Public crusaders for women's self-esteem - I hereby set you free!
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You're walking down the street minding your business when a man calls out to you. Perhaps he tells you to smile (because you look prettier that way); or he comments on your physical appearance (on a sliding scale from publicly acceptable language to downright sexists slurs); or he invites you to go for coffee/dinner/drink with him.
You ignore him and keep walking, pretending that you didn't hear him.
And that's when you start to hear the kinds of verbal abuse that I cannot repeat here...
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is an artist based in Brooklyn, New York City, whose recent project "Stop telling women to smile" is about challenging gender-based street harassment. Personally I think this is exactly what street art should be about, addressing societal issues in a very public way. Tatyana writes on her blog about the project that the message is not about stopping all interaction between men and women in public places; rather (and this is how I see it), it is about tackling gender stereotypes and the culture of entitlement, facilitated by patriarchy, that underlies a lot of the interaction between men and women.
And I am confident that most women reading this will be familiar with the above scenario, and have their own version of it.
A few months ago I got into a heated debate on social media with my friends after reading an article in which a guy went on a rant about a group of women who had decided they were no longer interested in speaking to him at a local bar. He said some really terrible things in the so-called article and it filled me with so much anger that he couldn’t just accept that:
1) women do not leave their houses just so they can be approached/complimented by men
2) women can decide at any point in a conversation that they are no longer interested in continuing that conversation
Similarly I couldn’t believe the verbal attack I endured around a year-and-a-half ago, while I was walking to my car at the airport, exhausted after a 16 hour work day, when I did not respond to a man who had mumbled some sort of “compliment” to me as I passed him.
I know that some men reading this will say that they are just trying to pay a woman a compliment, make her feel good; but really, telling someone that they look prettier when they smile doesn’t count as a compliment, and please don’t feel this undue pressure to boost the self-esteem of random women on the streets. (I hereby set you free of this burdensome task).
So what’s an assertive woman to do? One option is to completely ignore it and keep walking – but that doesn’t feel very assertive does it? The other option is to turn around and say something; politely informing them that their behavior is not appropriate and why this is the case. But in most cases where I have done this, it ended up leaving me angrier and more upset than before. And I don’t like to get angry, it eats away at you; and I don’t believe that some jerk who verbally abuses me on street.
I’d love to hear about how you deal with – whether you are male or female. It would especially be great to hear form men who stand up to this kind of behavior.
You can read more about Tatyana’s work here: http://tlynnfaz.com/Stop-Telling-Women-to-Smile
Image courtesy of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh