Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana demonstrate the move that should be included in all of our arsenals.
Last week, Serena Williams expertly shut down a male journalist who asked her why she wasn’t smiling during a press conference and IT WAS GLORIOUS:
“To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here.”
Some enterprising Esty retailer should put that perfect gem of a sentence onto a T-shirt. I realize letter-Ts are very Bootlegger circa 2005, but think about how much wear we’d get out of this one. It’s perfect for social events attended out of obligation, anything involving the phrases “team building” or “networking,” “Work Things” and workshops, most dance-based exercise classes. (That sentence is also how I should have begun every bro-country concert I’ve ever reviewed.)
Two other news items also caught my eye last week: Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s excellent public art project Stop Telling Women to Smile has arrived in Chicago; and Apple and Adobe caught some heat for Photoshopping a smile on a model’s face during a demonstration of a new app called Adobe Fix.
Three’s a trend, so I guess we’re talking about this again. But truthfully, I’m sick of talking about the ways in which women are policed — mostly because I’m sick of the ways in which women are policed. What we wear, how much space we take up, how we behave, how much sex we have, how we talk — see: the Great Vocal Fry Panic of Summer 2015, uptalking, that weird month in which we weren’t allowed to say “just” anymore.
I wish that Fazlalizadeh’s work wasn’t still necessary. I wish that Apple/Adobe thought a bit harder about the optics of that demo. I wish Williams didn’t have to answer that inane question.
But mostly, I wish men would stop telling women to smile.
Being told to smile is, hands down, my most experienced form of street harassment. I have a so-called RBF, or Resting Bitch Face. There is, of course, no male equivalent of RBF — but I like my RBF. I naturally have a Don’t Fuck With Me Face. Or ‘Why Are You Talking To Me, Are You Lost?’ Face.
Actually, it’s usually a Deep In Thought Face. I’m usually in my own head; I am often startled when someone snaps me back into reality.
But really, it’s just a face — my face. It’s just how my face is. I wear what’s probably, in reality, a perfectly neutral expression, and yet, dudes — ALWAYS DUDES — feel the need to come up to me to ask me what’s wrong, why aren’t I smiling, and “you’d be prettier if you smiled.” (Where does this ubiquitous phrase come from? Some misogynist handbook called Interacting With Women: How To Let Them Know You Hate Them But Still Kind Of Want to Fuck Them?)
This behaviour isn’t limited to street harassers. I’ve been told to smile by male colleagues, too. In any event, I am not particularly good at dealing with it. Usually, I end up smiling — a nervous, fake smile — which is almost always met with a weirdly triumphant “There it is!” (Ugh, go away.)
Recently, on my way home from a drinks date, two guys came up to me. “My friend was wondering if he could have a kiss on the cheek,” one said. My response?
“I’ll pass, thanks.”
Yes, that’s correct: I politely thanked a street harasser.
As Anita Little points out at the Ms. Magazine blog, “all women are expected to perform femininity at the cost of being their authentic selves in the public sphere.” That performance may include being nice, pleasing (or appeasing) others, apologizing, putting someone else’s comfort before our own — all things we’ve been socialized to do. Tellingly, much of the coverage surrounding Williams’ retort focused on how ‘unapologetic’ she was. But why should she be apologetic?
Williams didn’t owe that reporter a smile, or an apology. Just as I don’t owe anyone a smile or an apology. None of us do. We don’t need to justify or explain our moods, our faces, our dress or our vocal idiosyncrasies to anyone.
I know that logically. But I also know that in this culture, non-compliance can have consequences.
So, dudes who tell women to smile: CUT THE SHIT.