FORT GREENE – As temperatures climb with the onset of summer, so do rates of street harassment, effectively limiting women and girls from contributing and participating in various aspects of civic and community life.
An event in Fort Greene Park–mixing street art and protest–aimed to alter the equation.
Hollaback!, a nationwide organization leading the movement to end street harassment, sponsored an event with City Council Member Laurie Cumbo on Sunday afternoon, fusing grassroots art activism and municipal advocacy. GIRL POWER: Taking Back our Streets through Art provided an opportunity for young women and girls to channel their assertive voices, create powerful statements and spark dialogue around their experiences with street harassment.
“Women need to start talking about their daily moments, because it’s the smaller stuff that affects the larger things, like rape, domestic violence, harassment in the workplace,” said Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose anti-street harassment art has appeared across the national and international landscape. “Women’s bodies are consumed and are considered public property for display, comment and consumption.”
“We have evolved as a society, and there is no place for catcalls, lewd gestures, inappropriate language and unwarranted comments about the physical characteristics of a woman’s body,” said Council Member Cumbo. “Our youth possess the ability to accomplish great things, if we empower them with the resources and provide opportunities where they can thrive. I felt it was important to create a platform where young women can address the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis through art, which has increasingly become a tool for activism.”
Like sexual harassment in the workplace–a once-condoned practice that slowly gained attention due to its adverse effects on worker productivity–street harassment is gaining more attention and widespread condemnation. The practice was labeled a national public health concern in a 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The consequences of such unwelcome and detrimental behavior include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, and reduced sense of safety in public, which in turn can limit earnings of women and girls, decrease self-esteem, decrease physical mobility, and interrupt women and girls’ ability to engage in civic life.
From a community forum discussing the meaning of girl power to active poster design featuring messages of female empowerment such as “my outfit is not an invitation” and “stop telling girls to smile,” the GIRL POWER event explored the link between art, social change, and female empowerment.
“You are hard pressed to find a woman in this city who has never been street harassed and young women are most at risk,” said Emily May, the executive director of Hollaback! “When we tell young women to ‘ignore it,’ we’re paving the way for street harassment to continue. We’re here today with Council Member Cumbo and Stop Telling Women to Smile, because we want everyone to understand: street harassment isn’t the price you pay for being a woman.”