Brooklyn-based artist Hannah Provisor was waiting for the bus when a man described to her in graphic detail what he wanted to do with her body.
“He opened with ‘You’re not wearing any underwear,’ which I was,” she said. “He started telling me what he wanted to do to my ass and he was like, ‘Mmm, what I’d do to you.’”
Every day she battles a barrage of catcalls and verbal harassment. One man briefly trailed her and a 6-year-old she was babysitting when they left an apartment, shouting for “sweetheart one” and “sweetheart two” to talk to him.
Provisor, in a response reminiscent of the #MeToo movement, launched a web series on Instagram illustrating real women’s experiences with sexual harassment. Her drawings focus on healing, both for herself and the women who step forward.
Research suggests that women are twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after a trauma, experience post-traumatic symptoms for a longer time and show more sensitivity to stimuli that relate to the ordeal. Eighty-one percent of women who were raped, stalked or physically assaulted reported significant impacts, according to an article published by the National Sex Offender Public Registry (NSOPR). Yet despite their suffering, many survivors hesitate to seek help.
In a build-up to the #MeToo movement, women started protesting sexual harassment through art and social media years ago.
One artist, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, started plastering posters to city buildings across the country in 2012. The posters were underlined with quotes from women interviewed about catcalling. One depicted her own face in a defiant stare and read “Stop Telling Women to Smile.”
Provisor didn’t know about Fazlalizadeh, or similar artists, when she started her project. She was just fed up.
In her first illustration depicting harassment, posted in late August, Provisor drew herself standing against a wall of white speech bubbles. “Hey baby, you got a pretty mouth,” one read. “That’s what I want. That look nice,” read another.
She was able to quote near verbatim because she tracked every encounter in a journal.
Her father, Joe Provisor, a community-building and restorative practices trainer, knows what she faces on the street but doesn’t fear for her.
“If anything, she has the potential for provoking someone, because she will call back or confront someone,” he said.
Although she’s illustrating now, Provisor, a Los Angeles native, originally made the cross-country trek to New York City after college to launch an acting career without a second thought. The 23-year-old graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theater in 2017.
Transitioning to life in New York, however, wasn’t easy for Provisor. Even though it had always been omnipresent, she’d never experienced so much street harassment in her life.
It got to the point that she struggled to be intimate with her boyfriend, Los Angeles-based film director, Kai Patterson.
“At first she painted it in this comedic light because she was trying not to show how much it affected her,” Patterson said.
It was hard for him to hear. He felt helpless. She wanted things to change, but Patterson doubted that they could. At the end of arguments, he’d retort, “What are you going to do about it?”
That’s when Provisor brought up the idea for her art series to him.
Melissa Forbis, an assistant professor in the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies department who organized a 2017 exhibition on the history of activism against sexual violence, pointed out that being able to repost things that others create, like art, enables people to participate in the #MeToo movement without reliving the trauma of their own story. But, though she wants to avoid an overstatement, Forbis thinks there needs to be another action component to the movement.
“It’s been very positive, but right now where do we go, especially in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings?” she said. “We’re seeing, I think, a polarization among those who really don’t think it matters that much versus those that do. White women sort of opt for the privileges of whiteness over what may even be their own pain, so this may be a time of choice for a lot of people — now, are you willing to align with this kind of privilege over other kinds of violence that is done to people you know?”
Provisor, a white woman herself, knows her choice.