Friday, four P.M. It’s as humid as a Turkish bath and hot as Hades. Clothes are soaked with sweat in the sticky air. Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, usually packed at this hour, is deserted. Anyone who can is currently sprawling next to an air-conditioner, waiting for the sun to set before venturing outside. Except for six intrepid women with heavy French accents who gathered at the corner of Allenby and Lilienblum Street, armed with buckets, paintbrushes and stacks of A4 paper. Meet “HaStickeriot” – the “sticker women.”
For the past month and a half they’ve been putting up messages to draw attention to violence against women. The idea was imported from France, based on the movement called Collages Féminicides, established by Marguerite Stern. The trend has also reached Germany, England, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and even Latakia, Syria.
First stop: a wall near the street corner. While three of the women stick up pages they prepared ahead of time (each white page is printed with a large black letter) to spell out the chilling sentence: “Dad murdered Mom,” Ilana, a 36-year-old writer and doctoral student in sociology who emigrated to Israel 10 years ago, tells how it all began. “I’m in Paris a lot for my doctoral work and that’s where I became aware of the movement,” she says. “Wherever you go there, you see these messages. At first they were just 15 women and now there are 3,000 women in Paris alone. It’s huge. There are cells in all the big cities in France, and it spread all over Europe.”
Ilana says a lot of women in Israel joined too and similar messages should soon be pasted up in Be’er Sheva and Jerusalem. “There are Arab women in villages in the north who want to start too. A group of women originally from Ukraine also contacted us. Unfortunately, violence against women happens in every community,” she says. “We want women from every background to be able to adapt the messages to their situation. We want it to reach the whole country.”
No means no
They have several types of slogans going up on the city streets: basic feminist lines like “No means no”; personal quotes from women (“People read it and realize this is about human beings and not just slogans”); and statistics such as “20 women are murdered in Israel each year on average” or “68,000 women suffer domestic violence each year.”
“Since the virus crisis began, domestic violence com plaints have gone up by 60 percent. Thirteen women have been murdered so far and the year is only half over,” Ilana says. “We want to raise awareness about these facts. People need to understand that every instance of violence against women is part of an entire system. It happens everywhere, but in Israel the patriarchy seems stronger than in other places.”
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“The statistics are about the same, but culturally, I think it’s harder here. Because the army and machismo are so big here.”
Salome, a 32-year-old television producer and mother of two who moved to Israel 10 years ago, agrees that awareness about violence against women is much keener in Europe. “That doesn’t mean there’s no violence there – there’s plenty – but it’s easier to talk about in France,” she says.
If Israel is so awful, why do you live here?
“I’m not saying that Israel is awful, not at all. I’ve chosen to live here for 10 years now and I love Israel. These are important issues everywhere in the world right now. There are worse places than Israel and better places. But we live here. A lot needs to change, for the sake of the next generation too, for my children.”
No Batman for you
We continue down the street and stop at the colorful wall where the Lima Lima bar used to be. The women pull out the pages and start assembling the message: “One in one has been sexually harassed.” Leah, a 27-year-old strategic consultant, says they message was specifically tailored to this location since a lot of sexual harassment occurs in nightspots.
HaStickeriot is not a hierarchical movement. Any member can suggest messages she feels are important, and anyone can go out to the streets and paste up slogans. Their Instagram page has videos that explain how to prepare the glue and pages at home. “There are Arab women from Jaffa who wrote slogans in Arabic and went out to put them up,” says Morgan, a 36-year-old illustrator who also came from France around a decade ago. The objective is not to merely translate the French messages but to come up with slogans suited to this particular place, she explains, and adds that while there is no censorship, the aim is not to be provocative, just to raise awareness.
Riding in a carrier on Morgan’s back is the world’s smiliest baby boy. “He has to learn to be a feminist,’ she laughs, handing him a brush to hold. “It starts at a young age. Not long ago, I went to pick up my 4-year-old son and I was wearing a Batman T-shirt. He and his little friends said I wasn’t supposed to wear a Batman shirt because it was just for boys.”
Your activism is apolitical. Are you interested in what’s happening at the political level?
“Of course, but we want our messages to speak to all women. Violence against women exists in every community. The women can be right-wing or left-wing, Arab or Jewish, secular or religious, from Ethiopia or the Soviet Union. We want every woman to feel comfortable joining us.”
Salome adds: “There are places where it bothers the residents – the message, not just the paper. The paper comes off right away with water.”
At the next stop, Ilana explains the aesthetic thinking behind the messages and how they fit into the urban landscape: “The white in the background of the black letters gives it a frame. Graffiti wouldn’t be seen as much. And graffiti is clearly illegal.”
Morgan says the aesthetics are an important aspect of the operation: “It’s marketing. People first of all see something pretty, it catches their eye, and then they read the text.”
Life isn’t a movie
The last location for today is the old Eden Cinema building in Neve Tzedek, where the women paste up the message: “He raped me – I’m not imagining it.” A passerby stops and puzzles over the message. Leah explains to him that often when women report that they were harassed or raped, they aren’t believed are told they’re being hysterical or exaggerating.
Another woman stops to snap a picture of the message. “I’m a street artist, and I really love what you’re doing,” she says. “Keep it up.”
“Sometimes people come and ask what we’re doing,” says Ilana. “Some just want to hear about it, others yell at us and call it vandalism, but that’s only when they realize that it’s a feminist message.”
Why does that anger them?
“You’d have to ask them. So far we’ve only gone out in the daytime, but we’re thinking that it some areas, like Bnei Brak, for instance, we’ll do it in the middle of the night, ninja-style. Because it could be dangerous in terms of the neighbors there.”
Another one of the group, Pamela, notes: “This is also a collective activity, unlike graffiti. You need at least three people. The collective aspect is an important part of what makes it feminist art.”
Indeed, HaStickeriot are part of a rich history of feminist street art. The playwright and political activist Olympe de Gouges, who was executed in the French Revolution, was the first to paste posters in the street as a tool for conveying feminist messages. In the nineteenth century, British suffragettes designed posters calling for women’s liberation, such as one depicting a woman proudly wearing a dress with no corset. In the 1920s and ‘30s, Dadaist artist Hannah Hoch and surrealist artist Eileen Agar used photomontages to address issues concerning women’s status, and in the 1970s, feminist artists like Miriam Schapiro were creating “femmages” – works by women about women.
The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality says it “understands the social and cultural value of pasting the feminist texts in the public space. However, from a legal standpoint, it is defacement of the public space and violation of private property, therefore the municipal department for the improvement of the city’s appearance removes them.”
Meanwhile, in the few days since we met, someone has peeled off a few of the letters from the “Dad murdered Mom” message. “It’s kind of annoying that it was taken down so quickly,” Morgan says. “But it also means that we’ve started to reach people’s minds. I hope it will expand all over the country, to every city, and then it will be impossible to take everything down.”