You are having a perfectly fine day when someone says, “smile baby,” “you look upset,” or “are you okay?” Hearing phrases like these can be startling, confusing or maddening. You may also fall into a category of people who have a face, that when normally resting, does not appear particularly enthused.
I have been told I have one of those faces, ever so affectionately referred to in millennial media as “resting bitch face.” I have never understood this criticism personally, because my reaction has always been “this is just my face.”
I felt the need to expound upon the topic after a tweet made national news recently, released by RNC Chairman Reinhold “Reince” Priebus, which criticized Hillary Clinton’s appearance at a debate hosted by Matt Lauer. He was not the only male to write something to this affect.
The notion that a woman must smile in order to gain the approval of a man is not only unjust, it is sexist and condescending. A woman’s intellect and character should not be judged by a less than overjoyed or enthusiastic facial expression. Women are arbitrated when they aren’t actively smiling, with words such as “cold,” “unfeeling,” “upset,” “unfriendly,” even “bitchy.”
Have you ever heard of a man being criticized for not smiling?
Verbiage like the aforementioned would not be used to describe a man who wasn’t smiling. The idea that women have become an object, for others to admire, joyous and pleasant aesthetically, is inane and preposterous. Coming from a man, these types of comments are objectifying, and seem as if he is trying to control the actions of the woman he is speaking to.
When did it become our job as women to elevate the mood of men in our presence?
I never signed up for that.
The fact that the tweet received 4.3 thousand likes and 2.8 thousand retweets was even more concerning. Clinton was pictured with a business-like expression, focused and concentrated on the topics at hand. She was doing her job and giving it her complete attention. This is not a political statement. This is a statement about how women are addressed and judged based on their appearance and expression.
Female public figures receive the brunt of this criticism, such as actress Kristen Stewart and pro athlete Serena Williams. Both women were highly critiqued for not appearing “happy enough” during their respective press coverage events. Any male in their same position would never hear the same criticism, and historically they have not.
This judgment also happens on a daily basis to women all over the world, most especially in the form of street harassment. “Smile honey,” from an unfamiliar man is not only aggressive, it’s a phrase many men say in an attempt to establish dominance. The fear of potential physical aggression has forced the majority of women to tailor their answers as not to provoke the man catcalling.
Women should not have to live in fear of judgment, harassment, violence or critique when they refuse to go out of their way to look happy to appease men around them.
Their well-being, careers and safety should not be jeopardized by the lack of a smile on their faces. This apparent sexism is something we as women confront every day, but hopefully will see less of in the future, because nobody wants to be commanded to smile.
For projects and articles that cover or combat this issue, check out http://stoptellingwomentosmile.com, The Guardian, or 27 Of The Best Responses For When Random Guys Tell You To Smile.