Stop telling me to ‘smile’

‘Cheer up love!’

‘Smile!’

‘It might never happen!’

These are just a few of the things absolute strangers have shouted at me walking down the street.

On my way to work just the other day, a man I had never met in my life told me to give him a ‘smile’.

Why did I take such offence to his request?

And would that man later tell another man he didn’t know to smile?

These were the questions that went through my head after the encounter.

“Your face – just like your body – is something you, and you only, should police”

 

A quick search on the internet revealed that I wasn’t the only one sick and tired of being told to ‘smile’ by a stranger. While of course, both genders can be guilty of such a faux pas, the search revealed that in the main, men were the repeat offenders and women, the unwilling recipients of such comments.

Beneath this seemingly harmless comment, much larger issues are at play; gender stereotyping and sexism.

At the heart of smile-gate is the expectation from some men, that females specifically, need to exhibit femininity through smiling and ‘prettiness’. It is an unwelcome assertion of authority and implies that you feel I am here for your entertainment and that I should look how you want me to look – not only that, but on some level you feel you have the right to tell me how to look and act (FYI: You don’t, no one does).

Being told to smile can be invasive, patronising and insensitive. You have no idea what that person is going through; they could be struggling with depression, experienced a recent bereavement or conversely, they could be ecstatic with happiness! Your face – just like your body – is something you, and you only, should police.

 

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