Thus Spake Zuska

The other day, a male friend of mine was at the grocery store in the check out line. He was not feeling particularly happy, and, I guess, was frowning a little. A dude in line behind him tapped him on his shoulder to get his attention and when he turned around, the dude said, in a bright voice, “You dropped something,” and was pointing to the floor. My male friend looked down and said, “I don’t see anything.” The dude then told him, “You dropped your smile.” My male friend was not amused. He turned around going back to his business saying, “Oh, OK.” The man proceeded to walk away mumbling, “Don’t look so serious. It’s only the grocery store.”

That doesn’t sound right, does it?

No, because it really happened to a woman. There, that feels more…normal, doesn’t it?

Isis got a letter from a PhD student who was told in a teaching evaluation that she needs to smile more. Isis gave her some excellent advice but I want to address this whole “needs to smile more” issue from a different angle.


If you google “men telling women to smile” you will get a lot of hits. A lot of them. This bit of gender smog is as old as the hills. And the hills are really, really old.

One of those hits is a list of snappy comebacks, some of which are okay, but I think in some situations they just aren’t possible. I mean, if your boss is telling you to smile – and very often he is, and he means it – you just can’t get away with insulting him. Some women have actually been required to smile as part of the condition of their employment.

The link that comes up that you really want to read is this one on Alas, A Blog. (Unfortunately, it seems the links within the post are not working.)

What depresses me is this. The post from Alas, A Blog is from 2004. That’s an eternity in bloggy years, but really…feminists have been discussing the compulsory smiling issue since, oh, hell, forever. Why are we still discussing it? Why is this knowledge not being transmitted to the young ones? Why do the most basic, entry level insights of feminism not percolate through to women in the sciences? I don’t know about you, but I Blame The Patriarchy.

Here are the top reasons why men ask tell order women to smile, in no particular order.

  • Many men have difficulty distinguishing women from things like potted hyacinth and framed prints of Monet’s “Water Lilies” – inexpensive, disposable, and interchangeable bits of color that can be used to brighten any room. Like the hyacinth, sometimes women are scented! Art,such as the “Water Lilies”, decorates a room. The Mona Lisa is art, and she is smiling. Women who aren’t smiling just aren’t as decorative.

  • Many men are confused by women who do not smile. You see, women are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. They are supposed to smile. Smiles are gender normative on women. Non-smiling women are confusing for men.
  • Many men suffer from fixer-itis. It takes more muscles to frown than to smile! A smile lowers your blood pressure! You will feel better if you smile! We all feel better when we see someone smile! I am just trying to help!
  • Many men have trouble managing their own emotions. By “managing”, in this case, we of course mean “suppressing”, which is what they have been taught to do with just about any emotion since childhood (except anger and rage, which are manly and appropriate). Smiling women reassure them that everything is a-okay and they can go on about whatever manly business they are conducting in the world.
  • Many men confuse women in the workplace with their mothers. Mom always (or never) smiled at them at home, and so it is of utmost importance that the secretary, or the flight attendant, or the person ringing up their groceries, or lecturing at them from the front of the classroom, beam beatifically at them as a veritable Madonna. In this way, even though they were forced to separate from mom and not be such a baby and grow a pair and be a man and not cry like a girl and man up and not be gay and like football and be a hardass, they can still feel mother love in every woman’s smile, no matter who the hell she is.
  • Most of all, many men like to feel in control. There is often no simpler and quicker way to feel in control of things in a world where nearly everything that matters is completely out of your control than to demand that some random stranger rearrange her facial expressions to suit your preference, on the spot. When she smiles at your command, you know that whatever petty humiliations the world may visit upon your head, you could totally fuck that bitch.

So here’s the take-home lesson, ladeez. Smile and dress nice and act like a lady – and you will be considered to be a silly, thoughtless, insignificant girl. Don’t smile and dress for comfort and you will be considered to be a ball-busting, man-hating lesbian bull-dyke – or, possibly, Ozzy Ozbourne. You will be called a trope, or a caricature feminist, or a reverse sexist, or a slut, or frigid. You will be said to have fucked too much, or in need of a good fucking, or your problem will lie in the fact that no one wants to fuck you, in which case you need a good fucking but are unlikely to get one. But no matter who you are, and what is wrong with you – because, mark my words, something is ALWAYS wrong with you – there will always be some damn asshat around the corner just waiting to cheerfully insist that you smile, smile, smile!

In which case, you might want to ask yourself: What Would Zuska Do?

Being ordered to smile always has the same effect on me. I get queasy. And I want to puke on some shoes.

If the moron is not your boss and is a complete stranger, I think the appropriate response is a simple “no” and walk away, or just walk away. Do not gratify their impulses. Engaging them in conversation is gratifying their impulses.

If the request has come via course evaluation, it might behoove you to make sure whoever is reviewing your course evaluations understands that “smile more” is not an appropriate request. Maybe just ask them, oh so innocently, whether such requests commonly show up on the evaluation forms of men…

If the request has come from your boss and it is NOT part of your stated job requirement (I think flight attendants are actually required to smile, for example), then you might try a dodge, like, “thank you for inquiring, but I have a lot on my mind today.” If the requests persist over time, and you feel comfortable enough, you might venture a comment such as, “I notice that you often inquire about my smiling about this time of day. Isn’t that interesting? I have this report ready for us to discuss…”

If your significant other is often demanding that you smile when you do not feel happy, or expressing an anxiety about you displaying anything other than extremely happy emotions…uh oh. It may be couples therapy time. In the short term, you could try this: “I notice that it is difficult for you when I feel a little down or sad. I don’t need you to fix me or take away my sad feelings. Sometimes the best thing one person can do for another is just let them have their feelings. I hope you can do that for me.”

Good luck! And don’t smile on command! Unless you are a d00d. Because we women could sure use a little more beauty here around the workplace.

Comments

  1. #1 Captain Mike
    April 6, 2010

    People tell me to smile all the time. It’s really irritating.

  2. #2 Luna_the_cat
    April 6, 2010

    The morning after my father died, I had to come into work to clear a couple of things before I flew back to the US. One of my co-workers gave me the whole “Oh, come on, smile, it’s not that bad!” cheery chirpy be-decorative-for-me bullshit thing, without asking what was going on in my life — apparently without thinking that it even might be something important. I was furious. How better to say, “your feelings and the events in your life which prompted them are utterly trivial, and unimportant compared to how I think you ought to be in order to brighten my environment.” It is certainly not an expression of real concern for the person being told to smile.

  3. #3 Mark Dulcey
    April 6, 2010

    Some men are required to smile too. It’s one of the basic requirements of a lot of public-facing jobs; the extreme case is being a greeter, where smiling at the public basically IS the job. Women get hired more often to do this sort of work, likely in part because they’ve been socialized to the whole thing of smiling for the public and therefore find it easier to do, but there are men in the same position.

    The significant other case is complicated. Is the other concerned because you are displaying unhappy emotions (bad unless you’re carrying it to extremes that are interfering with life function), or concerned because you are unhappy (basically good although it can be overdone)? And he should be encouraged to listen (when you want to talk) rather than being obsessed with either eradicating the show of unhappiness or trying to fix it.

  4. #4 steve
    April 6, 2010

    You lost me with this post, sorry.

    Not saying that it does not happen to women, not even going to assert that it might be more men-on-women than vice versa.

    What I am going to say is that the person who walks around displaying a huge chip on their shoulder is going to get more ‘smile’ types of comments.

    Gender smog? I call shenanigans.

  5. #5 Brian Clegg
    April 6, 2010

    Maybe it’s a US/UK thing – but no, it doesn’t feel any more normal if it was a woman or a man – I’ve never seen anyone say anything like that to a stranger. With friends I’ve seen it happen both ways. Is there any real scientific data for this occuring?

  6. #6 Nekohime
    April 6, 2010

    Over here from Isis’s blog. This is SO timely. I am feeling like SHIT right now, for a myriad different reasons. If someone tells me to fucking smile I will fucking rip them a new asshole. Even my boss.

  7. #7 Zuska
    April 6, 2010

    Hmmm, I believe the gang of little lads must be right. First off, I completely forgot to think about men. Second, it might happen to women, maybe even more than men, but this is of course meaningless, and remarking upon it is, well, just asking for it. Third, dear god, what about the science? On review, I probably never should have written this post at all. I should have baked something, and smiled.

    Little lads, don’t be offended at my name for you. It is the total equivalent to the oft-used moniker to address a group of women trying to make a point: little ladies. As in, what are the little lads buzzing about now? If you feel dismayed in any way, my recommendation would be: smile! It costs nothing, brightens your day and that of the person next to you, uses fewer facial muscles than frowning, can lower your blood pressure, and can change your whole outlook on the world! There! Don’t you feel better now that you are smiling???!?!?!

  8. #8 Nekohime
    April 6, 2010

    Mansplaining in 3…2…1…oh wait, I’m too late for that countdown.

  9. #9 Jennifer
    April 6, 2010

    I actually heard a guy complaining that women in clubs were telling him to smile. First time I’ve ever heard that.

    The one time someone did this to me, I had JUST seen a dead squirrel right nearby me, and then he came out of the blue. I promptly said, “I just saw a dead squirrel,” which you’d think would quash his buzz. But nooooooo, he just ignored me. All things considered, I’m lucky the dude didn’t decide to spontaneously stalk me, I suppose.

  10. #10 Andreas Johansson
    April 6, 2010

    One of the benefits of living in a particularly introverted part of the world is that people rarely muster the courage to tell complete strangers anything.

  11. #11 Rev Matt
    April 6, 2010

    I try to smile most of the time because I got tired of people bugging me to smile. So I smile to shut them up, not because I’ve got anything to smile about. And people seem to be perfectly content with the happy friendly surface presentation because it frees them of any inclination to actually connect to another person and talk with them about whatever (if anything) may be upsetting them. We are a shallow society.

  12. #12 steve
    April 6, 2010

    Nah, you don’t have to bake unless you want to… ..in fact, I am baking some nice sourdough right now. You are welcome to share it with me!

    But please, when you bullshit a bullshitter, expect to be called on it. But it is your blog, and I do understand you are trying to get more readers.

    I wonder, though, with so many gender equity issues still unaddressed, if this kind of triviality just diminishes the impact of the whole.

    …just sayin’, it is not always a personal vendetta. I get told to smile all the time.

  13. #13 amanda
    April 6, 2010

    I’ve certainly had strange men (usually elderly men) tell me to smile while shopping, while walking down the street, while minding my own business. I’ve even had a (young) man yell at me for not smiling at him as we passed each other crossing the street, though the fact that he was wearing tartan pjs and a big furry hat while on a public street suggests he was less than balanced mentally. It does feel awkward (and in the case of mr. furry hat rather frightening) but my general response is just to give them a strained smile and move on. Then again, I am Canadian and being polite to strangers is reflex.

  14. #14 Zuska
    April 6, 2010

    I wonder, though, with so many gender equity issues still unaddressed, if this kind of triviality just diminishes the impact of the whole.

    Steve, that is an excellent wonderment. You will find a useful answer to that wonderment here.

    And now we return to our regularly scheduled blog discussion.

  15. #15 Brian
    April 6, 2010

    I’ve always been a little put off from seeing male strangers tell female strangers on the street to smile. On the surface it seems like a friendly thing to say, just a little pushy is all, but to the recipient it’s rather blithely obnoxious. (Not the least because often the only easy way to get rid of such people is to oblige them.)

  16. #16 Pascale
    April 6, 2010

    One of the lovely things that accompanied turning 40 a few years back was the realization that I didn’t have to please most people. I can tell strangers to STFU when they do crap like this!
    And my boss would NEVER ask me to smile. If I looked really sad or pissed, he would ask what was going on and not make rash assumptions. Otherwise he might be maimed already.

  17. #17 Bubs
    April 6, 2010

    Wildly overstated problem–you won’t get a lot of women commiserating with you about their bosses ordering them to smile. That’s just goofy. Also, thanks for giving men so much credit here, really.

  18. #18 steve
    April 6, 2010

    Ha ha! OK, fair enough, I can see how my comment could be interpreted that way, Z. Interesting link.

    My apologies, a red herring was not my intent.

    Apparently hostility trumps discussion. Too bad.

  19. #19 teenage dreams
    April 6, 2010

    This happens to me all the time, drives me mad. And I’m in the UK Brian Clegg, so it’s definitely not something that only happens in America. Usually it’s builders, bus drivers, or shop assistants though, not just random people I walk past. And my male friends are constantly surprised when they’re with me and some random stranger tells me what to do, which does suggest that it happens a lot more to women than men. Anecdotes may not = data, but I reckon there’s enough comments so far with anecdote to start building up some data.

    Not that that stops the mansplaining. Maybe we should all just smile and not worry our pretty little heads anymore?

  20. #20 Alisdair
    April 6, 2010

    @Brian Clegg: Anecdotally, I think it’s possible that you’re right. I must have a glum looking face as I when I lived in the UK I was told to cheer up regularly. Since I moved to the US, it hasn’t happened.

    (The direct result of this is that I will never, ever tell anyone to smile, since I have had regular reinforcement of how patronising and annoying it is).

  21. #21 Brian Clegg
    April 6, 2010

    Teenage dreams – if it’s not a UK/US thing, perhaps it’s an age thing in the UK… I suspect I’m quite a lot older than you. I’d consider it extremely rude to make any comment to a stranger that wasn’t purely practical.

    I’d still be interested to hear if there’s any proper scientific data – this sounds like pure anecdote at the moment.

  22. #22 Alisdair
    April 6, 2010

    @teenage dreams: …. and I’m not female, so how the hell would I know what happens to women. I’m going to shut up now.

  23. #23 Hilary PhD
    April 6, 2010

    @Brian Clegg

    I’ll be 49 this Saturday and have lived in the UK all my life. Thankfully it’s been a couple of years at least since anyone’s told me to smile.

    Yes, UK men of all ages do it to women of ages up to mine. Yes it’s a fucking impertinence.

  24. #24 ambivalent academic
    April 6, 2010

    I have actually responded to the “Smile! It doesn’t cost anything!” demand once with:

    “No, I will not. I’m having a really shitty day, and I therefore DEMAND that *you* scowl in solidarity!!!”

    This shut the other person up. I think they were too shocked to issue retribution but I hope it gave them food for thought. In any case it made me feel smug and vindicated so there.

    And to those of you who wonder whether these experiences are anecdotal or scientific fact…does it matter, actually?

    If random people feel they have a right to make demands about a stranger’s facial expression, and that stranger is uncomfortable with those demands, is a body of data v. that uncomfortable personal experience really the point?

    Or is it that you doubt that some people are subjected to these uncomfortable personal experiences just because you are not? Is it that you think that commenters sharing their anecdotes of personal experience are actually making them up?

  25. #25 JD
    April 6, 2010

    This is simply a fact, and I appreciate having it aired out so people can start working on fixing it. There, was that so hard, boys?

    Maybe it’s the strong case of The Gay I’ve been carrying, but I’ve never understood why all of Isis’ posts that point out things that are obviously sexist attract mansplainers like flies to vinegar.

    The mansplainers will say I’m white-knighting, but really, I’m just embarrassed that members of my gender would rather come across as a bunch of condescending jerks who can’t take criticism than accept a single negative point from a female.

  26. #26 JD
    April 6, 2010

    Or Zuska’s. Whoops.

  27. #27 Scott Cunningham
    April 6, 2010

    Normally the ironically inappropriate ads on science blogs are for untested herbal remedies and such. When I read this blog this morning, though, the ads were for dating Chinese women promoted as “cheerful” and “virtuous” and all shown smiling. Yikes. Whatever software picks the banner ads is obviously not designed to catch irony or patriarchy.

  28. #28 snurp
    April 6, 2010

    I used to get this on a near-daily basis as a teenager (I guess my neutral face looked scowly), several times shouted from cars. I blew up in response once (I had visited my uncle in the hospital that morning, a strange man told me to smile, I told him to fuck off), and apparently this was wildly inappropriate and I needed to apologize. Strangers expecting me to alter my disposition to suite their aesthetics was, however, totally okay.

    I suspect that the decorative explanation you mentioned is the largest reason, or at least that’s how it’s always seemed to me. It seems part of the whole acceptability of critiquing women for daring to be physically unattractive in public.

  29. #29 Murray
    April 6, 2010

    …it really happened to a woman. There, that feels more…normal, doesn’t it?

    Uh, no it doesn’t. The whole idea of telling a stranger to smile seems like weird intrusive behaviour to me, regardless of either person’s gender. I’ve personally never seen or heard about such a thing before. I’m sure it happens, but it seems like an outmoded behaviour influenced by an outmoded, sexist attitude. If you’ve experienced this I can understand why it would piss you off – I would probably lash out at any stranger who made inappropriate personal comments towards me. No one should tolerate that kind of behaviour.

    Anyway, I suspect we will see less and less of that sort of stuff over time, but I’m an optimist.

  30. #30 Dave X
    April 6, 2010

    @ Jennifer. Oops.

    I’m afraid I just complained over at Isis’s about being chided about not smiling in a topless club. I guess I learned not to do it back then, but I don’t know how to teach it. I’ll try with my 2yo boy.

  31. #31 Texas Reader
    April 6, 2010

    In 1986 I was in a big corporate training program. During my review I was told that I should have smiled when I asked a question of a senior person who came to talk to the training class.

    I think men and women feel challenged when a woman doesn’t smile, and it makes them nervous. And one of the commentators here even characterized it (a woman not smiling) as having a “chip” on her shoulder.

    It’s somewhat parallel to our society’s nervousness about angry black men. Obama bends over backwards to not act in a way that hits on that nervousness.

  32. #32 JBC
    April 6, 2010

    Oh, good! Some meaningless babble about mommy issues.

    Maybe you could pull your head out of your ass, and realize that 90% of the time when this happens, it’s just an incredibly awkward attempt at trying to hit on someone? It’s dumb and immature, but it’s also not caused by deep-rooted male psychological issues. Dude just sucks at trying to get laid, and is doing it at an inappropriate time no less.

    Insert derisive posts about how my opinion doesn’t count because I’m a ‘little lad’ below.

  33. #33 snurp
    April 6, 2010

    @32

    And why would someone think that telling someone else to smile is a useful/appropriate way to hit on someone else? Is it random word salad, or is there a reason that this particular tactic is common?

    Also, I am suddenly stunned by the number of male teachers, elderly men, friends’ parents, married men in the company of their wives, and male relatives who have apparently been attempting to ask me out over the course of my life. Stunned and disturbed.

  34. #34 Poogles
    April 6, 2010

    It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten this, but I think it’s partially because I’ve developed a “defense” mechanism where I smile at everyone as soon as I look at them to avoid hearing about it.

    A few years back, before I was reflexively smiling at everyone, I was working in retail and I got this ALL THE TIME. There was one older guy in particular who used to say stuff like “You’re too pretty NOT to smile!” and then he would get some other guys’ attention and try to get them to agree! For a shy introvert this was especially uncomfortable and humiliating.

  35. #35 Zuska
    April 6, 2010

    For all the little lads who are having trouble grasping the topic of this thread: the topic of this thread is how men – complete, random strangers, even – frequently command women to smile. Whether or not this happens is not up for debate. Whether or not it is meaningful is not up for debate. How and when it happens and how and why it is meaningful and what might be done about it, are the topics being discussed here.

    If you wish to post about any of the following:
    1. Pointlessness of OP (demands to smile)
    2. Irrelevance of OP in light of more pressing issues
    3. Insignificance of OP topic
    4. OP topic does not, in fact, exist in real life
    5. OP topic is really helpful and/or not harmful, women should just understand men better

    Then you may want to take your comments to this thread. If that is not satisfactory you may wish to consider reading a different blog. Make sure to smile!

  36. #36 ambivalent academic
    April 6, 2010

    JBC – Is some dude’s immature attempt to hit on a woman (and his sense of entitlement to subject random women to such attempts) really OK then? Better than demanding random strangers to change their facial expressions to make him more comfortable? ‘Cause from where I stand (over here being the woman who gets told to smile by random people), it doesn’t matter one flying fuck whether he’s trying to get in my pants or just wants to see my teeth. He still has no claim on my bodily autonomy and is nonetheless trying to exert some, and to that I say “fuck off”.

  37. #37 Andreas Johansson
    April 6, 2010

    JD wrote:

    The mansplainers will say I’m white-knighting, but really, I’m just embarrassed that members of my gender would rather come across as a bunch of condescending jerks who can’t take criticism than accept a single negative point from a female.

    It’s cause the jerks get all the chicks.

  38. #38 Poogles
    April 6, 2010

    “Also, I am suddenly stunned by the number of male teachers, elderly men, friends’ parents, married men in the company of their wives, and male relatives who have apparently been attempting to ask me out over the course of my life. Stunned and disturbed.”

    As am I! And to think, I was just stupid to realize all those men were just trying to fuck me! Silly me! That makes it all ok! And apparently, the older man I spoke of in my previous comment was just trying to get some group action going!

    Give me a break.

  39. #39 Poogles
    April 6, 2010

    that should be “too stupid to realize”, in my post above.

  40. #40 Bubs
    April 6, 2010

    Wow you’re an ass. You seriously think it’s cool to throw around the “little lads” language? Obviously you take umbrage at “little ladies” when referring to females, so what makes little lads OK? Also love the attempt at steering the comments towards less interesting subjects (“what might be done about it”? are you serious) and away from the more obvious points (“you are a deluded man-hating wackjob”).

  41. #41 Vicki
    April 6, 2010

    JBC:

    Maybe you spend a lot of time making immature and ineffective attempts to seduce strangers and coworkers by telling them to smile, and therefore know that this is what you mean by 90% of it. But that doesn’t mean you can be sure that it’s true of the millions of other lads who do it.

    And why does “it’s not general sexism or bullying, it’s sexual harassment” strike you as a defense?

  42. #42 Dick
    April 6, 2010

    It’s cause the jerks get all the chicks.

    This is a common misconception. It arises from simple math.

    Many heterosexual women are in relationships, and, no surprise, they are in relationships with heterosexual men. As any heterosexual woman will tell you, the percentage of jerky straight men is far greater than that of non-jerky straight men in the overall population. Thus, looking at the landscape of heterosexual couples, it will appear that women prefer jerky men, since the vast majority of them will have coupled off with jerky men, but that’s simply due to lack of adequate variety when making selections.

    The real head-scratcher is not why straight women prefer jerky men to non-jerky men. It’s why they don’t prefer being alone to being with jerky men.

  43. #43 Pen
    April 6, 2010

    ‘Oh I’m sorry, but I just heard my Granpa died’ seems to work every time (and yes this has happened to me). That might not really be what’s making me look unhappy, but whatever it is, it’s none of their business. Who the hell do they think they are, the jerks, to claim ownership over other people’s facial expressions.

    Hey, how about ‘I’m just so worried because I don’t know how I’m going to make the rent. Do you think you can help me?’

  44. #44 Helmut
    April 6, 2010

    The scenario wouldn’t seem too weird if it were a woman speaking to a man, or a gay man speaking to another gay man. It becomes weird when a default reaction is to assume both men in the story are heterosexuals, and for some reason one is the least bit concerned with the stranger’s demeanor. It doesn’t matter if the theoretical man is really hitting on the theoretical woman, it matters that the rules of interaction between a hetero man and a hetero woman are heavily shaped by relationships with parents and partners. Why it happens more to women is a matter a of sexism, but why it doesn’t happen between two straight men isn’t.

  45. #45 Sierra
    April 6, 2010

    “90% of the time when this happens, it’s just an incredibly awkward attempt at trying to hit on someone?”

    Hey womankind, did you know that men are just trying to stick their penis in you? That makes whatever they do OK! Men have incredible lattitude when it comes to the pursuit of boning you. Duh, that’s what ladies are for!

    “It’s dumb and immature, but it’s also not caused by deep-rooted male psychological issues. Dude just sucks at trying to get laid, and is doing it at an inappropriate time no less.”

    Listen, mansplainer, we KNOW that’s what they’re trying to do! THAT’S WHY WE DON’T LIKE THIS BEHAVIOR! We actually don’t like being treated like walking vaginas every time we go outside, anymore than YOU would like it. FFS!

  46. #46 DrugMonkey
    April 6, 2010

    If that is not satisfactory you may wish to consider reading a different blog. Make sure to smile!

    Or start your own blog. In smilish!

  47. #47 Dick
    April 6, 2010

    Bubs, straight up, dude. I mean really, if you think about it, most women probably have lots of good reasons to hate men. It’s a wonder we don’t hear more of them blathering on about how much they hate men, what with being ordered to smile and subjected to rape and not believed or even listened to whenever they start yammering on about whatever the hell it is they are trying to say about whatever bit of their experience they seem to think is relevant or interesting. I really wonder why you don’t hear more women talking about how much they hate men, or at least see more movies and t.v. shows where men are stalked and dismembered and forcibly sexually assaulted – you know, to sort of just release some of that anger in a non-harmful, playful, artistic sort of way.

  48. #48 JustaTech
    April 6, 2010

    I have a friend who has perfected a response to this: when told to “Smile!” she bares her teeth. Not in a smile per-se, more of a “I am considering ripping out your throat with these here teeth” expression. Combined with an intense gaze,it really reminds you why primates consider smiling to be a threat. And it gets rid of people fast.

  49. #49 JD
    April 6, 2010

    @JBC
    This is what is known in some circles as “digging your own grave.”

    Let’s summarize, shall we? “No, it’s not because of mommy issues, it’s because some men view each woman they meet as a page in the Vaginas Monthly catalog.” Wow, what an improvement.

  50. #50 steve
    April 6, 2010

    Texas Reader @ 31 said: “And one of the commentators here even characterized it (a woman not smiling) as having a “chip” on her shoulder.”

    Not quite. Not “a woman not smiling”, nor ‘her’ shoulder.

    It was a remark about human behavior and response, not gender issues. Whole different meaning.

    I suppose I could write a blog about your remark. Was it motivated by a simple mis-read, or were there gender biases at play?

  51. #51 Andreas Johansson
    April 6, 2010

    Dick wrote:

    The real head-scratcher is not why straight women prefer jerky men to non-jerky men. It’s why they don’t prefer being alone to being with jerky men.

    The real head-scratcher is that it’s the year 2010, and one can still say “jerks get all the chicks” – on a feminist blog no less – and have people assume one is being serious.

    But I really knew that; apologies for the lack of smileys and disclaimers.

  52. #52 Dick
    April 6, 2010

    No harm no foul, Andreas. My simple math explanation will help those here in 2010 who really are still wondering why all the jerky men get the chicks.

  53. #53 Michael Suttkus, II
    April 6, 2010

    Speaking as a man, I’ve twice been told by female bosses that I needed to smile more in the workplace.

  54. #54 Starfia
    April 6, 2010

    I’ve spent years ordering women to amusingly pretend their lower lip is caught on a fishing line, and they’re only just starting to question it. Now I’ll have to hide this post from them lest they realize they’ve always had the power to emancipate themselves. A pox on you, Zuska.

  55. #55 Beth
    April 6, 2010

    I HATE that! All of my non-science-or-teaching jobs have been cashiering some place or another, so I got this a few times. I just wanted to yell at them “Dude, I:
    1)Greeted you politely and asked how you were doing when you approached my register
    2)Proceeded to handle your transaction quickly and competently
    3)Told you to have a nice day
    What more than that are you entitled to (and note, parts 1 and 3 are not entitlements but common courtesy)???”

    SO frustrating. A lot of people assume cashiers are just robots who should either a) be ignored or b) do your bidding- they’re people too! Even the young female ones!

    (Although that still didn’t frustrate me as much as the guy who after I wished him a nice day yelled at me for not also thanking him. Apparently, I was supposed to thank him for gracing the store (and me) with his presence. Ummm, NO.)

  56. #56 G Felis
    April 6, 2010

    If anyone ever tells me to smile – not that it’s ever happened or is ever likely to happen, what with me having a penis and all – I already have a ready answer to hand: “My mother died this morning.” This response is best delivered in a flat, no-affect-whatsoever fashion. It’s possible – albeit just barely possible – that the shame of having been such an intrusive jackass will discourage the self-appointed smile cop from engaging in this sort of idiocy ever again. Or so one might hope. (Plus, I can tell my mother about it later. She’d find it funny.)

  57. #57 Collywobbles
    April 6, 2010

    Sometimes, when I’m walking alone, I randomly grin wide, since I’m thinking of something amusing. This provokes weird glares from people, and since I’m not making eye-contact with them, I doubt it’s because they think I’m grinning at them specifically. So, you can’t really win. Smile! Or you might make other people uncomfortable! Oh wait, don’t smile too much! That’s just creepy!

  58. #58 Rev Matt
    April 6, 2010

    @Sierra: Brilliantly stated.

  59. #59 CJM
    April 6, 2010

    In my first few months working after college, I was going through my project with my supervisor and a co-worker and toward the end, they mentioned that I shouldn’t feel bad, they’re not trying to critisize me personally.

    I wasn’t shy to explain my thought processes on said project. I guess because I wasn’t smiling and going “uh huh” they thought I was reacting negatively to their input (I wasn’t). It irked me because I doubt they would have felt that way if I wasn’t a woman.

    Don’t get me wrong, both these men are good people and I work well with them now, but at the time I felt it was really odd that they read into my body language thought I was offended. Chemical engineering isn’t exactly a female-heavy profession, though, and I definitely get the feeling sometimes that my colleagues don’t know exactly how “female” I’m supposed to act.

    Because that’s supposed to involve a lot of smiling and agreeing, I guess.

  60. #60 benvolio
    April 6, 2010

    I used to encounter Men Demanding Smiles all the time. My face in repose is not the least bit scowly, but I got it a lot. I guess the thoughtful expression of a woman who is not being thoughtful on the subject of YOU is off-putting and needs to be corrected.

    It has ceased, largely, I believe, because I have slid into public invisibility – i.e. “middle age.” I am not sad about this, I hasten to add. It is liberating in the extreme.

  61. #61 benvolio
    April 6, 2010

    Oh, and I have always loved the Miss Manners response: an icy expression and the archly asked question “Why? Did you say something funny?”

  62. #62 bananacat
    April 6, 2010

    Thanks for the link to that list of responses. I have a (female) coworker who does this to me, and the reason I generally don’t smile around her is because I’m busy and she’s interrupting, and she has also done untrustworthy things to other coworkers. Next time she insists that I smile, I’ll either either keep a straight face and say, “If you want me to smile, maybe you should do something amusing”, or I’ll put on a clearly fake smile and tell her that my cat just died.

  63. #63 Endor
    April 6, 2010

    Wow some of you little lads get your undies in a bunch when women talk about anything but what wonderful, perfect dewds you are! Cry me a river, wankers!

    it is funny that so many of you whiny little lads felt the need to comment – REPEATEDLY – just to tell us how so totally not a problem this is. Insecure much?

    Whenever I’m told by rando-douchebag to smile they get one of two responses: 1) Amuse me, jester! or 2) Your death would be pretty funny.

    Unless it’s the elderly, in which case, I generally just nod and move on.

    Both usually results in shocked silence or in the smile-demanding douche revealing his true nature with a few misogynstic slurs. Because when a woman won’t perform on cue, it’s because SHE’S got a problem.

  64. #64 MissPrism
    April 6, 2010

    I ranted on this topic a few years back, too. They only want to cheer you up, poor well-meaning dears, and if you do not find curt orders from rude strangers to be cheering, well, fuck you, bitch.

    http://capacioushandbag.blogspot.com/2006/06/one-rant-two-good-newses_22.html

  65. #65 Treespeed
    April 6, 2010

    Reminds me of the line: “You must have the kind of smile that lights up a room.”
    *person smiles*
    “Whoops, I guess I was wrong.”

    Seriously though I am going to make sure to tell my wife to smile as soon as I get home. Then I’ll be sure to tell her to, “calm down young lady” when she gets upset.
    Being a man is awesome.

  66. #66 stripey_cat
    April 6, 2010

    I used to get this several times a week (I think this was to do with being pretty and having a naturally solemn expression). Now, with glasses, a couple of extra stone on my hips, and grey hairs coming in, it’s a lot less of a personal problem. My smiliness hasn’t increased, though.

    I tried the “bad thing has just happened” defence a few times, and their normal response was to get angry and hostile at being called on it – although the builder getting hit by his coworker for making me cry on my way to a family funeral (true, for once) was unhealthily satisfying.

  67. #67 Captain Mike
    April 6, 2010

    I’m sure as hell not going to try justify this sort of behaviour, as I personally have always found it irritating. But I do have some questions. My apologies in advance if these are considered mansplaining in some way.

    Why do so many people seem to feel the need to tell me to smile? I have a grim face, but in what way is that a stranger’s business? I can certainly accept Zuska’s reasoning for why men do this to women, but I don’t think the same explanation holds up for why women do this to me. It’s typically older women, although I don’t know if that’s relevant.

  68. #68 Zuska
    April 6, 2010

    Oh, excellent post, Miss Prism! (link @64)

    This paragraph:

    When a bloke says CULIMNH – which would make a good trendy Gaelic baby name, pronounced “Keith” – he is of course not really concerned for the happiness of the lady in question. Firstly, he will usually say it not to a woman who looks genuinely upset, but to one of neutral countenance who has done nothing to provoke, evoke, invoke or otherwise voke the comment. Secondly, if he really thought she was unhappy, and wanted to go against the usual human habit of ignoring distressed people in public, he’d ask a question, like “Are you OK?” or “Is everything all right?”, or perhaps, if he thought something truly terrible had happened, “Can I get you a cup of tea?”

    made me realize that part of what is going on is also about making sure that the woman’s attention is focused on the man – not on something else, and definitely not on her own inward thoughts. The demand to smile functions as an interruption of her right to her own personal thought-space. She should at all times be ready and aware of men around her, and what they need. And that awareness and readiness to serve is signified with a smile.

  69. #69 Michelle
    April 6, 2010

    Call me naive, but I never considered that this could be offensive. Just thought it was someone trying to cheer me up, which made me think well of them. I’m retrieving memories of mainly women telling me to smile if I’m expressionless or scowling; maybe this is why I’m not offended by it. It can be annoying at times, but I’ve never considered it a sexist act.

  70. #70 Jim
    April 6, 2010

    I’ve seen guys do this all the time to women and believe me, it was done to be sexist.

  71. #71 Erin
    April 6, 2010

    Never understood the whole muscles thing. Fact is, I’m not forceably frowning ever. My face (due to gravity and plain old lip shape) just falls into a slight downturn naturally. It takes a lot more effort to smile and keep it up since I’d have to consciously be thinking about it.

  72. #72 Brian
    April 6, 2010

    I myself have been told to smile a half-dozen times in my life — all from panhandlers. I would definitely agree that the main motivation (regardless of the genders involved) is an excuse for getting the other person’s attention, one that even seems friendly on the surface of it.

  73. #73 Jim
    April 6, 2010

    I disagree Brian, the main motivation is to be sexist.

  74. #74 Warren
    April 6, 2010

    I have to agree 100% with the post here. I loathe it when someone has the arrogance to tell me to smile when I damn well don’t feel like it and it’s none of their damn business anyway.

    What I hadn’t considered, though, was how it felt to be a woman being ordered to smile by a man. Not just an invasion of privacy; not just trivializing one’s emotional state; but demeaning as well.

    I’m glad Dr. Isis pointed to this post. I’ve added your blog’s feed to my RSS.

  75. #75 queenrandom
    April 6, 2010

    I think another reason why men demand smiling is that when women are smiling, they don’t have to consider that women have thoughts and feelings and complexity like – *gasp* – real live human beings! When women have vapid smiles all the time one can pretend they’re just fembots, ready for orders.

    The last time some d00d demanded my smile (and he shouted it like an order from a drill sergeant while pointing at me), I replied, equally demanding, “Don’t order me around!” I liked that response, I may have to use it again. In the past I have simply said, confusedly, “Why?” which generally elicits stammers since said d00d can’t really articulate exactly why he is ordering you around without sounding like a jerk.

  76. #76 Treespeed
    April 6, 2010

    Men only tell you to smile, because in public they can’t ask you to show them your tits like they do on Chatroulette.
    Though they’re both the same thing.

  77. #77 FrauTech
    April 6, 2010

    I don’t get this from strangers so much as male coworkers. Not generally my boss, my last boss never demanded any ridiculous personality display from me, and my current boss would rather I aim to be “more confident” and could probably care less about my smiling. But when it’s a coworker you still can’t say “F@#$ off” which is my preferred response. I usually just say “i’m thinking.” There’s kind of a culture around here of smiling and saying hi to everyone you pass in the hallway, but if a dude does not smile he is never called out on it. Usually the guys don’t just say “smile!” they say “why so gloomy” or “cheer up” or sometimes “that bad, huh?” At least to the last I can respond, “yeah.” I’ve honestly had to tell people “my face just looks like that.” Like what I presume is a neutral facial expression they assume to be very negative or grumpy. I’m overjoyed all the mansplainers came on over to this thread, their personal anecdotes >> my personal anecdotes.

  78. #78 David Marjanović
    April 6, 2010

    No, because it really happened to a woman. There, that feels more…normal, doesn’t it?

    Not at all; I’ve read such stories before, and every single time I’m struck by how it’s even possible anyone would talk to a random stranger without necessity. That goes even for how comment 19 implies that the bus driver talks to you; in the buses I’ve used, that’s unthinkable if you don’t know them personally.

    In fact, I get pretty confused when strangers who greet me (which they do because they live in the same students’ home, say) smile at me. That sends the message they’re genuinely happy to see me, when I have not the slightest reason to think that’s actually the case. At times I’ve almost been tempted to tell them to stop and to tell them, angrily, that they’re not actually happy to see me.

    But then, I’ve never lived in the US or the UK for more than a week at a time, and my life is sheltered in general. I’ve encountered all the attitudes listed in the post as “top reasons”, though fortunately not firsthand.

  79. #79 Jim
    April 6, 2010

    David, are they telling you to smile?

  80. #80 Aspie biologist
    April 6, 2010

    Does this mean that if someone I’m paying to teach me social skills (for Asperger’s) tells me I need to learn to smile all the time so people won’t be uncomfortable, I should fire them and find someone else? (Trainer is female, btw.) I do smile when I greet people I know, but my default facial expression (or nervous expression) is fairly neutral. I am told this means people think I am aloof or even angry.

  81. #81 Dr. O
    April 6, 2010

    I guess I’ve never really thought of it this way. I’ve actually asked men and women that I know to smile when they’re down (I’m female btw). I’m a big believer that faking a smile can actually make you feel happier – it does for me anyways. And that’s all I mean by it – nothing more. So I don’t think that men necessarily mean anything demeaning when they say this to a woman. I could be wrong, though, in which case I prefer living in my own blissful ignorance. ;)

  82. #82 Diane G.
    April 6, 2010

    Surprised no one’s brought up that annoying study from ’99, about gender diffs in smiling for yearbook pics. Amongst all the hypotheses proffered for this effect by the (male) first author, never once did he consider that the usually male photogs inevitably pester girls & women to “smile!” As for the change happening around ages 9-12, that only represents the time they stop telling boys to do so. My take, anyway.

  83. #83 jc
    April 6, 2010

    The command to smile happened to me all the fucking time when I worked as a cashier. The slimeballs with the “honey, you’d look prettier if you smile” and “smile for me, brighten *my* day” left me with the distinct feeling of knowing those assholes were gonna go home that night and *think* about smiling me in ways I don’t care to be thought of. Ewwwww.

    My best response to the smile command is to tell the guy he’s an ugly fucker, make the Ewwww face, and say that smiling sure doesn’t improve his looks.

    WWZD? PUKE ON HIS SHOES!! and walk away smiling, of course. :) :) :) :) :)

  84. #84 Ryan
    April 6, 2010

    @80 As an Aspie myself I get the comments about the persistent angry look on my face. Now, I am usually nervous/anxious in public and it keeps people from engaging me, which is fine. I’m self-conscious about my smile so smiling makes me uncomfortable, and my discomfort makes others uncomfortable (apparently). I wouldn’t take what your trainer said too literally, as in smile all the time, but in my own experience a smile is to be used sparingly for maximum effect.

  85. #85 alilz
    April 6, 2010

    I used to get these comments ALL the time when I was working in retail (in the mall) or just in the mall. Mostly from men but some from older women. I hated it and I hate it.

    Also my mouth naturally turns down so I look like I’m frowning when my face is relaxed and neutral. So I’m not frowning or mad or sad or upset I just am. It’s really really frustrating when people make a presumption about my emotional state just by looking at me.

    I can’t do a half smile or slight smile I look like I’m grimacing. And when I smile full on all the time it feels fake. Actually it reminds me of the ST:TNG episode where Dr. Crusher teaches Data to dance and they are waltzing and she tells him to smile and they move around and he’s got this big fake smile pasted on his face. That’s what I feel like I look like when I smile all the time.

    as to the person who thinks it’s great to fake a smile when you are down — it works for you and that’s great. However it doesn’t work for everyone else and it can be annoying (even if you think you know someone) to be told to smile.

    I usually end up telling people – I’m not frowning/sad/depressed/upset this is what my face looks like when I’m relaxed. Sometimes they get upset but seriously! Don’t be presumptious and tell me to smile when you don’t know what the deal is.

    Oh and the worst is the people who act offended if I’m not smiling. I want to say, although I never have — if you find my looks offensive then that’s not my fault it’s yours so deal with it.

  86. #86 Djinna
    April 6, 2010

    I must say that I love the Beastie Boys for opening “Intergalactic” with “Don’t you tell me to smile.” That was the first time I really thought about how inappropriate it was for complete strangers to tell me that before, and being Boys, their feelings are legitimate, so mine must be too! Ah, pre-feminist blog life, how much it sucked to not know that there wasn’t anything wrong with me for being bothered by this.

    I hadn’t gotten the request from random stranger to smile thing in years, until about a month back, when I was sick as a dog, could barely walk, and some random dood at the gas station pulled it on me. I had been planning on explaining in great detail how condescending it is to demand that complete strangers look more decorative even when they may not feel like it, if I ever got it again (great thing about growing older, that kind of BS grows much less frequent), but of course, I was barely capable of thinking, wait, did I just get told to smile, and just sort of stared at him in dumb shock, only to be told that I didn’t have to be RUDE about it. More anecdata that it’s people who are seen as vulnerable who get this most frequently, whether it be due to illness, youth, recent personal loss (as happened to the commenter above), etc.

    There are some annoying people who do it to everyone who isn’t smiling for the judges, but I have found that that type of person is obviously one of THOSE PEOPLE – very different vibe from the Be More Decorative for Me doodz. Photographers who act like a smile isn’t a smile unless you look like you are trying out for a toothpaste ad get told point blank, “I AM smiling. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the visual arts if you can’t see that.”

  87. #87 Katherine
    April 6, 2010

    “No, I will not. I’m having a really shitty day, and I therefore DEMAND that *you* scowl in solidarity!!!” I love it.

    From what I’ve experienced, random people on the street telling you to smile: total sexism. Family members and friends generally ask “what’s wrong?” when I’ve got my neutral/thinking face on, which is annoying, but not sexist at least.

    I blame the mass media for only showing people (ok, women) whose mouths naturally curve up, and whose eyebrows are artificially high.

  88. #88 Comrade PhysioProf
    April 6, 2010

    I think flight attendants are actually required to smile, for example[.]

    This is because if the flight attendants stop smiling, the passengers will think the plane is going down and they’re ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  89. #89 Meg Thornton
    April 6, 2010

    It occurred to me while reading all this that a correct response to “Cheer up [pointless and unjustified endearment], it might never happen” might be a terse, “it just did”.

    My own experience is that after ten years of working retail part-time, I automatically smile at people (or at least pull the corners of my mouth upward) as a reflex action. Of course, the smile never quite makes it to the eyes unless I’m actually enjoying myself. If I’m genuinely smiling, it’s a pretty rare thing – and in and of itself, that’s sad, because the constant social pressure to pretend happiness for the social comfort of others (mostly male, but not exclusively so) means I sometimes have actual difficulty recognising when I’m genuinely happy, rather than just feigning it to get by.

    Commanding someone to smile so *you* feel comfortable takes away that person’s true smile, and devalues the act of smiling in and of itself. There are lots of reasons why a person might not be smiling – ranging from the trivial to the mortally important (have a read of “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, and tell me the narrator’s second wife wouldn’t be wary of smiling too often). Is your social comfort so very important, in context?

  90. #90 Helen Huntingdon
    April 6, 2010

    Many heterosexual women are in relationships, and, no surprise, they are in relationships with heterosexual men. As any heterosexual woman will tell you, the percentage of jerky straight men is far greater than that of non-jerky straight men in the overall population. Thus, looking at the landscape of heterosexual couples, it will appear that women prefer jerky men, since the vast majority of them will have coupled off with jerky men, but that’s simply due to lack of adequate variety when making selections.

    The real head-scratcher is not why straight women prefer jerky men to non-jerky men. It’s why they don’t prefer being alone to being with jerky men.

    Dick nailed it.

  91. #91 MTiffany
    April 6, 2010

    Sometimes the best thing one person can do for another is just let them have their feelings.

    How screwed up are we as a society that we would even need to be reminded of that idea?

  92. #92 Hazel8500
    April 7, 2010

    RE:

    snip
    Smile and dress nice and act like a lady – and you will be considered to be a silly, thoughtless, insignificant girl. Don’t smile and dress for comfort and you will be considered to be a ball-busting, man-hating lesbian bull-dyke – or, possibly, Ozzy Ozbourne. You will be called a trope, or a caricature feminist, or a reverse sexist, or a slut, or frigid. You will be said to have fucked too much, or in need of a good fucking, or your problem will lie in the fact that no one wants to fuck you, in which case you need a good fucking but are unlikely to get one. But no matter who you are, and what is wrong with you – because, mark my words, something is ALWAYS wrong with you -
    snap

    I’ve experimented with this subject extensively. You know what I discovered after years of dressing down, dressing up dressing for comfort dressing for grr, smiling not smiling walking around blank faced, refusing to make eye contact, making eye contact picking scratching laughing snarling in public (or not) ? it doesn’t frikken matter what you do or don’t do some asshat is going to have an opinion and likely voice it.

    whats the remedy for personal comportment when out and about? Do what you feel feel like when you feel like how you feel like as long as you do it for you. Oh and its legal.

  93. #93 Hazel8500
    April 7, 2010

    PS just so’s you know? I’ve been called EVERY single one of those above mentioned things, and it doesn’t seem to matter what I do or don’t do. Guess what? It aint me… Its THEM. ASSHATS!

  94. #94 Jason
    April 7, 2010

    I just wanted to thank everyone for the comments here. They’ve been enlightening… to be honest I had never heard of anyone being ordered to smile outside of greeter/public relation jobs (chalk it up to youthful naivete, I suppose). With that in mind when I first read the post it struck me as an overreaction to something minor, but it’s hard to argue with a few dozen women from all over with the exact same stories and reactions.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever been guilty of this behavior in my life (I hope not, though I am a cheerful person and tend to strive for that in others), but I will certainly watch for it in myself and others from here on out. Sincerely, thanks.

  95. #95 Sarah
    April 7, 2010

    @32 I may be late to this party…but as a teenager my male teachers always told me to smile. If it’s about a bad attempt at hitting on girls, that’s even creepier.

    I’ve noticed that since moving to the Northwest I get a lot less of that because no one likes to smile much.

  96. #96 Kerry
    April 7, 2010

    Smiling in humans means the same thing as purring in cats: “I’m not a threat.” Ordering someone to smile is a power play, pure and simple.

  97. #97 Isis the Scientist
    April 7, 2010

    Fuck you, Jason. Fuck you right in the ear.

    If one woman writes about something, it doesn’t require the commiseration of every woman on the internet to make it valid. Her criticism would have been valid even if she had never allowed comments on this post. If it takes more than one woman speaking up to convince you that something it wrong, or for you to not consider it an “over reaction to something minor”, then you are a huge asshat.

  98. #98 jc
    April 7, 2010

    The reason Jason “has never heard anyone” (not “anyone” little tyke, it’s WOMEN!) being ordered to smile is because he is not a woman, men don’t hear women, men ignore women, it takes 5 women saying the same thing over and over to be heard once by a man. Even after women are magically heard, men put their concerns in the “does not happen to me” category which is filed with “does not happen at all to anyone” and “do not give a shit” files for future events commanding their mansplanation spews, of which this thread is not one of them. Jason HASN’T said anything I haven’t heard a thousand times.

  99. #99 DuWayne
    April 7, 2010

    No, I will not. I’m having a really shitty day, and I therefore DEMAND that *you* scowl in solidarity!!!

    Yeah, I was just thinking that “fuck you shithead, why aren’t you scowling?!?!” would be a very reasonable response – though probably not safe for the workplace.

  100. #100 Jason
    April 7, 2010

    Isis-

    Of course her criticism was valid. You missed my point entirely, though that was maybe my fault for not saying it well enough. As jc posted just after you, the reason I hadn’t heard of anything like that is because I’m a man and it just doesn’t happen to me (although implying that my ignorance makes me sexist seems unfair). All I was saying is that hearing about inappropriate behavior from one person makes you think “huh”, but suddenly a whole lot of other people join the chorus and it hits harder. Sorry if I offended you. And I like my ears virginal, thanks!

  101. #101 Comrade Svilova
    April 7, 2010

    Working in customer service positions, I smile a lot, all the time, at everyone, and yes, it often cheers me up to physically force smile even when I’m mildly not-in-a-good-mood. BUT even given that, it’s no one else’s business to remind me of something I already know (that smiling improves my mood) and which I could very well do on my own if I wanted to. Thank you very much.

    What drives me crazy is that apparently smiling is not enough. Since I do smile (All. The. Time.) at work, I never get bothered about my facial expression. Instead, I get asked to approve of men’s clothing choices, I get hit on by older men in front of their wives and children, etc. Smiling is just the start of unending demands for women to appease men by signaling their submissiveness etc. It’s especially annoying to me that this happens when I’m in a position that typically precludes any honest response (lest I lose my job). A man who hits on a waitress or a cashier is engaging in a massive power play and is too insecure to hit on a woman who has no reason not to loudly reject him!

    PS I’m wondering if Jason’s comment really deserves such a negative response. Yes, there are a lot of problems with his assumptions that a multitude of voices is necessary for a woman’s concern to be valid, etc., but considering the utter idiocy of Steve and Co.’s comments on this thread … Jason is at least trying to listen. Even if he’d rather listen to a chorus than an individual.

  102. #102 bananacat
    April 7, 2010

    I could be wrong, though, in which case I prefer living in my own blissful ignorance. ;)

    You are wrong. It’s great that you benefit from your ignorance, because nobody else does. If you’re truly concerned that someone is unhappy, you should either ask what’s wrong or, you know, actually do something to cheer them up. Do you really think that nobody would ever have the idea to smile without you there to remind them? Get over yourself. If they’re not smiling, there’s probably a good reason for it. Try being a good friend and figuring out what that reason is.

  103. #103 Christophe Thill
    April 7, 2010

    Kerry: “Ordering someone to smile is a power play, pure and simple.”

    Completely agree. Saying, in essence: “Nobody cares about what you think or feel, now put a bright face on and shut up” is a violent demonstration of power. From a random jerk in the street to a random woman passing ; from male boss to female employee ; but also (even if it’s a less frequent situation) from female boss to female or male employee.

  104. #104 Isis the Scientist
    April 7, 2010

    You missed my point entirely…

    No, Jason. You failed to communicate it effectively and in a way that didn’t make you look like a huge douchescrote. I get it, I get it. I’ll give you a cookie for your epiphany, but you could have said, “Wow, I initially thought these were the experiences of one person. I didn’t realize so many women experience this.” That would have been less douchey. Instead, you chose, “…when I first read the post it struck me as an overreaction to something minor.” You earned that fuck you, Brother. You really, really earned it.

    Also, Ping, dudes.

  105. #105 Jason
    April 7, 2010

    Fair enough, Isis. My bad. I’m just glad we were able to clear it up.

  106. #106 Isis the Scientist
    April 7, 2010

    HA HA HA HA.

  107. #107 wheelbrain
    April 7, 2010

    My best friend works in a bookstore. One day I was sitting in an easy chair near the register while she was ringing some fratty douchebag out. She handed him his receipt and he said, “You should smile more.” She said, “You should fuck off.” Didn’t miss a beat. He slunk away in disgrace. I cackled with glee.

    So of course every so often I tell her she should smile more, and she kicks me in the nuts. What else are friends for?

    Incidentally, there’s a simple way to get a woman to smile. Smile at her! Failing that, just grab her face and yank the corners of her mouth up. Male privilege, right?

  108. #108 kiyaroru
    April 7, 2010

    There was scene on a CSI episode where a female investigator with a huge grin on her face was carrying a bucket of bloody mucus. Her male coworker questioned her about her facial expression. She replied that smiling suppressed the gag reflex.
    Maybe this is a good reason to obey orders to “Smile!”

  109. #109 Zuska
    April 7, 2010

    The only good reason to obey orders to smile is if you have to do so to keep your job and you need the job to pay bills and survive till you can find a better job. The gag reflex should not be suppressed. The shoes should be puked on.

  110. #110 Rev Matt
    April 7, 2010

    “Incidentally, there’s a simple way to get a woman to smile. Smile at her! Failing that, just grab her face and yank the corners of her mouth up. Male privilege, right?”

    I’d like to think we live in a world where no man would consider that to be a perfectly acceptable thing to do . I’d like to think that.

  111. #111 SKM
    April 7, 2010

    Failing that, just grab her face and yank the corners of her mouth up. Male privilege, right?

    Of course you are joking, but the really funny part is that some men will indeed grab a woman who ignores his publicly-issued order to smile, to give him her number, etc. It has happened to me and to many women I know. I have also been spat on in the street for ignoring a cat-call, had the guy follow me for blocks telling me he was going to rape me, etc. All for not responding to a smile-order. If that doesn’t show it’s a power play, I wonder what will.

    For all I know you’re aware of all this, and that’s why you made the joke (hard as it is to read for someone who has actually been there). But it looks to me like there are quite a few folks here in need of an education on the subject.

  112. #112 Michelle
    April 7, 2010
  113. #113 Treespeed
    April 7, 2010

    I would never ask a woman to smile, and I can’t imagine anyone from my generation and peers doing such a thing, even in jest. But I think the gender flipside of this, that I experience all the time in my office where I am the only Dood is being asked, “what’s wrong?” anytime I don’t have a smile plastered on my face. And unless I smile and say, “oh, nothing.” I better be prepared to spill all about my feelings and what’s troubling me. I seriously was taken into my supervisor’s office, to talk about what’s bothering me. Women aren’t the only people not allowed to scowl.

  114. #114 Comrade Svilova
    April 7, 2010

    As SKM and I were addressing on another thread from today, when a feminist says that “such and such is an example of sexism against women” that never means that it never happens to men — it just has very different gender/power dynamics when that’s the case. And of course men have their own grievances about expectations that are onerous. No one is denying that.

    For just one thread, however, it would be nice to be able to talk about and analyze an example of sexism without having to spend half the time listening to men complain that their concerns aren’t being addressed.

  115. #115 Dr. Z
    April 7, 2010

    Thank you for this post, I find the whole “you should really smile” thing incredibly annoying. I have been told this a lot recently because I am visibly pregnant and apparently a non-smiling pregnant woman is horrifying to the rest of the world. Never mind that I am still vomiting and nauseous every minute of every day… I am pregnant and must therefore appease the world by looking happy at all times.

    Also if another random d00d so much as thinks about touching my belly without asking I am going to kick their nuts so far up your ass they will shit them out. Being pregnant does not make me public property…. don’t touch me!

  116. #116 Jane
    April 7, 2010

    “Smile? You know what makes me smile? You know those Funniest Home Videos where some dude is always getting racked in the gregsack? Yeah, that.”

  117. #117 wheelbrain
    April 8, 2010

    SKM, I apologize if I stirred up some unpleasant feelings. I tend to be a little bitter about this subject; I grew up with three sisters in a religious community that taught women should be seen and not heard. My mother and younger sister are still trapped in it, and probably always will be. When I think of the advantages over my sisters I was unconditionally and nakedly granted, it’s a wonder I didn’t turn out a complete bastard. Most men don’t notice that kind of inequality, though, which can be as simple as parents listening to their son at the dinner table but talking over their daughters. If you’re never aware of it, you might think yourself entitled to it. I’ll admit I never noticed it until after I’d gotten out. Only then did I actually become friends with my sisters and had some honest conversations about their very different experience at home that shocked and disturbed me, and ultimately changed my life. Now I work for a coalition of non-profits that help abused women in the same place I grew up. Funny how the wheel turns.

  118. #118 Texas Reader
    April 8, 2010

    Hazel8500 wrote this: “…it doesn’t frikken matter what you do or don’t do some asshat is going to have an opinion and likely voice it.”

    One evening after work (around 10:30) I went to the post office to get my mail. As I was going through it and tossing the junk mail in the trash can I man came in and said “hey there good looking.” Despite it being late and there being no one else there I spoke (without thinking) and said “That is not an appropriate comment” and continued sorting my mail. He then asked if I’d rather he had called me ugly. I explained very calmly that ANY comment he might make on my appearance was inappropriate.

    After years of just ignoring that kind of crap I finally was assertive and did so without profanity or a hostile tone. I felt a HUGE relief and decided that if it ever happens again I’ll do the same, but for my safety I’ll try to only go to the post office during typical hours.

  119. #119 revelation
    April 8, 2010

    Thanks for the posst Zuska!
    Recently, I was recommended to ‘keep smiling’, and felt very uneasy about it. It made me concerned it was me doing something ‘incorrect, that I was not being friendly and thus maybe not approachable. When I am concentrating, I frown, and I am concentrating 98% of the time.
    What a different perspective I gained today, and I realize now, correct.

  120. #120 thebewilderness
    April 9, 2010

    I think there are some regional aspects to how we behave in public. Personal space is respected in different ways in different areas.
    For the most part though, it seems to me that men assume they have the right to demand your attention in order to instruct you to perform for them no matter where they are. They call it being friendly. I call it asshattery.

    I am particularly delighted when they proceed to share their judgment of the smile they have been grudgingly awarded.
    I used to wonder if they were judging your age like a horse or if they were maybe looking for a good dentist.
    About forty years ago I realized they are testing your willingness to perform on command for strangers. Creepy.

  121. #121 cicely
    April 11, 2010

    I’m ‘way late to this party, but….

    It is probably true that not all commands by a man for a woman to smile, are intended in a sexist, power-demonstrating way; however, it is certain that many are.

    When a guy can tell me that a woman once told him to smile, or his dick will fall off…then we’ll talk.

  122. #122 cicely
    April 11, 2010

    *sigh* Grammar fail. Make that, “or his dick would fall off”.

  123. #123 Ampersand
    April 12, 2010

    Thanks for the link!

    I went to that post and fixed the internal links, so they work now. Unfortunately, nothing will fix the links going to other people’s blogs… those blogs are gone, gone, gone now, alas.

  124. #124 Calli Arcale
    April 12, 2010

    I wonder if there’s a regional aspect to it? In my experience (upper Midwest) it’s more often women telling me to smile than men. There’s a sexist component there, perhaps, not in the pejorative sense but in the sense that women are expected to be perkier than men and thus more prone to this sort of nauseating chipperness — and consequently, a certain subset of women grows up thinking they ought to be perky and try to cheer people up. Or maybe in smiley and passive-aggressive Minnesota, we’re just more likely to be smiling in the first place, whether we’re happy or not, so only the extra-perky folks are willing to actually break the social barrier and comment on someone’s unhappy appearance. Dunno. I’m certainly glad that I’ve never been told to smile by a boss. That would be awkward, especially as I do not have a customer-facing job. (If I did, I would see the value of a smile; as any car salesman knows, smiles are useful.)

  125. #125 OleanderTea
    April 14, 2010

    I’m an introvert, and somewhat contemplative by nature. And after years and years of being told, “Smile! Yer so purdy! Smile, purdy girl!” by guys in the grocery store (and at work, at the mechanic’s, at the mall, at the hospital for God’s sake!), I hit upon the perfect reply (which also works for the morons who tell me to “Have a blessed/nice day”).

    I say, “Thank you, but I have other plans.”

    However, I haven’t been told to “SMILE!” in months. Seems that the Boston metro area is far less SMILEY than the southeastern Georgia area.

  126. #126 Jason
    April 14, 2010

    I’m a male and I get told to smile all the time (usually by women, actually I can’t think of a time a man has told me to smile), and I really hate it. I always assume the person is just trying to be nice, but I still get pissed off and the last thing I do in response is to smile. I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who hates being told to smile.

    However, none of your top reasons why men ask women to smile could apply to the people asking me to smile since I am a man. I’d like to know, do you think that men asking women to smile is a completely different phenomenon than women asking men to smile?

    In my completely uneducated opinion, there is no reason to believe that most of the men who ask women to smile don’t do it for the same non-sexist reasons that women ask men to smile, whatever those reasons might be. Of course, I’m sure its true that men are more likely to tell women to smile, and this difference probably comes from the reasons you gave, but seeing as women do also tell men to smile, is it right to assume that your reasons are the “top” reasons?

  127. #127 Cara
    April 14, 2010

    I’d like to know, do you think that men asking women to smile is a completely different phenomenon than women asking men to smile?

    Yes.

    is it right to assume that your reasons are the “top” reasons?

    Yes.

  128. #128 Jason
    April 14, 2010

    @Cara: But why? I mean I’m sure there are plenty of douche bags out there who tell women to smile because they are douche bags who think women should always be smiling and pretty. However, if there are also women who tell men to smile, doesn’t that prove that there might be other, non-sexist, reasons that a man might tell a women to smile? The same reasons that women tell men to smile sometimes? Why is it OK to just assume that men are saying it for one of the OP’s reasons?

    Like I said, I hate being told to smile no matter what the reason. I think its rude (especially from a stranger), but I suspect there are plenty more, less harmful, reasons that it happens.

  129. #129 Jess
    April 15, 2010

    I have been told to ‘smile!’ by both men and women.
    The women were usually coworkers who seemed to say it to interrupt me from my scowl-thoughts (you know, when you think about something to do with your thesis or some paper and your face naturally scowls). The men were always strangers – and it was *always* intimidating.

  130. #130 Cara
    April 17, 2010

    However, if there are also women who tell men to smile, doesn’t that prove that there might be other, non-sexist, reasons that a man might tell a women to smile? The same reasons that women tell men to smile sometimes? Why is it OK to just assume that men are saying it for one of the OP’s reasons?

    Because they usually are. Now we’re not playing “but whyyyyyy” anymore.

  131. #131 veganrampage
    April 21, 2010

    Now that I have obtained (through sheer endurance and dumb luck)an age that is considered LESS RAPE-ABLE by my Male Overlords I am no longer ordered to smile on command, thus becoming their geisha of the instant.

    For that I am grateful. Ever, ever so grateful.

    For those Male Overlords that don’t “get it”, after repeated tellings and re-tellings I hope you know what you can do with your massive refusal to understand the fucking glaringly obvious.

  132. #132 David Marjanović
    April 28, 2010

    Way back in comment 79…

    David, are they telling you to smile?

    No. Random strangers don’t talk to me or any other random strangers of either sex, because that’s not done anywhere I’ve lived so far. I was trying to express my culture shock.

    Does this mean that if someone I’m paying to teach me social skills (for Asperger’s) tells me I need to learn to smile all the time so people won’t be uncomfortable, I should fire them and find someone else?

    Well, yeah.

    And unless I smile and say, “oh, nothing.” I better be prepared to spill all about my feelings and what’s troubling me. I seriously was taken into my supervisor’s office, to talk about what’s bothering me.

    <headdesk>

    if another random d00d so much as thinks about touching my belly without asking

    What the fuck. You get touched by random strangers!?!

  133. #133 Cara
    April 28, 2010

    What the fuck. You get touched by random strangers!?!

    That falls under the Fair Use of Women Doctrine, David. Just a little *bonus* to stand beside the actual raping and harassment; that way we feel *lucky* when our interaction with strangers doesn’t lead to worse than an unwanted touch.

  134. #134 skeptifem
    April 29, 2010

    I don’t think I have ever met a woman who hasn’t had her physical space invaded by a random dude (unwanted touching, being cornered, groped, etc). Unless you live in solitude all the time it is bound to happen.

  135. #135 jc
    April 29, 2010

    I had a two-fer today. I was told to smile and my hair was touched, at the DMV by a random douche.

    David@
    “because that’s not done anywhere I’ve lived so far”
    I’ll fix that for you. “because that’s not done TO ME OR TO MEN I KNOW anywhere I’ve lived so far”

  136. #136 seasonticket
    April 30, 2010

    I was listening to some Radiohead and walked past a pub to get home. I got a “smile, love, it may never happen” and I ignored and they yelled “SLUT” after me. I got home, looked up the telephone number of the bar and rang barman to complain.
    “I don’t have to put up with that sort of abuse, mate.”
    “You’re quite right, I’ll have a word.”
    *
    I was walking to the supermarket and a charity-mugger (the guys who try to get your bank details for a charity), did it to me. I fixed him with a stony stare and shook my head really slowly. It felt totally unnatural and bitchy just to hold a facial expression.

  137. #137 Comrade Svilova
    April 30, 2010

    It felt totally unnatural and bitchy just to hold a facial expression.

    I know what you mean. What a world we live in, right?

  138. #138 Mordecai
    June 16, 2010

    Whoa, the commenters are right: I AM qualified to question the experience of total strangers! Nobody has the right to tell ME things that don’t directly reinforce my own limited and unexamined perspective! I mean, I’m a MAN! Eat paragraphs of righteous blather, Zuska!

    Thanks guys, forgot I had a penis for a moment there.