One of the biggest problems I had with this assignment was the concept of being "radical". Generally speaking, I avoid boldly political topics in my artistic endeavors. In a genre like spoken word, for example, many people write political poetry, calling into question the government as an institution, the president, the education system, etc. However, I have a very hard time writing about these sorts of issues, because I cannot connect to them from a specific event in my own life. I am much more comfortable tackling social issues that I can come at from a personal place, instead of a large political issue that I can only relate to on a national scale.
I tend to believe that campaigns are also effective relative to how personal they get. The big anti-smoking ad campaign which simply stated, "Smoking Kills" did little to make a smoker reflect on him/herself or to make them relate the slogan or ad to their own life. On the other hand, a more recent anti-smoking campaign which had commercials featuring ex-smokers forced to speak out of tubes, looking dead into the camera relating their personal stories, has much more potential to draw in the appropriate audience and make them self-reflect.
The inspiration for my posters is the catcalling that happens on and around Brown campus. Most often on Thayer street, although also elsewhere, men in cars are always driving by and honking or yelling at women walking. Besides being disruptive and frustrating in the moment that it happens, the catcalling also upsets me because it seems to be one of the subtlest forms of sexism. Because of my uneasiness towards broad political subjects, and my belief in social change stemming from personal emotional involvement, I chose to create my posters as a sort of campaign for awareness of the sexualization of women that takes place with catcalling. It was very important to me that the posters not be a blatant "Do not sexualize women" campaign, but to use the habit of catcalling to call attention to subtle, frequently unnoticed sexism.
Because I was trying to focus on the subtle sexism in catcalling, I wanted the poster itself to be subtle. I chose the design of small, well-hidden text because I wanted the way a person viewed the poster to mimic my desired effect. In other words, I designed the posters so that there would be a double-take effect: men would first see a poster from afar and only register the woman's bare legs as sexually intriguing, and then upon a second consideration, (and a closer examination) they would read the text suddenly feel uncomfortable sexualizing this woman. The poster design is meant to imitate the desired change in behavior I want the poster to provoke. After seeing and comprehending the poster, a man whose first instinct was to catcall a woman might instead have the second consideration that sexualizing her is wrong.
My posters are definitely in the general vein of fighting the sexualization of women, but it is not as straightforward as that. It was designed for a very specific audience and for a very specific scenario. For example, if the whole message was just, "Don't sexualize women," someone might argue that using a woman in a short skirt and high heels might be hypocritical, since this is a very sexualized image. The argument could be made that it would be more effective to have her in pants, as though to say, "even though I'm not dressed in a particularly sexual manner, why do you still sexualize me?" I made the specific choice to have my model in a short skirt and heels because I am targeting a very specific audience: the men who would normally notice this woman on the street, and would catcall her. If I had my model wear pants, with the same text and no other explanation, it would not be clear whom the poster is geared towards. "Your mother, your lawyer, your sister," etc. could very well be a slogan of sisterhood and inter-connectedness of women, which is not the social issue I was interested in addressing.
I don't think we defeat sexism by making big signs that say, STOP SEXISM, because I think the scariest kinds of sexism are the instances where men do not realize that their actions are sexist. Catcalling is a subtle form of sexism that goes unnoticed by many as an offensive act. I wanted to engage the people who catcall or who don't see anything wrong with it, because provoking awareness in these individuals is going to be a very integral part of fighting the sexism that is deeply entrenched in our society. Even if my posters don't directly spur any big social change, I think they promote a type of thinking and awareness that will help the anti-sexism movement on a larger scale have a more fertile ground to take root in.
(It is worth noting that four posters were hung up: one outside of the football fraternity which is notorious for sexism, one nearby the cafeteria and another notoriously sexist fraternity, one on the way to the main green, and one on Thayer street.) In less than 12 hours, all but the one on the main green were taken down. The one outside the football fraternity was ripped off.)