A man who I know to be kind and thoughtful asked what was wrong with telling a woman to smile. The following is a slightly edited version of my response:
Thanks for the question! When I said don't get me started, it's because I have so much to say about this. I am happy to respond and point you toward some other sources.My friend, Monika T, added:
Men telling women to smile is a problem for a lot of reasons. One is that if I am not smiling in a public place, I might have a good reason. Maybe my sister is in the hospital, or I just got fired, or I was just thinking about something.
But when a man I don't know tells me to smile, I have to stop thinking about whatever it was I was thinking about and engage him. I have to either smile for him, even if I don't want to, or I have to refuse. I have to decide how badly he might respond. Will he get mad? Is it possible he could attack me?
In the end, it is a form of body control. It reinforces the idea that I am not out in public for myself, but to be pretty for men. It may seem like a small thing, but when it happens often, it is pretty demoralizing.
In sum, strangers are not entitled to my body, my time, or my attention.
The thing is, telling someone to smile is telling them what to do and how to feel. And you would be astounded how many men regard women that way. Its insidious and pervasive. Every time I go into the city, I have to devote some of my mental energy and focus to assessing who might harass me, and how they might react if I push back. This happens often if not always on my way to class, when I have better things to be thinking about.There are some wonderful videos illustrating how ridiculous and awful telling women to smile is, such as this one called Smile, and this one from Stop Telling Women to Smile:
This morning, I saw that I was not the only one thinking or writing about this issue yesterday! Here is a wonderful article about street harassment: You're a Good-Looking Girl . . . I Want to Attack You. Cameron Esposito sums it up well:
I do not care if you think I am beautiful. Your feedback or evaluation isn’t needed. I also do not care if you think I am not beautiful. Your feedback or evaluation isn’t needed there either.I am grateful for the men who engaged in this conversation. If men are concerned about this issue and looking for ways to help, here are 35 Practical Steps Men Can Take to Support Feminism.