Smile For Me, Pussycat

Sometimes, you can ask a toddler to smile and she’ll genuinely become happier right in front of your eyes. She’ll beam because you’re beaming at her and she won’t know any better than to laugh, simply because she sees you laughing. It’s cute; she doesn’t have a care in the world, so her emotions can move between extremes in a matter of seconds.

You know when this isn’t cute? When men expect grown women to do the same thing. I’m sure you know this guy: “Hey beautiful, how about a smile?”

I get smile requests from strangers all the time, and though I’ve hated them since I was a tot, I’ve only recently realized how intrusive they are. Any woman who walks to work (or anywhere, really) by herself is bound to get cat calls, which, aside from being gross violations of personal space, are infuriating because there’s no sure way to stop them; if you ignore them, they get worse, and if you acknowledge them, they get worse.

The most dangerous kind, though, isn’t the Neanderthaloid wooting (which is usually fleeting, since most perpetrators don’t pursue their targets) but the kind that’s masked in politeness: the unwelcome flirtations that seem to suggest that all women — married, single or otherwise — are up for grabs, whether they consent or not.

Because these advances are complimentary in the pursuer’s mind (“You have gorgeous eyes” though it may come from an unwanted source, isn’t exactly the most hateful phrase in the world), it’s difficult to justify an aggressive reaction. But “You have gorgeous eyes” is not what a woman who’s minding her own business and showing no signs of desiring attention wants to hear. To interrupt her day with the assumption that she’ll drop everything to make herself available is arrogant and invasive.

As are requests for smiles. Now, I understand that sometimes, the person asking for a smile is honestly hoping to inspire happiness and nothing more. Most of the time, though, the request is condescending, meant to display the dominance of the instigator and reaffirm the notion that they ought to be catered to. It’s annoying, belittling and presumptuous.

I’m generally a very happy person, but I don’t spend my entire day grinning from ear to ear, especially when I’m concentrating on getting to work, or dodging traffic as I run errands. When I’m busy, I’m probably not smiling, even if I’m feeling content. When strange men stop me to say “Let me see that smile!”, it makes me feel obligated to be perky all the time, as though it were my duty to entertain and be pleasant to look at. It’s a revolting thought.

Men who request smiles from strange women assume that, like little girls, women have frivolous emotions that will change on demand. They think women will always be flattered by the attention they receive from men, and will react obligingly. Furthermore (that’s right — you’ve just been furthurmored!), men like this treat women as though they’re merely ornaments; they can’t begin to fathom a woman who won’t mask her actual emotions in order to satisfy the whims of strangers.

So, men who think smile requests are harmless, here’s a tip: If you’d really like to make a woman smile, start by smiling at her, and leave it at that. If the smile’s not returned, go away. If it is returned, you can try a “Hi”, but the next move is hers — don’t push it any further unless she decides to strike up a conversation. If she doesn’t, your attention is not wanted. Back off, clown.

You can read more from Jenni Dunnington on her blog.

Feature image via.