I try to steer away from clickbait. I really do.
But man, when I see a BuzzFeed article entitled “Men On Twitter Kept Telling Hillary Clinton To Smile As She Delivered Her Speech,” I knew I was in trouble, because this is another one of those pet peeves I have in regards to expectations of “traditional femininity” (see previous posts on makeup and cuteness) , and I do not mind fussing about it.
I thought it was a pretty good speech. There were definitely points where it got trope-laden and cheap shots-y, but that’s par for the course in Presidential season, and the message of achievement through unity was one that really resonated for me. Also, she referenced Hamilton, which of course wins her some points.
At no point was I worried about what her mouth was doing besides speaking about what she was speaking about, but apparently some people had other ideas.
Because Jesus Christ, regardless of your political leanings, are we seriously pulling this bullshit with the first female nominee to lead a major party, let’s listen to what she has to say about policy and see if it sticks and blah dee blah nope don’t care, why doesn’t she look friendlier and use her mouth for something besides talking?
I vividly remember a morning that I had an argument with then-loving-boyfriend, now-loving-fiancée. I don’t recall what we were arguing about, but I’m sure it was something silly and trivial that neither of us found particularly funny at the time, and we left it unresolved when I had to go to work.
I was standing, waiting for my order at Wawa, and one of the friendly neighborhood sandwich makers told me to Cheer up. Smile.
I just about lost it and flipped my delicious breakfast burrito onto the counter.
But I didn’t. And I didn’t smile.
I know some people don’t care about this or don’t get what the big deal is, and if it doesn’t bother you, that is a-okay, but I feel like more women are speaking out about what many feel is a subtle form of harassment, and I want to add my voice to that quiet but growing chorus. And I’m not going to be as articulate and rational as I want to be, but I hate random man giving me the subversively creepy urging to Smile, usually followed up with You’re prettier when you smile.
Guys, it is not our job to be pretty for you, and it is not my job to be pretty for you.
And even if we were in some weird, alternate universe where it were, you don’t know me. You don’t know what kind of day I’m having. You don’t know if a loved one has died recently, or I’m going through a messy divorce, or I’m experiencing a severe anxiety attack, or whatever – you don’t have the right to tell me what I should be doing with my appearance. If I am worried or sad or god forbid thinking, you need to be okay with that and not focus on whether the status of my facial musculature is at its optimally pleasing configuration.
I recently started re-watching Netflix/Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and I’d (somehow) forgotten about mind-control-creep-villain Killgrave’s repeated command for Jessica to Smile. The show contains a lot of beautiful, intelligent, seriously-minded work with tough material about consent, abuse, and sexual power dynamics (and also it’s just a great show, and if you have a strong stomach and don’t mind a certain degree of sex, profanity, gore, and creepiness, you should marathon it right now), but man, that line– Smile— it makes my skin crawl. It feels completely like an act of rape.
Here is a complete list of people who I am giving permission to tell me when to smile.
No, you didn’t miss it. The list doesn’t exist.
Now, to clarify – I don’t mind when loving fiancée asks me to smile. Or when my friends or family do something to try to make me smile. You know why? Because they’re not trying to make me smile. They’re trying to make me happy. And there’s a difference.
(addendum – I should also probably add that as a theatre artist and performer, I’m okay with my director telling me to smile as applicable. Because, you know, that’s his or her job.)
Random guy telling me to smile, you know what I hear you saying? I hear you saying that the façade of my contentment with the world is more important than any genuine thought or inner turmoil I might be going through. I hear you wanting to think you’ve affected my day without doing the actual work of affecting my day. And I hear the catch-22 where if I’m not smiling, I’m a bitch who doesn’t appreciate you, and if I am smiling, I’m sweet but a ditz. These are the two extremes we generally get to see when a woman changes the tension in her lips and cheeks; there is very little in between.
Random guy telling me to smile, maybe if you really, actually want me to smile– if that’s actually your genuine, compassionate desire, as I think it is for some of you– you should do something that makes me smile. Tell a joke. Wish me a nice day. Come up with a creative compliment. Tell me to hang in there. Chat me up about my favorite Star Wars character (Mara Jade, incidentally). You could give me a free sandwich, even. But if you can’t muster the effort to attempt something like that, you should not take the lazy way out and just tell me to smile, because that’s not how this shit works, and you might end up with breakfast burrito all over your nice clean counter.