Smile

I recently posted on Facebook about an encounter with sexism. It has generated a lot of response, so I’m re-posting the highlights here.

Original Post on November 9, 2016

Today, I stood up for myself.

As I waited for the elevator, contemplating the election, a co-worker approached and said, “Smile.” Contrary to my usual polite compliance, I looked at him and said, “No. I don’t have to smile just because someone is looking at me.” We rode the elevator in silence until I reached my floor and said, with a genuine smile, “Have a good day.” He responded in kind.

I’ve never liked when men (I have yet to encounter a woman doing so) greet me with an instruction to smile, but last night’s election results reminded me that I must stand against sexism, no matter how casual or well-intended. Pleasant conversation can start with a kind greeting as simple as “Hello.”

Response From a Family Member

WoW. I’ve had plenty of women tell me to smile in the past. Never once did I consider it sexist. Maybe I was just miserable at the time. Could it be that?

My Reply

Hi! We don’t get to visit often enough, so it’s great to hear from you. Thanks for trying to help, but I’m not sure what you’re trying point out. Are you trying to tell me that because you, as a man, have had women tell you to smile that I did not experience sexism? Or are you trying to tell me that if I am miserable, then I should appreciate someone, regardless of gender, telling me to smile?

Anyone instructing another person to smile is valuing their own comfort over the other person’s feelings. The person speaking is trying to elicit a response without earning it: “I see you. You look miserable. I don’t want to see you looking miserable. Smile because I tell you to not because I have said or done something to lift your miserable mood.” This is not acceptable.

I am certain that women tell women, women tell men, and men tell men to smile. This does not negate the fact that this type of instruction is overwhelming perpetrated by men speaking to women. Someone telling another person to smile is insensitive and condescending. A man telling a woman to smile because she is a woman is sexism.

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