Stop harassing women in the steet / Stop telling women to smile

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I posted the above image (a poster which reads “STOP HARASSING WOMEN IN THE STREET”) on Facebook and was surprised by the conversation that unfolded below it. Women discussed their frustration with the harassment phenomenon and a few others articulated their frustration with being told to smile while walking down the street and in other situations.

(It turns out the artist behind the poster, Tatyana Fazlaizadeh, also produces a poster called Stop Telling Women to Smile as part of an amazing street art project that goes by the same name.)

One male in particular lashed out somewhat aggressively in response to the suggestion that men are guilty of this behavior. He was suggesting, in essence, that men are on the receiving end of this request as well.

I find the desire to argue with women about their experiences with what they perceive as harassment frustrating.

Almost every woman I have been close with/to in any way has had a great deal of history with sexual harassment and/or some experience with sexual assault or some sort of routinely hostile behavior against them. I know female students who have been harassed, female reporters that have been harassed, female white collar professionals who have been harassed and expected to look the other way in order to not put their trajectory in jeopardy. Regardless of the progress that has been made with regard to gender progress, women are quite literally under attack on a regular basis.

In this life, the deck is still very much stacked against women. Asking them to smile in the face of this is absurd.

(And never-mind just women – this applies to anyone who identifies as something considered second class to straight males.)

I observed a number of sharp responses to the aforementioned hostility, but these two in particular struck me: The first occurred in the exchange and second was sent to me privately.

Response 1 (by Stasia Brewczynski):

Remember that being asked to smile is the tip of the iceberg, and sometimes the instigator of more harassment and violence (what happens when women don’t smile? Sometimes things escalate. What happens when she does? Sometimes things escalate). Remember it sucks to walk around life trying to be ready to “castrate”, yell back, or stick your keys in a perpetrator’s eye. Women think about this all. the. time. If you are a man wondering how you can help, here’s what to do:

  • Listen to women. Don’t play devil’s advocate. Let them tell you how they feel and what they need.

  • Speak up when you see harassment. Like for women, this can be a dangerous misstep in certain situations so use your judgment, but when appropriate call harassers out – let women know they are not alone, let men know it’s not ok.

  • Ask her, “are you ok?” after. Don’t touch her, don’t even get too close. Don’t think for a second she “owes” you anything for your “chivalry” after… not even a smile.

  • Walking on a low-traffic street toward a woman at night? Lower your eyes so she doesn’t have to. Move aside so she doesn’t have to. Cross the street so she doesn’t have to. Don’t swagger, take up more than half the space, block her in, look imposing, or try to flirt. Let her know you are absolutely not a threat.

  • Recognizing when you have privilege and strive to use that privilege to create positive change in the world.

Response 2 (anonymous):

I dig what you posted on women being under attack daily on the street. If you want a woman’s two cents:

Ironically, I was just thinking about this last weekend, on my way out the door to get coffee and go to the bank. Couldn’t help but notice that I dressed myself to “prepare” for the slew of men along the sidewalk who would no doubt throw comments, gestures and way-too-intense stares my way. How ridiculous is that?.. Sunglasses, jacket collar up, preferably a longer shirt to cover my backside which is all too often the topic of sidewalk commentary. Out loud. It is truly humiliating. Sexual commentary (to me) is violent. Period. I just want to go to the bank like a normal, not sex-crazed human, however find myself preparing for missile fire en route. And the more often it happens to a person, the more we perceive it happening (or at least feel the effects) when it isn’t necessarily happening. I noticed I was starting to look at all men as if they were about to ask me for a kiss, follow me down the sidewalk, tell me to smile, tell me to take my sunglasses off, ask me to come over to them, ask me to stop walking too fast, tell me what my body looks like, etc. It’s as if I exist only for their pleasure. I go into a situation with men (whom I’ve never met) already hating them. I am unconsciously on the defense with any man in public, because I feel as if I am under attack all the time. And that shit ain’t right.

I haven’t really made sense of it yet, but interesting to notice how a person will feel under constant threat alone on the street/ in public when this behavior is so often the case.

Also I see the humor in private messaging this instead of posting a public comment (to avoid attack…)

Thanks for posting the topic, nice that someone articulated it. Keep up your good man work!

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Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.