02 March 2007

Smile, dammit!

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in the feminist blogosphere again, this time with regards to those men, wreaking of entitlement issues, who will stop a strange woman on the street and order her to smile. Most of the discussion revolved around the entitlement complex that many men have, and how they act like royalty by demanding their servants (in this case, strange women) to perform for them. Which is certainly a great summation of the entire issue, and one I would not argue with one bit.

But I’d like to go a step further. In our culture, the smiling face is considered the most beautiful and the most welcoming. When someone is happy, we know it by their smile. When someone smiles at us, we take that as a sign that we made them happy. Therefore, when someone is smiling, it really can “spread joy” and makes those nearby happier.* When someone smiles at you, there is a feeling that something you did made that person happy, whether it’s the way you look, how you walk, what you said, how you smell, you get the idea. Most people agree that smiles are a good thing.**

There are large groups of men who still consider women part of the scenery. Any man who goes to a strip club, Hooters, or catcalls women on the street is one of these men. (Which is why I don’t date men who do this.) I’d like to add “men who view pornography,” but that would most definitely put all men in the category, and I’d like to leave my thoughts on porn for another post. When women are expected to wear makeup, do their hair, dress in patriarchy-approved clothing, shave legs at a minimum to be considered part of mainstream society, and men can walk around in sweat stained t-shirts and pants with holes in the crotch as part of normal society, there is a problem.

So, we women still have not gained the status of human being yet, we are still relegated to the company of the sofa, drapes, and ficus. Which brings me back to the “smile, dammit” bit. My thoughts on these fuckers? That they assume they have the right to visual pleasure at any time, and who better to give them visual pleasure than the sex objects they see all day? (I use the term “objects” consciously, because these men don’t see women as anything more than fuckdolls.) I think these assbags get a kick out of demanding a strange woman to smile and seeing her succumb because it shows that he has the power in that exchange.

Most of us women succumb out of fear, or out of outright dumbfoundedness. “Did he really just tell me to smile?” As a woman who has heard this her entire life, it is a great way to ruin a woman’s day. Before my feminist days, I thought there was something wrong with me, and that I was ugly in some way. It made me so insecure. And then I realized something: What if something was really wrong? So the next time it happened, I told the shithead, “My dog just died today, so leave me the fuck alone.”*** The guy was pretty speechless, and I doubt he ever ordered a woman to smile again. I did this a couple of times, in a few different situations. (For example, during a time when I was incredibly thin due to severe depression, people (mostly women) would comment on how thin I was, as if I had no idea. They actually asked me if I ate! Duh! So I started telling people I was on chemotherapy, just to jar them. It worked!) After dealing with these intrusive situations, I realized that the men were not concerned about me and my emotional state, as some “smile demander apologists” would say. If they were truly concerned about my emotional state, and I indeed looked upset, they would ask me if I was okay, or offer some help.

Until men as a gender get the message that women are human, with human emotions and human experiences, I’m afraid we are stuck with teaching them individually that women do not exist for decorative purposes, but as active members of the human species. I’d like to think that, every time I came back with a snarky response to a “smile demander apologist” that an angel got its wings and a misogynist had the epiphany that women are human. Is this a little thing? Sure. But it’s the little things that pile up and up and up until our shoulders break, and women everywhere start to feel beaten down by the patriarchy, ready to give up. All of these little things are related to how we are viewed by men, which is the essence of the patriarchy. If we didn’t correct the men who insist that the female secretary get his coffee, or the men who catcall the woman going to her first day at a new job, or the ever-present ass-pincher, we’d be stuck in a world that women don’t feel comfortable in. A world that would push women back into the private sphere and out of harm and aggravation’s way. I don’t want that. I’ll take my tiny revolutions.

*Except for those weirdoes who keep a permagrin, like my neighbor. In that case, it’s just creepy. People who are happy all the time worry me, as they seem like they could snap at any moment and end up shooting up a roomful of people.

**Disregarding folks from East Asian and other cultures, in which smiling can be a sign of confrontation, a rude display of familiarity, etc.

***My dog was, in fact, peacefully napping at home at the time.

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