Friday, November 11, 2016

Why is "smile!" bad? (It's not the Political Correctness Police)

(A shame-free and hopefully patronization-free education zone)

My post yesterday got a lot of good conversation going about men telling women to smile, randomly, on the street. Some commenters, and a lot more readers, probably thought "what's wrong with men telling women to smile?" (and even "oh boy, the Political Correctness Police decided you can't say yet another thing.") I get that, because when I think of a phrase as innocuous as "smile", I first think of "Smile!" Type A:

A kindly gentleman notices a lady feeling a little down, just looking for some kindness in the world, and he offers her a word of encouragement, "smile!", as in "it'll all be ok!"

"Smile!" Type A is maybe encouraging, maybe annoying. I mean, he could have just as easily said "it'll all be ok!" without making it her problem. Whatever. Maybe it's nice, maybe it's annoying.
EDIT: To clarify, don't do this. It might seem pleasant in your mind, but it's not: it's annoying and demeaning. Instead of actually caring about someone, you're just jumping in and "fixing" their problem. This is not a nice thing to do. Maybe it won't all be ok! Maybe they've got a serious issue and need to just be, for a minute! Someone else telling them how they ought to be feeling is 99% not going to make them feel better.

And the thing is, there's also "Smile!" Type B:
An imposing, skeezy looking dude leers at a woman and yells "smile!" Then:
- she smiles, and he goes, in a sleazy voice, "mmm baby there you go"
- she ignores him, and he yells at her for being deaf/ignoring him
- she says "no" and he yells at her for being "nasty" or a "fucking ugly bitch" or worse

Like, "Smile!" Type B is obviously annoying, demeaning, and/or threatening. And (here's the part I didn't realize, as a dude): women get "Smile!" Type B sooo often. Way more often than "Smile!" Type A. So if you, a dude, tell a lady to smile, they're 99% of the time correct to assume it's "Smile!" Type B, and this is annoying and/or scary (even if you meant "Smile!" Type A.)

(and remember, even "Smile!" Type A is probably kinda annoying. EDIT: is at least annoying, and usually demeaning too.)

(also, side point, I've never heard a woman tell me she likes being told to smile, and I've often heard women tell me they hate being told to smile. anecdotes, yeah, but one-sided enough that I'm pretty confident that it's fair to generalize.)

Thanks to Samantha and Kristina for examples; thanks to Tatiana for raising it to my attention at all. Men, if you wanna discuss, maybe do it here! (even reshare it, whatever.) I'm not exhausted from talking about this constantly, like the women in your life might be. Women, if I'm getting anything wrong or leaving anything out, let me know.

4 comments:

Daniel said...

Which post yesterday? Facebook?

Daniel said...

Ah, found it, nevermind :) Good job!

Vicki said...

Yes, and:
Smile type A is more than a little annoying. Less obviously problematic than Type B, of course, but it infantalizes the woman, invalidates her feelings, and perpetuates the notion that women have to be likeable and pleasant. They don't. (which I know you know, of course) Maybe she's not smiling because she's constitutionally not a cheerful person; that's allowed. Actually, come to think of it, only the very most cheerful people walk around smiling at nothing, anyway. So maybe she's of constitutionally-average temperament, and just didn't have a special day. Maybe she's not smiling because something really awful just happened; consider how very uncomforting and frustrating it is to be told "it's going to be okay" when it isn't, or when the person doesn't understand. We are much more comforted when we are heard and empathized with than when we are told there is no need to feel how we feel. And, as I commented on FB, telling women their feelings are wrong, subtly and persistently over time, undermines their trust in their own perceptions, making it harder to get out of a bad situation or to feel justified in reporting assault when it happens.

Dan Tasse said...

Yeah. I think I was too generous to "Smile!" Type A. I've updated the post and the Facebook to hopefully clarify.
(for one, I would probably be super pissed anytime someone tried to "Smile!" me, whether they're creepy or not.)