It’s frustrating that we still have to talk about this in 2017, but given all of the recent conversation surrounding sexual harassment, assault, and consent on social media in the wake of the #metoo hashtag campaign, it looks like some people still need a refresher. Among so many behaviors that women are routinely subjected to, here’s a very common one: No matter what the situation is, it’s never OK for men to ask women to smile. Not if they look sad, or mad, or are surrounded by adorable little puppies.
What’s so frustrating about the “smile, honey” comments is that they come at you from all kids of men, and not just the easily identifiable creeps. Your co-workers, the Uber driver, and cashiers at the grocery store will all find a minute to ask a woman to brighten up their day with a smile. And it can seem well intentioned, right? They just want you to be happy, men who tell women to smile will say.
But when the command is being yelled out of a car window at you as you walk down the street, it feels like a threat. When a man tells a woman on the internet that she’d look better in her profile picture if she was smiling, it feels like harassment. Even in the most benign scenarios, it equates to asking a woman to change her behavior or appearance in order to fit what you think is most pleasant.
Sorry, men, but being told to smile never feels good.
Actually, it makes most women want to punch you in the face. Or just disappear altogether. Or both. Whatever the situation is, telling a woman to smile is a gross display of male power or privilege.
Also worth mentioning: Women don’t ask men to smile, like, ever.
Telling a woman to smile is an insidious form of harassment and sexism, since the people who do it and their sympathizers will often claim that it’s about manners or being courteous.
If it were about manners and there was some rule in every employee handbook that all people must smile all the time, no matter what, then the male colleague who tells you to smile more should have no problem telling the other men around the office to turn their frowns upside down while they quietly plug away at their work. But that’s not how it goes.
Women are not here for men.
We don’t tell men to smile because throughout all of human civilization, women have been treated like objects and socialized to believe that their worth is tied to what men think of them. Men asking women to smile on the street or even in polite company perpetuates this.
Sometimes, a woman’s worth is actually attached to the smile plastered on her face. This is the patriarchy at work. Whether it’s a Hollywood actress placating a manipulative man for a role or a woman of color grinning through a job interview so that she doesn’t come off like an “angry Black woman,” so much is at stake when it comes to ensuring that all the men around us feel safe, comfy, and in control. It’s not up to women to put an end to this — it’s up to men to stop putting us in this situation.
Much like a woman wearing headphones on public transportation doesn’t have to talk to the dude trying to ask her out, a random woman has no obligation to smile and make herself look more appealing, approachable, or affable to absolutely anyone.
Yet a lot of women feel pressure to be “pleasing.”
Or at the very least, women are so freaking exhausted by the daily onslaught of male opinions and privilege coming at them that they just smile anyway. This is the most defeating thing about being told to smile — when you respond to the command with a weak-ass grin that’s basically just flexing your cheek muscles in order to get on with your day or to ensure that the person telling you to smile will leave you alone and not come any closer. Just so you can get your change from the cashier or walk down the street at night safely, you make yourself smile against your will just to survive.
That’s OK, by the way.
Women can’t walk around punching every man who tells her to smile, right? And sometimes, a comeback or solid “f*ck off” can put you in actual danger, so it’s better just to roll with it against your will, despite however you feel at that particular moment.
But wouldn’t it be a better world if men never put women in that position to begin with? All women have is their voice, and sometimes you have to start small to change a big, threatening system. Women, you do whatever it is you need to do to get through the day. And men? Please stop asking us to make you feel more comfortable.