Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
It's hard to go unnoticed in New York City, with everyone checking out the latest fashions and hairstyles. As the weather warms, some women who are shedding those winter layers are finding themselves the object of more cat calls, whistles and roving eyes than they'd like.
Artist Tatayana Fazlalizadeh is not going to take it anymore.
Under the cover of darkness, wearing a black knit hit, black leather jacket and black Chuck Taylors, Fazlalizadeh is nearly invisible. She's scouring Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, for a blank canvas.
"This is one of those spaces that I'm not sure about if it'll work," Fazlalizadeh says. "I might put this up and tomorrow morning it'll be taken down because it's somebody's property. I don't know, but we're going to try it anyway."
The 27-year-old takes a long look down the street for police, then reaches into a plastic grocery bag and pulls out a blue water bottle. She squirts down a blank wall with wheat paste and slaps up one of her trademark posters. It features a stark pencil drawing of a young woman staring sternly with the words below in bold type: "Women are not seeking your validation."
It's in this neighborhood that she endures daily cat calls and unwanted comments from men. This is her way of talking back.
Smoothing the poster over once with her hand, she casually walks away, but it's too late. She's busted by the police.
"You know that's illegal, right?" the officer says.
This is the second time she's been stopped in recent weeks, but she has an out. Before the wheat paste dries, it peels right off the wall like a magnet. So the officer lets her go with a warning.
Back at her tiny apartment a few blocks away, Fazlalizadeh says the cat calls got so bad she couldn't take it.
"It happens almost daily to me," she says, "so I wanted to express myself and speak up for myself."
Walking by another poster plastered on the side of an abandoned building on a busy residential street, Sapphire Monet stops in her tracks. This one reads: "Stop Telling Women to Smile." Monet says street harassment is more than a hassle.
"Every day, a 'Psst,' or a 'Yo' or a 'Hey' or 'Excuse me what's your name?' " Monet says. "And they might get disrespectful and call you by a body part."
She's glad the posters are up, but says it's all about how you carry yourself and how you respond. She just keeps her headphones on and ignores the guys on the block.
Anthony Williams runs a clothing shop on a busy strip in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He says he's not being offensive when he calls out at women; it's part of his DNA.
"I'm a man, I'm supposed to," the 30-year-old says. "I mean, I think every man, if they see a woman they feel is attractive, should try to do what they can to acquire this woman."
Michelle Brown says guys like Williams don't bother her and that they can give it their best shot.
"Nothing beats a try but a failure," she says. "I hold my head high, smile and keep walking. It doesn't bother me. [They're] just looking for attention, and I don't give it to them."
Back on the streets, it's near midnight, and Fazlalizadeh still has a bag full of posters and some wheat paste. She's just found another blank wall on a busy street.
The poster reads "Women Don't Owe You Their Time or Conversation." This time, there are no cops in sight.