In downtown New London, posters take on street harassment

'Stop telling women to smile' reads a poster on Bank Street in New London on Tuesday. (Julia Bergman/The Day)
"Stop telling women to smile" reads a poster on Bank Street in New London on Tuesday. (Julia Bergman/The Day)

New London — The messages are clear.

"My Name is Not Baby."

"Stop Telling Women to Smile."

"Just Because I Laugh Doesn't Mean I'm Down."

What's not clear is who's behind the messages on posters that include sketches of women's faces, seen recently on light poles along Bank Street. (As of Tuesday afternoon, the posters had been covered by garland as part of the city's annual decorating of downtown.)

Street art is temporary, said Aly Maderson Quinlog, 38, who noticed similar posters on a building on Washington Street in New London in early October, just after the confirmation hearings for then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

"It's not about who put them up, but that they're up in the street, and confronting harassers where we feel unsafe," said Maderson Quinlog, of Essex, who works in New London and was a street artist for many years.

The posters appear to be inspired by a street art project called "Stop Telling Women to Smile," started in 2012 by Brooklyn-based illustrator and painter Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.

The project was "born out of the idea that street art can be an impactful tool for tackling street harassment" and that "it's an ongoing, travelling series, and will gradually include many cities and many women participants," its website says.

Maderson Quinlog was drawn to the imagery on the posters.

"You have to look her in the eyes and see her as a person," Maderson Quinlog said.

Thirty-year-old Uncasville resident Aimee LaMontagne-Spicer said most women she knows — herself included — have experienced street harassment, which sometimes has turned aggressive.

LaMontagne-Spicer works in New London and is more commonly known as DJ Gadget. She said she often hears men shouting things from their cars like, "Hey sexy come here!" or, "Smile, why you look so mad?"

She usually keeps walking, "but it's not a passive walk, it's a walk that is quick and constantly looking for escapes," she said. If she doesn't respond, sometimes the men take a more aggressive tone, saying things like, "Answer me when I talk to you."

The posters let women know they can say, "This is not OK," she said.

It's a conversation women have been having for years, and Maderson Quinlog hopes men will join in.

"I'd like to have some allies. What I hope is that men start to step up. When they see another man harassing a woman, they're like 'Yo, that's not cool,'" Maderson Quinlog said.

Both LaMontagne-Spicer and Maderson Quinlog said they and other women have changed their behavior because of harassment, whether walking a different route, carrying pepper spray or ducking into a business to get away. They said they hope the posters will spur conversation and be educational.

Tyasha Pace, 28, of New London, said she walks and bikes everywhere, leaving herself "pretty exposed." She said she experiences street harassment nearly every day.

"I've always been hyper-vigilant about this sort of harassment," Pace said. "Growing up, my mother always told me to be on the lookout for this sort of behavior from men."

"I will say that it wasn't until I was physically attacked by a man downtown that I decided to start carrying the pepper spray," she said. "That's the thing about this sort of behavior, you don't know how far it will escalate until it just does and you're caught in the middle of it."

She hopes "actual change" will come from the posters and that someone who has participated in harassing behavior, or considered it, will think twice.

"Women aren't just sitting back and taking it anymore. We are more vocal than ever and I think these posters demonstrate that. I also hope more women feel empowered that they are not alone in this experience and while this may seem like something that happens in big cities, it actually does happen here in little old New London too," she said.

j.bergman@theday.com

A poster seen on Washington Street in New London in early October. It says, 'Don't call me little mama.' (Submitted photo/Aly Maderson Quinlog)
A poster seen on Washington Street in New London in early October. It says, "Don't call me little mama." (Submitted photo/Aly Maderson Quinlog)

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