By Amy Poulston
Published: MARCH 14, 2014
Capilano Courier

Picture this: you’re female and you’re walking alone at night. Someone approaches you on the street and because you’ve been conditioned by society to anticipate the worst, you tense up. As female comedian, Ever Mainard, aptly puts it, you think,“Here’s my rape,” as if it were something inevitable you should have to schedule before your dentist appointment and after the gym. But why do women expect to be assaulted by men at night? In a better world, a more equal world, we would not have to fear going out into public space just because of what time of day it is. It is argued that street harassment (which that can be anything from catcalling to physical contact or unwelcome attention, among others) is a symptom of male entitlement to women’s space. This is obviously influenced by our society’s objectification and consumption of women — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh has become so frustrated by street harassment that she has taken the subject head-on by posting her works in the same environment where these events take place: the street. Her large posters include illustrated portraits of different women she meets with a bold caption expressing the woman’s experience with public harassment. These captions range from, “Stop telling women to smile,” to “You are not entitled to my space,” and “My name is not baby, shorty, sexy, sweetie, honey, pretty, boo, sweetheart, ma.”These posters are not so subtle in their agenda of spreading awareness about harassment, giving a voice to the billions of women who confront this treatment, sometimes on a daily basis. Fazlalizadeh hopes to spread awareness not only through her works but also by travelling the country. By using the $35,000 she raised on Kickstarter, she will interview women and share their stories about their different experiences in public space.

Many say that they don’t see this as a serious issue — that women should regard these experiences as compliments or that they are just a joke — but in reality harassment is much more serious. Due to the fact that murder and rape mostly occur by men against women, we aren’t really being paranoid or bitchy if we get prematurely defensive when a man approaches us. According to the organization Stop Street Harassment (SSH) over 80 per cent of the female population experience street harassment,making it much more than the minor annoyance our society deems it to be. I shouldn’t have to second-guess my outfit due to the fact that it might cause unwelcome attention from a stranger. Unfortunately, I do feel pressure to second-guess, and if I did get unwelcome attention many parties would actually blame me for causing it, simply because of what I may have been wearing.

Recently I stood on the corner of Robson and Nelson while waiting to meet a friend on a Saturday night. Even though I had headphones in and was visibly preoccupied with my phone, in the 10 minutes it took my friend to arrive, four different men approached me. While I never felt physically threatened in such a crowded area, their interactions with me were all tinged with the air that they felt entitled to enter my personal space. Just to be clear, these aren’t polite “Hi, how are you this evening?”moments, these are look you up and down and say with a gleam in their eye, “Why are you all alone girl?” moments. These experiences made me feel gross anduncomfortable when I shouldn’t have had to, as if these men had a right to access and consume my body like they do a girl on a billboard. It made me think that if this is what I experienced within 10 minutes, I can’t even imagine what women deal with in worse neighbourhoods, not to mention different countries.

As SSH clearly states, “Street harassment is a human rights issue because it limits women’s ability to be in public as often or as comfortably as most men.”This makes it a significant problem as it not only affects women’s sense of well being but also their access to essential services and their enjoyment of public life as equal citizens. If street harassment limits women’s ability to occupy public space then it is also limiting their presence in the public sphere, and as a result,suppressing their voice and authority. While researching street harassment I stumbled upon an event in Egypt three years ago. While covering the ongoing turmoil in Cairo, CBS reporter Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by a mob of 200 men over 25 minutes. In her interview with The New York Times about her experiences she said, “When women are harassed ... they’re denied an equal place in that society. Public spaces don’t belong to them. Men control it. It reaffirms the oppressive role of men in the society.” While her harassment may seem distant since it occurred on the other side of the world, the symptoms of these experiences can be seen worldwide and ultimately have an effect on the way we treat women everyday.

Russell Poulston 2013