A seat on a Mexico City subway train has been temporarily replaced with an installation which includes a protruding torso and penis. Its purpose is to draw attention to the problem of sexual violence towards women. According to a 2014 YouGov poll of some 6500 women, Mexico City’s metro was voted the worst in the world for physical and verbal sexual harassment.
The seat carries a label reading: “It is uncomfortable to sit here, but that is nothing compared to the sexual violence that women suffer on their daily journeys”, and is aimed specifically at raising awareness amongst men. Aside from asking what the “risk of being groped” may be whilst travelling the subway, the respondents were left to judge what would constitute harassment in their society. This avoids asking leading questions and takes into consideration cultural differences across the dataset.
Whilst the installation has inevitably drawn criticism, it has undeniably caused enough controversy to be covered by news media across the world, shedding light on the important issue of sexual harassment in public spaces. The seat was created by Gendes, an organisation based in Mexico City who’s aim is to “be a benchmark organization in the critical/proactive analysis of the exercise of masculinities, developing forms of intervention that can help to develop a society based on equitable and egalitarian relationships”.
In other words, the organisation aims to drive social progress through a combination of research, advocacy and direct action. The penis seat, though a controversial and ostentatious piece of activism, is one of many projects instigated by Gendes. The organisation is responsible for running workshops and courses, producing publications as well as offering assistance to men to help improve relationships with loved ones.
Activism through art
The expressive and creative nature of art means it often carries a political message. Gendes is not alone in using this medium to raise awareness of important social causes. The organisation Stop Street Harassment has provided a list of relevant art campaigns as well as some tips on how to use art to raise awareness of street harassment, such as putting on street exhibitions, leafleting in your area or donating your design skills to local charities.
As artists, designers and writers we will always use our skills to express our thoughts and feelings on an array of subject matter. Why not think about something that’s important to you and start a side project this week? You never know what impact it might end up having.