By Caitlin Kelly
Here’s a powerful essay from The New York Times about one mother’s ferocious, non-smiley 10-year-old daughter, Birdy.
A few excerpts:
I am a radical, card-carrying feminist, and still I put out smiles indiscriminately, hoping to please not only friends and family but also my son’s orthodontist, the barista who rolls his eyes while I fumble apologetically through my wallet, and the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me. If I had all that energy back — all the hours and neurochemicals and facial musculature I have expended in my wanton pursuit of likedness — I could propel myself to Mars and back. Or, at the very least, write the book “Mars and Back: Gendered Constraints and Wasted Smiling.”…
Birdy is polite in a “Can you please help me find my rain boots?” and “Thank you, I’d love another deviled egg” kind of way. But when strangers talk to her, she is like, “Whatever.” She looks away, scowling. She does not smile or encourage.
I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice.
Girls and women often hear this order — mostly from men, and often while walking in public, lost in our own thoughts: “Smile, honey!”
It’s our job to respond to you?
It’s our job to be cheerful at all times?
It’s our job to immediately re-arrange our facial features at your command?
It’s our job to reassure you that you’re every bit as attractive and charming as you think you are?
It’s our job to put you at ease — no matter what our true mood is in that moment?
In high school, I was badly bullied every day, loudly, for about three years by a small group of boys. My nickname was Doglin and they’d bark at me in the hallways, their taunts echoing off all the metal lockers and the long terrazzo hallways.
It didn’t matter what I wore or how I reacted or how smart I was or how many friends I had — the daily public humiliation continued.
It’s not our job to make you feel better about yourself by making our face, body or behavior more appealing!
I also like this post, about why women don’t need to be pretty either (h/t to Small Dog Syndrome):
You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.
I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.
And here’s an excerpt from a recent, powerful essay on the issue from Salon.com:
Yesterday, I missed a train and I was frustrated, hot and tired. A man standing in the station decided it was a good time to pass his hand along my arm as I ran by and whisper, “You’d be even prettier if you smiled.” Here’s the thing about “Smile, baby,” the more commonly uttered variant of the same sentiment: No woman wants to hear it. And every woman wonders, no matter how briefly, about what could happen if she doesn’t smile. I was in a crowded place and perfectly safe, but that is actually, in the end, irrelevant. I have, in the past, been followed by men like him.
Without exception, this phrase means a man is entirely comfortable telling a woman, probably one he doesn’t even know, what he wants her to do with her body to please him. This suggests a lack of respect for other people’s bodily integrity and autonomy. The phrase, and others more sexually explicit, are verbal expressions of male entitlement. The touching would reinforce that suggestion. Two “inconsequential” little words. A small thing, until you consider street harassment as the normalization of male dominance.
Gentlemen, do you care if a woman doesn’t smile at you?
Do you care, ladies, if men think you’re angry or ugly when you fail to acknowledge their gaze?