Stop Telling Women To Smile

Just imagine, it’s about 10:15pm, the film you are watching is coming to an end. Instead of focusing on your reaction to the completely predictable plot twist, all you can think about is what will happen in the next few minutes? Will I make it to my car safely, or will I be attacked? These thoughts overwhelm you as you try to enjoy those last few moments of peace. In your mind, you construct a plan. “Ok, so, the goal in the next few minutes is to get from the movie theatre, to the parking garage, located four blocks away. If we walk on the right side of the street, we can avoid a majority of the bars, with the handsy drunk men.” Before you walk out the door, with both a sense of anxiety and frustration, you clench the car key in between your fist, hoping it works just as effective as a sword, one that would let you fend off your own dragons. As you begin walking out into the dimly lit street, you cross to the right side of the street and feel a sigh of relief. You walk with confidence down the street, as if you were a superhero gliding through the air, strutting your superpowers to the world. Suddenly, you’re rudely interrupted in your glory by “Hey sexy! Where you going?” As you hear the words, you feel each sound and phrase shoot down your spine, leaving you numb, not knowing what to say back. You know deep down that you want to put this man in his place– call him a disgusting pig, or whatever will ease your anger and embarrassment– but as you try to say the words they nearly disappear in your breath. Instead you continue walking, trying to regain the superhero confidence from before, but you keep hearing “Hey sexy where you going? Come over here and give me a smile!” You try to convince yourself that it doesn’t hurt, but it hurts. It hurts to know that this stranger sees you as a dog to call at, and bark commands at, it hurts to know that you are nothing but an object for this stranger’s late night entertainment, but most importantly, it hurts to know that what you just experienced would not be defined as an attack by many, but rather seen as a nice compliment.

Sadly, this experience of “catcalling” is not a rare,  in fact, almost every women will encounter street harassment at some point in their lives. In order to combat this degrading and obnoxious trend within our culture, the GUTS! high school group got together to bring awareness to it in our community. We started by finding an incredible project called “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” which was created to indirectly respond to street harassment by wheat-pasting posters displaying both meaningful and personal messages from victims. This inspired our GUTS! high school group to print out some of the posters created by the artist who runs the project, and bring the message to Missoula. On Thursday night, we made wheat paste and gathered all of our materials, then bundled up and headed over to the graffiti wall on California Street. It was both an extremely fun and empowering moment for the group; it gave us the opportunity to share our passionate voices. A few days later, one of the girls went to check on the wall. Sadly, she noticed that some people strongly disagreed with our message, and in reaction wrote negative comments. This was disappointing, but also empowering. After seeing the pictures of our hard work ruined, I realized that there was something to positive we could take  from their actions; these messages scared them. These messages were a force to be reckoned with. Instead of feeling down, we were able to see the importance of our words and the true change we were bringing to Missoula.


Written by Quinn Britton, YWCA Missoula GUTS! High School Participant