Okay, okay, I know what you may be thinking:
Here she goes again, on another feminist rant.
You aren’t wrong. I’ve even wrote about this specific issue before, a few months ago when I faced the same issue. But there are some issues that I cannot write enough about. No matter how much I write, there are not enough words in the english language to properly express my feelings on them, and this is one of those issues. It is also an issue so seemingly small, that it shouldn’t even be a problem. Yet, it is a problem, every single day, for women all over the world, including myself. So, here we go.
In the words of my alter-ego Wednesday Addams, I’m not perky. I don’t have a sunny disposition. This doesn’t mean that I’m an unhappy person, but like many people, I don’t always appear to be happy. Most of the time, I have a blank expression on my face. It is blank, neutral, not elated, but also not depressed, or angry, or anything else, simply a face, my face. Other expressions that I find could possibly be confused with frustration are ones of observation and concentration. As an introvert and a creative human being, I spent a lot of my time not talking, but listening and observing. Especially in the city, if I’m walking down the street solo or with a friend, I’m usually looking up at the world around me, the people around me, taking it all in with concentration. Other times, I might be so wrapped up in thinking about something that I can’t stop, even while walking. Regardless, my facial expressions are rarely ever derived from sadness, or anger, or anything of the sort.
Most of the people in my life know this. But, obviously strangers do not, because they don’t know me. People can take things really personal sometimes, and assume that a look that isn’t a smile is some sort of negative emotion targeted at them, but in that case it is usually ignored, or an angry expression or an eye roll is fired back. Most people don’t care, especially here in Manhattan. They go about their day, and I go about mine, and all is peachy. I prefer that. But, there are still those who feel the compelling need to tell me what to do with my body. If this hasn’t happened to you, or a friend or family member, or a stranger walking by, consider yourself lucky. But, I’d venture to say many, if not most women have been told something along these lines by men:
“You can at least smile!”
“I bet you have a beautiful smile, show it off!”
You get the point, I’m sure. During my two decades of living on this planet, I’m going to guess that I’ve heard this at least one hundred times. People have told me this since I was a little girl. Let me begin by saying that I am well-aware that it isn’t an all-male issue. There are plenty of men who not only don’t care about my facial expressions, but ones that understand that a) a blank expression doesn’t mean I’m not happy, b) even if I was, I have the right to be unhappy, and c) it isn’t really any of their business, anyway. But, there are still men who fit the bill and cause these issues, and those are the specific men that I’m addressing.
First of all, let us ask ourselves the following question: why do men care what our facial expression is, why do they care how we look? Well, regardless if one realizes this or not, society teaches women to be everything that men want them to be. Think about it. When I cut my hair a few weeks ago, people told me “Men like women with long hair!” and cutting long hair to a pixie cut is seen as taboo because men don’t like it on women. We insist that women do their makeup, cut their hair accordingly, dress nicely all for the attention of men, and men are aware of this. So, like I said before it definetly isn’t all men, but a lot of men through the teachings of our lovely misogynistic society believe that women exist for them and their pleasure, everything that we do is for them, to make them happy, to make them notice us.
Obviously, that is not true. I cut my hair because I wanted to and it made me happy because it was how I wanted it to look, I wear pants more than dresses because it is what I prefer , and I wear makeup for myself, not for men. Women in general don’t do these things because they think it will be in favor of men, but because they want to, because it makes them happy. But, regardless of that, this is what men and women are taught, and this is where them caring about how we look comes in to play. The men that tell us to smile are the same men that believe women exist for them, so because we aren’t smiling, we aren’t seen as pretty. As a woman, we should smile because we’re supposed to be seen as pretty, beautiful creatures, and one can only do that by smiling. So, they tell us to smile, and that we should show off our smile, and while these seem like harmless, perhaps even positive comments by some, they are filled with misogyny, negativity, and are destructive towards women and girls.
What a man who is ignorantly attempting to be nice or flirt with a woman by saying that doesn’t get is that by telling a woman to smile, he is telling her what to do with her body. It isn’t any different from telling her to wear heels because he sees her wearing flats, or grow her hair out instead of cutting it to a bob, because it would make her look so beautiful! They are all the same. Women have the right to their own body, complete ownership that is theirs and only theirs. We should be able to wear a neutral expression without being told that it is wrong and we should do something else. Men don’t have the right to tell women what to do with their own bodies. Would that same man ever tell another man to smile? Of course not, because it’s weird, and the man would probably agree that it isn’t his business and he doesn’t care about how the man looks. It shouldn’t be any different for women. It should be as weird, and it is seen as weird and annoying by almost all of the women who get these comments thrown at them, but the men throwing them need to open their eyes and realize this. We tell girls this and already, before they hit double digits, many of them begin to learn that they exist for the male gaze, that they should smile and do certain things to impress boys, and these aren’t the things we should be teaching girls or women.
But diving further into this issue, while most women defend themselves by saying that it is a neutral expression, who ever said that women don’t have the right to be sad or mad? So what if a woman does have a visibly angry expression on her face? Is she not allowed to be angry? Is she not entitled to basic human emotions? Because society has taught women that they exist for the sake of the male gaze, not only should they dress, do their hair, and wear makeup for the sake of men, but they should also appear happy and pleasant, even when they aren’t. Women should be happy all the time, but in reality we all know that isn’t the reality. Nobody is happy all the time, and women are as entitled to having emotions and being able to show them as men are. Women don’t have it easier, their lives aren’t better, their careers aren’t less demanding, finances aren’t any less of a burden, family emergencies and arguments don’t happen any less, simply because of their gender and the gender roles put in society. They face all of these in the same exact way that men do, no more, no less. Everybody is going through something, and maybe the woman that walks found out her aunt passed, or lost her job, or simply is having a really shitty day. She is entitled to be angry, and upset, and look however she wants without being told otherwise by anybody.
We need to un-teach women and girls that their purpose in life and their physical appearance and emotions should all be to please men. But, more importantly, we need to un-teach men that women are mere objects, things that exist for the sake of their pleasure, and that telling a woman what to do with her body is a flirting technique, or a way of being nice, or socially acceptable at all. We’re getting to a place of equality, step by step, I believe that. We’ve made progress, but as much progress as we’ve made, we still have a long way to go.