A 21-year-old student photographer from Florida has created a provocative series that shines a light on the humiliating and violent ream of insults women face on a daily basis.
Sam Lichtenstein’s project Locker Room Talk is “a feminist-inspired and politically charged” initiative that denotes phrases of everyday harassment on rotten fruit, held against an intimate backdrop of women’s bodies.
The symbolism is disturbing and mirrors how “women often feel bruised or battered after verbal abuse from men,” Lichtenstein tells Stylist.
“This harassment sticks with us,” she says. “I hope to create an awareness that this type of behaviour is not OK. Men need to do better, and honestly, it’s ridiculous that women need to educate them.
“Shouldn’t it be common decency to treat women with respect? I also want women to feel a sense of solidarity with others who have suffered from this harassment.”
Lichtenstein – who says “I 100% consider myself a feminist” – began the project as part of her photography class in New York last year.
“I wanted to create work that was inherently feminist in nature, and I also wanted to incorporate tattooing into the project,” she says.
“I also knew I wanted to use text, so I made the decision to tattoo words that were related to feminism, and more importantly, related to the experience of being a woman.”
She created a Google survey asking women to anonymously share harassing words they’d received from men, either in person or online.
She shared it on Facebook, where “it spread like wildfire”.
Having tattooed some of the phrases onto fruit, Lichtenstein then persuaded her friends to pose with them in a series of intimate and striking portraits.
“The women I chose to model were all friends, so there was already a level of trust established,” she says.
“I explained the project in detail, and made sure they were comfortable with the way I was having them pose. I also let them interact with the fruit, choosing which pieces to pose with.”
The fact that the photos are relatively untouched is also significant. Lichtenstein aimed to make a statement with her natural style of imaging, as a means of pushing back against the objectification of the female form.
“Women are constantly made into objects when they are photographed or filmed, and I did not want my project to further this,” she says. “I let the women know that I would not be heavily retouching them: I made edits to colour and light, but did not take out any pimples, hairs and so on.”
Lichtenstein says Locker Room Talk was also informed by her own experiences of sexism and harassment.
“I do a lot of work in the music industry (currently I intern at Universal Music Group, and I’ve been photographing concerts for over five years now), and for women in the music scene, it’s very hard to be taken seriously,” she says.
“People assume you got there because you’re sleeping with the band or someone backstage. I’ve also received harassment walking down the street etc. A guy followed me around the gym last week and stood behind me and stared after he winked and I did not respond.
“While many of my friends and I receive harassment from men on a regular basis, women of the LGBT+ community, specifically trans women, are harassed on an even worse level, often with violence. We need to recognise that there is a problem, and figure out how we can make things better and safer. I shouldn’t have to carry sharp objects when I walk by myself at night.”
Lichtenstein believes there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to the intimidation and humiliation of women, both in real life and online.
“I think more people are aware of the harassment, but that it isn’t necessarily getting better,” she says. “With the popularity of online dating and keeping up an online presence, it’s easier to insult people online than it’s ever been. Online, men can call women whores or insult their looks without care in the world; but these words still hurt.”
“People have responded well to the project,” she says. “My friends who are women have been able to relate to the phrases that were tattooed, and my friends who are men are sometimes surprised at how vulgar or violent the words are.”
As for how harassment can be tackled, Lichtenstein believes a combination of education and legal measures is required.
“I think raising awareness is a good place to start, but we also need to educate,” she says.
“Parents need to teach their sons to treat women with respect, rather than teach women to carry a rape whistle. Changes in legislation are also a step in the right direction.
“In America, a group of old white men are trying to pass laws about reproductive health. How does that make any sense? How can we say we support women when we deny their rights?”
See more of Sam Lichtenstein’s work on her website.
Photos: Sam Lichtenstein