Women, men and smiling
44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.”
Seriously, men don’t get told to “Smile”? I thought that was a gender-neutral thing.
I haven’t often been told to “smile”. But here, I’m referencing something that I’ve read about but never experienced, since I’m not female. Consider this comment thread on Bitch, PhD, about the readers’ experience of misogyny:
I had a male co-worker today tell me to smile (again). While I do work retail, and being positive when you are on the floor is part of the job description, he isn’t my boss and I wasn’t upset or frowning, I just didn’t have a 60 watt bimbo smile plastered on my face at the time (and there wasn’t a customer in sight - it was, like 9:30 in the morning).
I then frowned at him, because my reaction to people ordering me to be happy it annoyance. Instead of dropping it he continued to try to “coax” me into smiling. I managed to refrain from throwing something at him.
The guys I work with never walk around with the 60 watt smiles most of the women put on their face when helping a customer. Most of the men simply put on normal “pleasant” expressions, but no one ever tells them to smile except for our managers - for whom it is part of the job description - and even they only do it when they are addressing a mixed group, never individual men.
– Jenny K
I once had a random man on the street say “Hey Baby, smile, it can’t be that bad!” Well, I had just had a wisdom tooth removed. When I opened my mouth blood came pouring out. The look on his face was PRICELESS!
We shouldn’t accept accusations of being “humorless” because we are legitimately angry. I never saw the “smile!!!” comments as examples of sexism (I don’t know if it really qualifies as misogyny) but now I have a new interpretation - idiot man comes along and sees a woman as an ornament who would be prettier smiling, not realizing she is a complete person who may have reasons to not smile. What should we say back to these f*ckers? I feel like an angry response won’t get through to them since they don’t respect a woman’s emotions anyway…. Obviously acting happy would encourage the behaviour. It happens way to often to just ignore it. Arg!!!
I always knew it infuriated me to the point of murderous rage when a man said this to me on the street, I never got precisely what about it (other than the presumptiousness of the commenter that I need to smile for him) that was that made me want to punch Mister Smile fo’ Me Baby until I read this passage from Anna Fels’ book Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives(p.134)
“Smiling conveys a reassuring message of accommodation to others; it is the facial equivalent of speaking softly and tentatively in order to appear pliant. Animal ethnography has raised the startling possibility that frequent smiling may actually serve as a stereotyped gesture of subordination. Studies of rhesus monkeys foudn that when nondominant monkeys worry about an attack by a dominant animal, they convey their nonthreatening, subordinate status by lowering their bodies to appear shorter and smiling–an expression known as the “fear grin.”
WRT: “Smile girl!” comments - I always just say, deadpan, “I only smile for people I like.” Sometimes I add a huge, sarcastic smile for extra. That usually confounds them and then they go away.
RE. “smile honey”, my most common response is a cold, calm “NO”. If the person is obtuse enough to ask “Why not?” i inform them that they are not the expression monitor and if i want to smile i will. Their opinion will have no effect on the matter.
I can’t think of a single time anyone has told me on the street or in a store to “smile” if I was frowning. I think I would be somewhat surprised if someone did. On the other hand, it sounds like women often have encounters with people (men) who want to control/affect their expression/demeanor.
Thinking about it a little bit, I can completely see how this fits into a pattern of (some) men automatically perceiving women as being ornaments, and that a frowing ornament is out of place.
Is this consistent with your experience?