Friday, 26 August 2011

An Open Letter To A Stranger

Dear Man Who Stopped Me In The Supermarket Today To Demand That I Smile,

Fuck you. No, seriously, fuck you. Sorry if that seems a bit harsh, but I'm sick of men doing this. 

Here's the deal - you don't get to tell me how to feel. Not even if, as has been asserted to me by other men policing my facial expressions, you think I'm "too pretty" not to smile. When you stop a woman and demand that she smiles, you're taking away her right to feel feelings just because you don't fancy seeing someone look a bit narky. 

Why didn't you stop my boyfriend and say the same thing? He wasn't walking around wearing a shit-eating grin either. Why pick on me? Is it because I have tits I'm supposed to be all sweetness and light*? 

You looked pretty horrified at the look I gave you, (although, in fairness, if you heard what I said about you when I'd walked away you'd probably look a bit more horrified) but why was that? What did you actually expect? That I'd break into a beatific grin because you, a man, demanded it? 

Did you even think about why I might not be smiling? Today I'd had an argument with my sister, was worrying about money and moving house in a week, was very hungry and had period pains so bad that I was half convinced my uterus was trying to break out of my body a la Alien. Also, I fucking hate the supermarket. As it happens, I wasn't thinking about any of those things at the time. It's just - NEWSFLASH, DICKHEAD - I don't walk around grinning like an idiot all the time because of the wonders of femininity**. That's just how my face looks, and if it offends you, tough fucking shit. Mind your own damn business, and if you can't possibly do that, why not ask me why I apparently look so down, rather than just demanding I hide my feelings to avoid upsetting you?


The Scowly Girl At The Co-op.

*I know tits do not a woman make, but I doubt this guy did.
**This is not a real thing.


  1. " Is it because I have tits I'm supposed to be all sweetness and light*?
    *I know tits do not a woman make, but I doubt this guy did.
    Tits are important here. If you were one of those women who didn't have tits, he'd have had to prioritise telling you off for not having tits.

    There's an important hierarchy of reasons to harass women and it's essential that we do things the right way.

  2. I'm not sure this is a gender thing. I have people telling me to cheer up and smile all the time. It seems that people interpret my relaxed facial expression as grumpy or unhappy and then feel the need to comment on it.

    A couple of years ago I actually got to the point where I would lie and say something horrible had just happened to me to because I was so sick of it.

    Happily, I have now moved to London and everyone looks miserable and ignores each other and I'm free to relax my face muscles and I don't have to think up ludicrous lies (which ultimately left me feeling vaguely guilty rather than being cathartic).

  3. Spudman

    Yeah, I get it a fair bit too, having one o' them faces that doesn't naturally fall into a cheese-eating grin. Always from women, and older women generally, at that. Discussions with my sister, who has—for obvious reasons—much the same face I do, suggest that it happens to women much more often, though.

  4. I don't get it that often anymore. Apparently when I'm not smiling I look a bit like I might kill someone, so that could be it.

  5. I get it too. I tend not to interperate people telling me to cheer up as a violation of my right to be miserable, or a trespass on my private issues. I think people tell me to smile because they feel some concern for me, and want me to feel better. Getting frustrated at this is like getting angry at someone who dares tell me to "have a nice day".

    Should something so harmless as someone's genuine desire for your well being get construed as an example of patriarchal tyranny? It is slightly condescending, but that is the worst of it.

  6. maninahat2, I paraphrase a remark my sister made the other day:

    It's merely annoying when it happens now and then. When it happens all the time, you look for trends, and notice that it happens to women much more often than to men. When you notice that, then the 'condescension' takes on sexist overtones.

    Just to clarify, to condescend is to treat someone as inferior to yourself (we can define condescension as 'talking down' to someone). If there's a clearly gender-related trend involving that condescension, then it shows that an attitude is held by many members of one gender that the other is in some ways inferior.

    So, by your own definition, there is a sexist element to it.

  7. There is not necessarily a sexist element to it.

    You claim there are trends in this kind of condescension, and that it happens more often to women than men. Assuming that is the case, it still isn't necessarily a symptom of sexism. There are a 101 reasons as to why such a trend might exist, and sexism does not account for all or even most of them.

    Likewise, I've noticed that the majority of people I see telling others to cheer up are women. Is this sexist in of itself?

  8. Assuming that my admittedly anecdotal trend exists, and noting that you yourself admit that the act is condescending, this is the very definition of 'sexist'.

    The word 'condescend' directly implies a self-perceived superior status on the part of the person doing the condescending. Therefore, if members of a particular social group always act in such a manner toward members of a particular other social group, it implies a perceived superiority. Age-ist, racist, sexist, whatever-ist... we've just defined it.

    Now, whether this actually happens more often to women than men is another question—though women do seem to at least notice it more. You cannot, however, in all faith, say "Assuming that is the case, it still isn't necessarily a symptom of sexism."

  9. "Now, whether this actually happens more often to women than men is another question"

    It is THE question. If women use the "smile order" as much as men, or old as much as young, or black as much as white, it is harder to attribute it to a specific -ism motive. If a young white man uses the term on another young white man, what -ism is he being? Sometimes people don't need any impulse to make a superior remark, except perhaps a prejudice against frowns.