Published in Catalogue, 2016
About a week ago I was sitting in the passenger seat of an Uber X, undeniably squiffy from an evening out that I fail to recall now, with my various coats and scarfs crumpled on top of me as I cheerfully chatted with my driver. When we pulled up to my partner’s apartment block, I thanked him and began the uncoordinated process of bundling myself out of the car, it was as I moved forward to shut the door that he swiftly leaned out the passenger’s side and declared merrily, “You have to keep smiling young lady, not enough pretty girls like you smile!” I couldn’t help but feel my face crumple ever so slightly. What had been such a pleasant 25-minute interaction on a perfectly equal plane had suddenly been tainted by an idea – one that was perfectly friendly, perfectly well intentioned – but somewhat troubling nonetheless.
I loathe being told to smile by men.
As a woman, being told to smile is hardly a rare occurrence, coming in the form of faux supportive nods of “Cheer up, love” from older men in the streets, an intrusive “Smile, baby!” shouted from across the street or – my personal favourite – the aggressive “Learn how to smile!” taunted by persistent groups of younger men. “You’d look prettier if you smiled” is another particularly vicious phrase, often tossed around by adult males that should absolutely know better. Being told to smile is a frustrating, insidious manifestation of misogyny, slyly cloaked in enough cheer that the men who engage in this behaviour can confidently insist on its intention as a friendly jibe. It isn’t necessarily sexual, it isn’t always aggressive and it isn’t asking anything particularly taxing of women so why shouldn’t men continue to say it?