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USA: Don’t Tell Me to Smile

In correspondents, Stories, street harassment | on 08.16.13 | by | Comments ( 0 )

By Angela Della Porta, SSH Correspondent

By Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

I don’t get it – why do men want me to smile so damn much?

I have two states of being: laughing at something hilarious, and Bitch Face, which is really just a neutral face that means nothing hilarious happened. I, personally, don’t use the word “bitch,” but it is the most common description of this phenomenon. Now, I always thought that Bitch Face was something I had to do intentionally, like when I don’t want someone to sit next to me on the bus or I want to show someone who was rude that I don’t appreciate their comments. But, I’ve learned that Bitch Face is what I look like neutrally, and I’ve accepted it. Not everyone has gotten to that same level of acceptance.

Men of every age seem to be so bothered that I don’t constantly look ecstatic. Their obvious grievance with my face is enough to intensify Bitch Face, but often they take it one step further – they tell me to smile. For all you dudes who can’t stop telling women to smile, you should probably know:

1. Women are not dogs. They don’t sit and lay and smile on command. They don’t want your treats, so please stop with the commands.

2. Women, just like everyone else, have a wide range of emotions. Perhaps a woman is angry and upset. Perhaps she is not. It’s none of your business which emotions women have, feel, or display, and nobody asked your permission to feel their feelings because nobody wasn’t seeking it.

3. Women don’t smile at every moment of neutral feelings. A woman may not be upset at all; she may be feeling nothing particular. However, women are not constantly wowed and amazed with the world around them, broadly smiling at streets, traffic lights, and each and every person who crosses their paths. The world is not pure, bewildering bliss to all women. If it’s a normal day, the average woman won’t be spending all 24 hours smiling.

4. If you see a woman looking less than pleased, it’s likely that someone just harassed her on the street. If not, she may be considering the alternate route she took to her destination to avoid some asshole who usually harasses  her on the street. Nether make most women too smiley.

Plus, can you imagine the reverse? Can you imagine a world where women approach men they don’t know and demand they feel and act a certain way? Doesn’t it just sound silly? And that’s what leads me to my initial question – why do men want me to smile so damn much? Does my smiling face brighten their day? (I’m not here to brighten anyone’s day.) Maybe. My theory is that is has less to do with my facial expression and more to do with a need to assert one’s power and dominance that male privilege affords them.

So the next time I hear, “Come on, why don’t you just smile?” I’ll continue on my way, making whatever face I want, and that might just make me smile… a little.

Angela Della Porta is a recent graduate of Clark University in Worcester, MA. She will join with Teach for America in Detroit in the fall. Until then, she’s spending her time in rural Maine. Follow her on Twitter: @angelassoapbox

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