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.