)

    Question is - who raised the men who act disrespectfully about women? Question is - who raised the women who do not feel confident to interact with men and set healthy boundaries for respect? I believe respect is a two way street - it is nearly impossible to disrespect a confident woman. So to me it boils down to the author's social inaptitude, maybe?

  • NIKI GOSS

    All I would like to say to the men who think it isn't a problem is ask your daughter. And if you don't have a daughter, please ask your mother or a woman for which you have the deepest respect perhaps then you can see why this project has merit even if you disagree with it. peace and love

  • Avary Corey

    Men, it is really not that hard to grasp why street harassment is wrong. But it seems that you are having trouble, so let me break it down for you.

    I am a cis woman, which means I have natural female biology and align with a female gender. This does not make me an object for you to comment on in public. I wear something because I think it looks good on my body. I wear clothes for me, not for you. If I leave the house looking attractive, I do not need you to tell me. I already feel attractive, and when my outfit or body gets your attention, it actually makes me feel less attractive. Because when you look at me, all you see is my body and physical appearance, and I know I am much more than that. You say, "Well, you wore those clothes for a reason so what's wrong with giving you a compliment?" or "You would look so much prettier if you smiled". That is reducing me to an object that exists to look good and happy for you. I am not an object. I am a person. And I do not live my life for you, I live it for me. I wear what I want, that's my choice and responsibility. It is your responsibility to not be an asshole about it. Telling someone, "That's a nice shirt" or "I like that dress" isn't the same as "You look so hot" or something of the like. One is a compliment of someone's style, that some people will appreciate and others won't. The other is reducing someone to their looks. And the sad thing is, people are so much more than what they look like. There is such a plethora of interesting and wonderful things below the surface, and by objectifying someone you miss out on all of the good stuff.

    The real problem is that you feel so entitled to treat other people this way. I sincerely hope you can do some self-reflection as to why that is a truth in your life, why you feel the right to be so disrespectful to other human beings.

  • If I could I would make it a law for women to be confident and empowered, but in your crusade, just please try not to outlaw being a decent person.

    By entering the public space you agreed to a contract where you get in contact with other people. that's why it is called the public.

    For a confident woman, a clever comeback is all you need to defuse it. If you are looking for confident and clever - go google it.

    The way the muslim countries deal with it is to cover woman's body so that people can't comment on that, plus they have a strong rigor that a woman in public must be accompanied by a man. No strangers approaching random women go to a muslim country yourself and do widen your perspective.

    also you are free to go that way or dress in a "transparent way" (just like average american woman with messy hair, no makeup and gym shoes) so not to attract any looks or comments

    you are free to wear 'f.... off everyone' t-shirt that states your attitude towards other people.

  • blablabla

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA oh my god, you are SO PATHETIC! LOL "dont comment on my body"

    I will do whatever the hell i damn well please as long as it is within the law. And if i feel like commenting on your body, well, you cant stop me. You people seem to feel as if the world OWES it to you to make you feel comfortable. News flash, we all have opinions and if you dont like us expressing our opinions, just be a complete loser and dont go outside at all. God you are SO FUCKING PATHETIC! I honestly feel sorry and laugh at you people for being such losers.

  • Emma Cullimore

    Telling anyone you don't know on the streets to smile, or making a comment about their body, how they're dressed, and intentionally intervening on their day with no regard for where they are going, coming from, or the individual person in question, is not the same thing as quality human interaction.  This is not showing a general interest in getting to know them as a person, nor is it a positive way to approach anyone in the hopes of securing a date/phone number/conversation.  All it does it tell the person that you're hollering at that your opinion about their APPEARANCE is worth disrupting their walk with what could very easily be interpreted (even if it is unintended) as demeaning, diminutive and objectifying. 

    The defense that many give for this type of interaction is that it is hard to approach women.  I get it, its hard to approach men too.  Its hard to approach anyone.  But the behavior described- hollering, cat calling, telling women you don't know on the streets how fine they look- is PART OF WHY it is so hard to approach women.  It puts women on the defensive, tells us that we are objects to be commented on rather than people to engage in conversation, and yes, makes us difficult to approach, especially if this is the only way a man knows how to get a woman's attention.  Instead of standing on the street and sharing your thoughts on our bodies, our faces, our clothes, as we try to get from Point A to Point B, try finding non-demeaning ways to interact.  Few people, men or women, will stop in the sidewalk to respond positively to a comment about their butt, because they are on their way somewhere.  This is not a conversation starter, and will not secure a phone number.
    Say hi to the woman in front of you in the line at the coffee shop, smile, and ask her how her day is going.  If you see a woman at a bar that you want to speak to, approach her and instead of commenting on how good she looks, maybe ask her a question about herself, her life, her day- something that tells us you might be interested in more than our bodies, and opens up a dialogue rather than a one sided conversation. 

  • Alexandria Batdorf

    Some of the aggressive comments left by men on this article sheds light on the issue at hand. Erik, thank you so much for being a good example as to how society dismisses and condones the objectification of women.  This campaign doesn't exist to encourage women to act negatively towards men. It's tackling a much larger issue that's common amongst women. 

    The artists doesn't say anything about ignoring men when they try to speak to women. She clearly states that  "women don't owe their time or conversation." Have you ever encountered someone trying to stop you while you're in a hurry and are either persistent or call you names because their ego was hurt after you kindly told them you have somewhere to be?  

    Instead of judging and going on a crusade to sabotage this campaign and starting a counter-campaign, how about trying to understand it from a woman's point of view. 

    If you have any women friends, I encourage you to ask about their experiences. 

  • Erik Schwan

    I'm not dismissing her - I fully believe she feels like she is being harassed by men and likely these other women are as well. But I don't believe this is a major issue that needs attention. And her negative campaign (as I mentioned) is not going to improve the situation - two wrongs do not make a right. 

    For every one male who says something she believes to be harassing, 1,000 walk by her and say nothing, but now those 1,000 men have just been visually harassed by her posters. I'm TELLING YOU, this would harass me so thanks for dismissing my feelings and judging me. See how that works? Two way street...

    I do understand it from a women's point of view and I am empathetic for those that are hollered at and/or undeservedly objectified by men. But with that being said - grow up, deal with it, and if you truly feel threatened then involve the police. 

  • Robin

    Wow. While I am not sure what impact this project will actually have on behavior and culture (it looks like it has the ability to raise awareness, but might also make people defensive and recalcitrant), I am kind of shocked by the comments here from men. 

    The disdainful, dismissive, bratty tone of the comments is indicative of how deep the problem goes. The commenters themselves probably aren't street harassers, but that they don't view it as a "real" issue (or aren't willing to acknowledge that some things may exist outside their experience) is significant on its own.

    Everything else I would mention Aura Fedora has already very eloquently said.

  • blablabla

    The moment that you tell me that men telling you to smile is a "real" issue, is the moment i laugh in your fucking face for being a pathetic human being. I honestly have NO FUCKING remorse for you people. You're truly fucking pathetic. You're so fucking weak that a man telling you to smile (for whatever reason) is now becoming a "real" issue. I mean, do you REALIZE how UTTERLY pathetic that sounds? You women are SO privileged that you think people TALKING to you is a real issue. How the fuck did our society become so FUCKING PATHETIC!?

  • Erik Schwan

    So, it's not ok for me to dismiss her campaign but it's fine for women to dismiss my feelings towards it? Gotcha.....

    I feel it is a "real" issue. Women should not be objectified. But society in general is responsible for it - not JUST men. Step into a Victorias Secret (which I would wager 75% of American women own something from) and try and tell me that a girl buying a pair of black, skin-tight, yoga pants with "PINK" clearly written out in neon pink on the butt isn't asking to draw attention to her ass. This isn't to say that all women own these pants, but shopping there supports them and continues the cycle.

    So, I do feel like this is a societal problem. But this artist is ONLY choosing to visually attack men with her posters. It's ridiculous to assume that all men do this and therefor should all be visually harassed into feeling like they have done something wrong by smiling at a women they find attractive.

  • Onyx Orinis

    "But this artist is ONLY choosing to visually attack men with her posters." So?! " It's ridiculous to assume that all men do this and therefor should all be visually harassed into feeling like they have done something wrong" They are! And they did! YOU'RE AN IDIOT!

  • Erik Schwan

    All men are telling women to smile more? Umm….no. But good argument.

  • imadime

    wow, indeed. wow.
    i'm so tired of people telling those who say "i'm offended" that they're just being ridiculous. how dare you dismiss the experiences of people who say this happens to them and it sucks!
    if you can bother to read the words on the page, no one is saying "don't talk to women on the street" it says "don't harass women on the street." and no, men, you don't get to decide what is or isn't harassment of women.  i know you're used to having your way, making the rules and enforcing them as you see fit, but it's time you grow up and accept that in the real world, sometimes, how your behavior affects other people matters. you don't just get to do and say whatever you want, then tell people to "lighten up," and throw tantrums decring the impending downfall of civilization because you're not getting your way.
    women walking around with small dogs or wearing yoga pants doesn't actually affect you. it's a choice those people have made about how to live their own lives, and it doesn't actually affect you. if those are things you have time to get "offended" over--things that don't actually affect you--you need to get a hobby or something else to occupy more of your time.

  • blablabla

    "harassment - "aggressive pressure or intimidation"
    A man telling you to smile is NOT harassment. Stop being a whiny loser.

  • imadime

    what are you 15?
    trust me, when you resort to dictionary definitions to make your argument, you've already missed the point.

  • Aura Fedora

    For the most part, I agree with the social statement her art is making. When you tell a strange woman on the street that she should smile, you are crossing a very serious boundary and being extremely disrespectful. 

    To demand a specific emotional response from a stranger is possessive, threatening, and rude. Some women naturally have slightly pouty lips. At rest, they are not naturally going to smile. Secondly, how do you know where she is from? In some cultures, smiling is only for very private situations. Third: how do you know what kind of day she is having? How do you not know she has experienced something horrible or just learned bad news? Asking someone to smile under those situations would only make them more upset, not make them feel better.

     Another good rule of thumb is this: If it's not something you would say to another man on the street who is a stranger, you probably shouldn't say it to a woman. Do you ask strange men on the street to smile for you? No. That's a good indication that it's a sexist behavior. I don't agree in avoiding all contact with other human beings, and maybe the tone of the illustrations is too harsh. Starting a conversation is fine, but if the other person isn't interested in conversation, you should leave them alone.

     Expecting that a woman owes you a smile for your own satisfaction just because you think she is pretty is not a compliment.