Under Broadway in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Under Broadway in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project is about power, namely the power to navigate public space without fear of harassment. On Saturday night, I spotted one of her “Women Are Not Seeking Your Validation” poster, which riffs off her earlier works that have a graphic simplicity to them accompanied by a PSA-like message. Here the message is more direct and open ended.

“Have I been trying to offer women validation?” I couldn’t help but wonder after being confronted by the image on the street.

The poster’s typeface evokes a time before public service announcements began to mimic the sleekness of corporate advertising. The woman on the poster is not an idealization but appears to be a portrait of a real person with serious and uneven eyes. Her stare heightens the message and makes you wonder if the location was the site of some specific altercation, but of course that’s part of Fazlalizadeh’s point — most public space is a contested space for many women, and any space can be a potential site of violence and confrontation.

Other posters by Fazlalizadeh read “My Name Is Not Baby” or “Women Do Not Owe You Their Time or Conversation,” and she has made the images available as merchandise in the form of posters and tshirts.

Writing about her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project, Fazlalizadeh says “It’s my hope that some women will walk pass these wheat pastes and feel empowered. That men will at least take notice and consider what the posters are saying. And that the conversation about street harassment will continue to be enlivened and hopefully produce some sort of solution.”

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

5 replies on “Women Are Not Seeking Your Validation”

    1. wow i hadn’t seen that. i moved to that intersection i guess a few weeks after that was taken down and it’s kind of discomforting to know that all those dudes are really ARE terrible misogynists, not just misguided, and are super unabashed about it too! this is important work!

  1. As a woman who has both been told by many men to smile and who feels irritation at being harassed in public spaces, I do still think it’s necessary to make a distinction between seeking validation and wanting to not be told to smile.

    I think these are actually quite separate topics with entirely different origins. I have seen numerous strong, intelligent, feminist women seek implicit or explicit validation from both men and women, and more broadly from ‘society’ at large. Whether or not that is a problem I think is left to the individual to determine, but is certainly not as out-of-one’s control as is being told to smile. I am not sure that the artist is conflating the two experiences, or if the article has accidentally conveyed this association, but I think it’s harmful to the overall feminist agenda to confrontationally assert that men are to blame for attitudes that many women harbor–whether they’d like to or not–and that outsiders, thereby, cannot be wholly responsible for. In addition to alienating men from the feminist agenda and causing feelings of insecurity for them [indeed, the author’s own response appears to be one of uncertainty and concern], this also portrays women as victims of external forces (e.g., “the patriarchy”) without the agency to determine their own actions, perspectives, and responses–even wherein those decisions [implicit or conscious] are undesirable to themselves.

  2. Women don’t want to be harrassed. Women don’t want to be told to smile. Essentially, talking to any woman about anything at all is a risky proposition. I find talking to my dog to be a safer and more fulfilling conversation.

  3. RE: the article titled “The Wonderful World of Women in Slacks” would this (harassing women/asking them to smile) be some of the”privileges normally accorded only to men” to which the “hosenrolle” aspire? Interesting mix of articles about women who want to recognized as men and the other women who want nothing to do with the object of those aspirations. Of course, you realize that unwanted expectations, feeling publicly humiliated and receiving unsolicited, wrong-headed validation is a two way street traveled by both sexes.

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