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During high school, I worked at a farmers market for four years. Day after day, week after week, I had to deal with creepy older men telling me to smile. They were always creepy and they were always older and they were always men. In the beginning, I’d humor them so they’d leave me alone. By the end of my time there though, I actively resisted their comments, making a note to frown instead.
The more I think about all the men who have ever told me to smile, the angrier I become. I’m angry because their comments – “Smile, honey,” “It wouldn’t hurt you to smile,” “Where’s your smile today?” – were laced with so many misogynistic and false assumptions about me. But as the old saying goes: when you assume, you make an ass out of only yourself.
1. They assumed that they had any authority over me: When you tell a complete stranger to do something, and you are not her employer and you are not paying for a service, you have assumed an authority that you do not possess. Every man who has ever told me to smile got it in his head that he has authority over any and all women, and that we exist to follow his instructions. My male coworkers were never told to smile. Not once. They were showed respect and allowed to conduct themselves however they so chose, with or without smiles.
2. They assumed that I would not take offense to their comments: Whenever male customers told me to smile, they did it with smiles on their own well-intentioned faces. Sometimes they’d point out that the sun was shining (thanks, I see it too) or they’d ask me why I was sad (I never said I was sad, yet another assumption). It was clear that they did not mean to offend me and they did not mean to come off as misogynistic, but that doesn’t much matter. I’m tired of being nice to assholes who meant well. If these men don’t have the time or energy to put in the critical thought and/or research to figure out why their comments belittle women, then I don’t have the time or energy to tiptoe around their feelings and play along in these condescending encounters.
3. They assumed that a forced smile equals happiness: At the end of the day, none of these men cared if I was actually happy or actually having a good day. All they wanted was to see the universal symbol of happiness: a smile. In their minds, I was happy if I was smiling. Regardless of how I actually felt, it would make them feel better to see me smile – emphasis on them. Which goes back to assumption #1: they assumed that I, and therefore all women, exist purely for their benefit. God forbid women have independent thoughts and feelings that don’t match up with what men expect from them. GOD FORBID.
Although I never said any of this to the men in question, I’m saying it now. Let this serve as my formal retort. Dear men of the world, you’re not in charge of the women around you. Dear men of the world, you’re not making women happy by telling them to smile. In fact, you’re pissing them off. Dear men of the world, you’re doing it wrong
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