Bellwethr Magazine

I’m Every Woman

Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh takes to the streets to end gender-based harassment.

WORDS BY Kassie Brabaw // ART BY Adam Matula & Kassie Brabaw

She looks down at you, her eyes gazing straight into yours. Her jaw stands strong, as if locked in stone. Her lips form a straight line, not frowning but not smiling either.

Her name is Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, and you’re not looking at her face. You’re looking at her self-portrait pasted on a graffiti-covered building in New York City. It’s one of the many posters Fazlalizadeh, a 28-year-old artist from Brooklyn, posted in the city since she started her campaign “Stop Telling Women To Smile” in 2012. Through portraits of women and messages like, “You are not entitled to my space” and “My outfit is not an invitation,” Fazlalizadeh combats street harassment, telling men that women don’t exist for their pleasure.

And the statistics show a need for her voice. In a 2014 study that surveyed 2,000 people, Stop Street Harassment – a nonprofit working to end gender-based discrimination – found nearly 65 percent of all women experienced street harassment. Of those women, 23 percent had been sexually touched, 20 percent had been followed, and 9 percent had been forced to do something sexual.

Women like Shawna Potter, a Baltimore native who Fazlalizadeh interviewed for an upcoming poster, are fighting back. In her interview, Potter talked about people who honked their horns at women on the street. It’s something she’s grown used to, but doesn’t let slide. “I just throw up the middle finger … because then if they look back to see, ‘Did she see me honk? Did she hear it?’ They’ll just see a middle finger,” she says.

Debjani Roy, the deputy director of anti-street harassment organization Hollaback!, says street harassment is everywhere. “It can affect how a person performs at school. It can affect our productivity at work. It can affect our sense of overall safety and well-being when living in our neighborhoods and traveling. It impacts every aspect of our lives.” Fazlalizadeh experiences street harassment almost daily. “It’s not just one moment,” she says. “It’s a larger issue that I carry around with me.”

The breadth of the problem concerns Fazlalizadeh, who has created posters of several women. “I’m particularly interested in women who aren’t necessarily like me,” she says. “Even though a lot of times it’s very similar, it’s different if she’s Asian-American, and she gets street harassment that’s based on stereotypes about Asian-American women.”

Diversifying her poster subjects isn’t Fazlalizadeh’s only plan for the future. In October of 2013, 848 Kickstarter backers gave Fazlalizadeh more than $34,000 to take “Stop Telling Women To Smile” across the country. So far she’s travelled to Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Atlanta. And from February to May of 2014, Betti Ono Gallery – an art gallery in Oakland, Calif. – ran an exhibit of Fazlalizadeh’s work. But she envisions the project growing beyond those one-off events. She plans to travel internationally and wants it to become a worldwide art organization with volunteers and organizers, “where other people are pasting up the work in cities where they live, and it just goes on.”

Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh stares down gender-based harassment with her poster campaign. PHOTO BY KASSIE BRABAW.
Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh stares down gender-based harassment with her poster campaign. PHOTO BY KASSIE BRABAW.
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