Lighting a Fire: Poetic Justifications of Anger & the Political Implications of Street Harassment

What is the appropriate response to anger?  The emotional boundaries? Anger —  a state of rage, an emotionally blinding, and righteous retaliation against injustice. What good can come of harboring such tempestuous anger? Nothing short of poisonous cancer, seething bitterness, and contagious disillusionment. One is unable to see through the cloak of madness, blinded by fury, contempt, and revenge. The collective pools, drowning in the salt of waters contaminated by murderous inaccuracies and social filth.

No, it would be too easy to dismiss our anger as a blind and corruptible force, obstructing our view from the past, the future, and the present moment. Legitimate anger can incite awareness, provoke questions, and inspire dialogue. One woman’s anger is another woman’s experience. What is the source of our anger? Surely, no one would be cross for experiencing only kindness and compassion of their fellow human being. Again, no. Anger is provoked and sustained over time through repeated injury. One can only turn their cheek twice before they must bend over to allow repetition of such abuse and degradation. No, we resist such treatment. No, we abstain and we rebel.

Warrior Poet and Radial Lesbian Feminist Audre Lorde defined the social, personal, and political roles fury can channel with her essay ‘The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’:

“My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also.” (124)

The politics of gender, appearance, and the body have found themselves at the nucleus of national debate, dialogue, and legislative policy. With each passing week, nay, day, there is another cruelty unearthed by the Republican party and their dysfunctional leader that we are all now expected to call “President”. Women have found themselves come face to face with the Patriarchy, and Sister, it is not pretty. Its fucking terrifying. This man has made it extraordinarily clear that while he gets his kicks making passes at beautiful women, invading their privacy, stalking them in their dressing rooms, and grabbing them by their genitals while they’re most vulnerable, he simultaneously holds a deep profound hatred and resentment of their political power. He delights in their victimization, silencing them through slander, intimidation, and retaliation. Is this not the patriarchal power of the dark side?

Listening carefully to the arguments made as a candidate during the 2016 campaign, I was profoundly appalled at #45’s statements in support of ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policing in New York. The nature of such an inhumane and violent act, to impede on citizen’s rights going about their business & openly search their personhood for incriminating behavior, is unconstitutional, and should be considered by law as such. Yet it remains a part of the state’s collective behavior on how police can operate on a day to day protocol, stopping citizens they deem to look ‘suspicious’ or believe to be engaging in ‘suspicious’ or illegal activity. Myself having avoided becoming victim to a publicly humiliating pat-down (arguably on account of my visible whiteness), I have witnessed the kind of violent and aggressive behavior that the ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ tactics can have on the public psyche and collective well-being.

‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policing has primarily targeted Black and Latino youth, particularly men, and deemed unconstitutional by the New York appellate courts. Indeed, one could certainly argue that the practice violates the Citizen’s Constitutional Rights as outlined in the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure. While we should continue to debate the legalities of 21st century policing going forward, we should begin to consider the profound inequities and inherent violence such tactics have created in shared public space. Take for instance the phenomena of street-harassment against women, girls, and gender non-conformists.

Gender based street harassment presents itself in many different forms. Some interactions come off seemingly innocent, arguably kind and complementary, while on the other extremity can result in overtly discriminatory acts of violence and murder. Indeed, when I experience street-harassment it can appear as innocuous as “Hey pretty girl”, whistles, cat-calls, and lip-smacking kiss noises directing my way. These kinds of assaults are insulting as they are unwelcome, but at the very least I walk away untouched, unharmed, and with my life. And then there are the encounters many other women have experienced, violently assaulted in public space after having talked back, rebuffed uninvited advances, and attempted to maintain personal limitations and bodily integrity. Not a week goes by that another story presents itself of women experiencing some form of street based violence and harassment, and those of women who have been killed in the struggle for unfettered access to public space.

It is a rare women who has escaped from experiencing some form of sexist gendered microaggression, whether it be on the streets, in classrooms or on campus, professional work environments, or in the domestic home. Sexual and gender discrimination makes itself known within every facet of society, and arguably every corner of the world. That is why it is altogether inspiring, energizing, and empowering to see women taking part of a growing collective dialogue on the streets to raise awareness around sexual harassment. Thought provoking in aesthetic presentation, medium, and narrative, Artists of the Feminine inclination have been creating art in public spaces to challenge, confront, and combat systematic violence & oppression.

Masked Activists & Feminist Artists Guerrilla Girls have been staging public interventions and countercultural advertising to challenge stereotyped representations of women in the media, violence against women & girls in society, and the exclusion of women Artists from museum establishments’ hierarchical echelons of fine art. Utilizing in your face graphics, smart facts, and witty humor, the Guerrilla Girls have been shining a light on the representation of women as sexual objects within art, media, and advertising for over 30 years now. A collective organization of Women Artists challenging the status quo with radical interventions, the Guerrilla Girls have taken their message of resistance through art across the country with speaking engagements, workshops, and gallery exhibitions.


Copyright © Guerrilla Girls 🍌 Courtesy

Artivist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is no stranger to the guerrilla tactics of protest propaganda, creating a dialogue on walls of Brooklyn with her street art campaign, ‘Stop Telling Women to Smile’. Combating the degrading comments and dehumanizing remarks men have made against women on the streets, Fazlalizadeh creates a space for talking back to the men and would be harassers by engaging in story-telling. Interviewing women who have experienced varied gender based street harassment in a form of talk-therapy and healing, Tatyana then hand sketches their portraits in a resilient stance against intimidation & violence. Scanning and transforming the sketches into larger scale posters, the images are wheat-pasted on city walls with a personal quote that literally talks back to community. The posters are unique in that they themselves create a space for dialogue inviting a conversation though writings of support, encouragement, and yes, dissent & disagreement.

Copyright © Tatyana Fazlalizadeh⚡️Courtesy

Temporal, vulnerable to the weather, and subject to removal, defacement, and destruction, the fact remains that the posters speak to the collective empowerment, safety, and welfare of women everywhere. When shared on social media, their inspiration becomes infinite and far reaching. Tatyana continues to advocate and embolden women to challenge gender based street harassment by taking her project on the road in a STWTS traveling series. She writes:

“Street harassment is a serious issue that affects women world wide. This project takes women’s voices, and faces, and puts them in the street – creating a bold presence for women in an environment where they are so often made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”

Copyright © Tatyana Fazlalizadeh⚡️Courtesy

There are many channels to raise awareness about street harassment and its roots in systemic and state violence against women. Art happens to be one of the more powerful and lasting recourses for protest, dissent, and change outside of legislation action. What we need right now in this critical moment in herstory is the space, place, and time to come together, speak of our individual experiences, and engage in consciousness raising conversations connecting those stories within a collective, Intersectional Feminist organization.

Copyright © Tatyana Fazlalizadeh⚡️Courtesy

More than ever, Women’s voices need to be heard. Our stories need to be told. Gender based street harassment is one facet of the systemic violence we experience at the grass roots level, but that treatment and disrespect has filtered its poison into hierarchal institutions of state and national governments, as it has the corporate offices of capitalist empires. Returning to the prophetic rage of Feminist Warrior Poet Audre Lorde, she reminds us that our collective anger can be channeled into a powerful movement:

“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. An when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.” (127)

This Women led Intersectional Feminist Movement is entirely dependent on you, me, and the collective rebellion of american women who find themselves in the streets, at the polls, and the halls of legislature advocating for the rights of all marginalized and oppressed peoples. Only this time, our anger and rage will find themselves reflected in the hope of not simply one our own, but in the eyes of many. Advocate for our collective body.  Organize for our personal dignity. March for Women’s Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Dissent for your personal integrity, independence, and autonomy. Run for the little girls who cannot yet cast their vote. Defend their protections so that they may never have to experience the kind of sexist shit you have endured just for showing up in the body of a women. Protest for the woman on the streets sleeping on a cardboard box cutout or a tent, asking for money, seeking out aid while praying for a glimmer of Hope. Engage in Civil Disobedience for the women who fought this very same struggle to give you the right to political, social, and economic representation and equality. Show up. Cast your ballot. Vote.

And make Art. Lots of it.

Female By Birth
Copyright © Guerrilla Girls 🍌 Courtesy

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