On the streets of Brooklyn in 2012, local street artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh decided that she had had enough of catcalling. After a stranger on the street asked her to smile for him, she used this as the basis for an ongoing series of street art entitled, Stop Telling Women to Smile (STWTS). Late at night, armed with a roller brush and some posters, Fazlalizadeh began wheat-pasting graphite posters on the walls of public streets, the most common site of catcalling. These posters are all portraits of women, some of the artist herself, but mostly of various different women from all kinds of walks of life. Fazlalizadeh realized as her project went on that street harassment was not restricted to women like her, but that women of all skin colors, religions, sexualities and gender expression were targets as well. In the end, this inspired the diversity and multilinguality of STWTS.
These portraits are strong, they are sources of power for women. Fazlalizadeh interviewed several women before she made portraits of them. She wanted to understand how experiences differed from and paralleled each other, so that each figure took on her own identity and backstory. These women are direct, they do not allow themselves to be looked upon. They instead look back at their audience, authoritative and powerful. The power of the male gaze is impotent for these women, the only gaze they allow is their own.
Each figure is accompanied by text, some in English, but also in Spanish, French, and other languages. The text is usually different for each figure, but the tone is the same: there is no debt women owe to men, no reason to be harassed, no place for catcalling. STWTS expands as Fazlalizadeh travels to new places with new cultures, and stands as a visual protest to a patriarchal society that has not learned the true power of the female.