Friday, 23 March 2012

Why telling women to smile is sexist.

I'm not a happy smiley-smiley person, I'm just not. You're more likely to find me deep in thought and frowning because that seems to be the natural way my face decides to rest. So maybe I've been affected by this much more than other women but quite often I'll just be walking along, or standing along - in a public place and a complete stranger will whiz past and instruct me to "give us a smile" or simply "smile!". This happens only when I'm alone, the stranger is always male and he usually finishes off his demand with a "love". The most annoying part is that there's never enough time to roll out a satisfying comeback.

The obvious problem is that the shitty smile stranger knows nothing about you or what might have just happened to you. Secondly, being strangers their intentions can never be genuine worry about your unhappiness. Thirdly, since when has demanding an unhappy person to smile ever made them suddenly stop being unhappy? So I must question - why? and why do men, specifically, feel they have the right to tell women to smile. Why do they expect women to do what they want them to, just because they said so. The smile benefits them, they can see it not us. It's not for our benefit - so it must be for theirs.

I interviewed a young woman recently about female beauty standards. She seemed to me like quite a happy person, maybe even one of those 'smiley-smiley' people yet I learned that she too was fed up of people, predominantly men, demanding her to flash them a smile. It's not just me then, with my perma-frowned face. Maybe part of it is related to our age; the false perception that young people should be thoroughly enjoying and sucking the nourishment out of every second of their day because being young is so much fun and nothing can ever go wrong for us. I got fired from a job two years ago for not being "bubbly and out there enough", I was told I was "young and attractive and have everything going for you" as if my age and gender placed this expectation on me to act "bubbly" every second of the day.

So maybe it's the age thing. I think mostly though it's because we're women and we're expected to look pretty and happy and there for other people to look at to use for their own visual pleasure. Not just for men actually, some women expect it too and can be just as sexist as men with their expectations of gender stereotypes. At work I tried to conform to looking conventionally attractive and 'feminine' through make-up and clothing but the one thing I couldn't fake was the lack of carbonated bubble in my personality - I could not look good enough.

See article: Victoria Beckham doesn't smile, gets called shit names for it. Would the same judgement be directed at a man who didn't look particularly grumpy, but just didn't smile?

Are you 'male', is being told to smile a problem for you? let me know, I'm interested.

Oh and if you hadn't noticed, my smile is turned upside down to show that my lips naturally curve to create a 'downwards smile'.


  1. Great post. Solid point. When male strangers rudely instruct a young woman to smile, they are demonstrating the social power they perceive they have over her. Which is awful.

    I hate this type of sexism. A few years back, I was standing next to two men, both old and fat, when one of the complains that a young woman walking past wasn't sufficiently attractive for him. I was agog. I turned around to him and said, "Hey, buddy. When's the last time YOU won a beauty pageant?!"

  2. men who smile are considered gay or soft

  3. When men tell women to "smile", it is not out of concern for wanting them to be "happy". Rather, smiling goes hand-in-hand with the misogynistic notion of women as nothing more than subservient care-givers for other people -- smiling adds to the "presentation" aspect of a servant, if you will (think waiters/waitresses and other employees in "server occupations" who smile all the time in front of their customers). So indeed, telling women to smile IS sexist, because it reflects what you think as their "role" as servants to men.