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Stop Telling Us To Smile, Women Say In New Mural

By Rachel Cromidas in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 11, 2015 2:56PM

A new mural aimed at addressing street harassment against women is up in the Loop this month with a simple message: "Stop telling women to smile."

The message and accompanying renderings of women's faces, staring intently out at the viewer with stony expressions, was devised by Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh to call out people with a habit of telling women they don't know to smile more. Doing so is a common form of street harassment that affects women everywhere, but particularly in urban areas. Fazlalizadeh's new mural went up on South Wabash Avenue in the Loop earlier this month.

The art project has taken different forms in several cities and was the subject of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013. The mural is up on the side of a parking garage near the intersection of 8th Street and South Wabash Avenue.

The international movement to combat street harassment has grown in recent years, activists told me in interviews for the RedEye, in part thanks to social media campaigns and public awareness efforts that take these messages to the streets where harassment is happening.

Street harassment can run the gamut from whistles, catcalls and comments like telling a woman to smile more to physical harassments like groping, flashing and following. And street harassment can make people, particularly women, feel unsafe.

Nearly 65 percent of women have experienced street harassment, according a survey published in 2014 by the national advocacy group Stop Street Harassment, and 57 percent of the women surveyed had experienced verbal street harassment in particular.

But the problem goes beyond strangers not knowing how to talk to women in the street (the answer is: just don't). Even tennis goddess Serena Williams was recently asked why she wasn't smiling more in an interview about the U.S. Open semi-finals. That tone-deaf question, and Williams' answer—"To be perfectly honest I just don't want to be here right now."—has us wondering whether any woman's face is safe from casual smile-policing.