Stop Telling Women to Smile

Stop Telling Women to Smile

Directed by Dean Peterson (2014)

Film Review

Stop Telling Women to Smile is a public art project by African American artist Tatyana Falalizadeh. Her goal is to fight the daily street harassment young women face in New York and other cities (I, too, experienced street harassment until well into my forties).

In this type of harassment, packs of men make obscene catcalls and noises at random women as if they own them.

Falalizadeh interviews women about the intense humiliation and degradation this causes. Each woman identifies the specific message she wishes to convey to her abusers. Then Falalizadeh paints the women and puts up the posters in neighborhoods they frequent.

Examples of messages include:

“Stop Telling Women to Smile.”
“I’m Not Here for You.”
“Women Aren’t Outside for Your Entertainment.”
“Keep Your Thoughts About My Body to Yourself.”

12 thoughts on “Stop Telling Women to Smile

  1. There are some of us (men) who detest this behavior. I am one. I do not like imposing my will on anyone, male or female, because I hate someone doing it to me. I and my mother were constantly assaulted because of our weight, when I was young. As I grew older, angrier and bigger, a look from me would keep most of the assholes from insulting my mother. I grew not to care as much about me.

    And so I was more than aware of what it felt like to have people invading my space uninvited.

    I hate this in ‘men’ (boys is more like it), and always have.

    Men need to break out of the ancient traditions they hold to about women. We need individual equality to become, as much as possible, the norm across the spectrum. Religion, governments and the male dominated societies they spawn are the culprits!


  2. I am seriously tired of this!

    The other day, I was standing outside of a building waiting on my car to be brought around and a man walks up to me and says, “Can I take you to lunch?” I tell him no and next, he wants my phone number so that we can get to know each other better and then go out to lunch. I finally ended the conversation by telling him that I have a ‘conceal and carry’ permit and would he like to experience why.

    Yeah! I could most definitely get behind this project in a New York nanosecond, otherwise I’m going to have to start shooting!


  3. The thing about culture is that it is mostly invisible to the people who bear it.

    I’d argue that as irritating as all the catcalling might be — I’m not condoning or excusing it or suggesting that it doesn’t make the person who is the object of the crass overtures uncomfortable — it is mostly innocent although admittedly not always.

    The people who engage in this sort of thing tend to be working class and don’t know any better. They model the behavior of their uncouth peers, of what they see in the movies, of what they genuinely think will flatter or endear them to a woman.

    But sometimes these gestures are mostly to impress, demonstrations of boldness or pluck, or to achieve a fancied comic effect, and honestly not intended to give offense.

    Sometimes, it’s true, the gesture is most assuredly intended as an insult, as in the case where the target of the harassment is perceived as someone who snobbishly fancies herself socially superior, who would not feign so much as ever to cast a second glance back at a lower class, working class man, and so in this instance the behavior becomes a kind of ‘fuck you’ to the upper class that the schmuck at hand knows regards him and his ilk to be dirt.

    When I was growing up, in a working class town, the women and girls that I knew did not take offence at this kind of behavior, but regarded it, as did the men and the boys, as playful teasing or inconsequential flirting, sometimes annoying if overdone or too persistent, but sometimes invitingly flattering, too.

    There is both more and less than just an attitude of patriarchal entitlement at play, here, on the part of these men, although patriarchy may enter into it, but by no means always.

    On the other side of the equation, as yet unconsidered, the out of hand condemnation of such behavior might itself also be more than a mere challenge to an aspect of patriarchal culture that by all means should be challenged, but through dialogue. The condemnation may itself be interpreted as — and in some cases most definitely is — a recapitulation of the outright contempt of a society that scorns the working man, his woman and his children.

    I don’t see this issue as being as black and white, as cut and dried, as some people may believe it to be. I’m speaking as a working class schmuck who for whatever reason never himself engaged in this kind of behavior although I understand it, so to speak, from the inside out.


    • Norman, I think what you need to keep in mind is the intense cultural conditioning that makes it extremely hard for women to object to this kind of behavior for fear men will regard them as unladylike or unattractive. I think what is happening in this project is women empowering themselves to speak out against their degradation. Historically many working class men have only been able to adjust to their subjugation by coming home and lording it over their working class women. It’s my firm opinion that until women overcome their internalized oppression and reject all attempts and speak out against misogynist behavior by working class man, there is little hope of them uniting against the ruling elite.


  4. As a young man at work I remember rushing over to view who was in daily visitors tour am I just a pervert or is it human nature to view the opposite sex.


    • My response to the harassment was to only go out in camouflage – old baggy jeans, loose fitting shirts and bandannas over my hair. The reaction I got was lots of commentary that I looked like an ugly slag.

      The global Take Back the Streets movement is as much about this kind of street harassment as violence against women.


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