I don’t need to provide endless links to Jezebel, Ms Magazine, Feministing, Slate, Salon, and HuffPo on why one shouldn’t tell a woman to smile. That can easily be googled. What I do need to do is give some insight of my own, a little anecdotal evidence, that helps illustrate exactly why one does not command another one to smile.
Step into the scene with me…
I was running on three hours of sleep and a hangover that might have taken down a twenty-five year old. The night before had been spent celebrating a friend’s birthday. My favorite people were there and people I hadn’t seen in a year were there. My parents were even there at one point. Locations changed. Cornhole played. Beers imbibed for hours. A dance party in the kitchen had been had. Sleep, on the other hand, had not. The little that I did get was restless and fitful from the alcohol coursing through my bloodstream.
And the night ahead of me would bring no relief. My parents were in town specifically for the Alabama Shakes show, and make it to the show we would. Before the concert we would have a nice dinner out and more drinking. The concert would begin later than my normal bedtime, so it would certainly end well-past the time I would normally need to be in bed, let alone an altered bedtime based on a miniscule amount of sleep from the previous evening.
To lessen the pain and curb the symptoms of the worst-hangover-of-the-month, I tried a triple latte. It didn’t work. I tried a greasy sausage biscuit and orange juice. It didn’t work. I tried chocolate chip cookies. It didn’t work. I tried a nap. Nothing worked. Of course, I knew the only thing that would work. The only thing with enough sweetness to bring my blood sugar up to pre-booze blowout levels, sweet tea. A big ole 32 ounce sweet tea. From the McDonald’s less than a mile from my house.
On top of the physical depletion I was feeling all day, things had happened the day before and at the party that left me raw and vulnerable. I had been processing information in between naps and rehashing conversations while lazing in a chair on the porch. I was restless with the possibilities and repurcussions from the previous day’s events.
In my haze of sleep deprivation and my exhaustion of riding an emotional rollercoaster, I didn’t leave the house in search of that tea until well into the afternoon. I hoisted my lethargic body into my car. The only reward of it was knowing that I would soon have that liquid gold in that massive environmentally-horrible styrofoam cup.
The day was gorgeous. Perfectly sunny. Perfectly warm. Perfectly breezy. I rolled down every window in the car and pumped up the volume, as I am want to do any time I’m driving and it’s not raining. One arm crooked out the window. The other straight as an arrow guiding the steering wheel. To the closest fast food joint I headed. Feeling like shit, I was about to get my hands on the elixir of life.
As I sat in front of the red light at the bottom of my street, steeped in physical and emotional discomfort, my face just being on my head, resting in the position that it tends to rest, I heard someone shouting beside me. I looked over. An old, dirty, pot-bellied man was standing in front of the tire shop with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He shouted it again, “SMILE!”
In a gesture I never raise, I threw up my hand with only my middle finger protruding and said, “fuck you, dude.” The light turned green, and I turned left into the crowded Village.
I was sitting in my car. Alone. In private. And this man expected me to be on for him. He looked into my car, didn’t like what he saw, inserted himself into my life, and he commanded me to perform for him. He had no regard for who I was or what state I was in. He expected to give me an order to which I should follow suit.
Here’s another way to look at it. Had I been a man, he would not have dared to tell me to smile, for many reasons. However, the most offensive reason he would never give such a directive to man is because he would not receive the same pleasure from a smiling man that he would from a smiling woman.
This is not meant to be a lesson in microagressions against women. It’s meant to be some insight into why seemingly innocuous comments can create such powerful storms of frustration and resentment. We are all living our lives in struggle, in turmoil, in our own heads. But some of us are forced to snap out of it because strangers expect us to submit to their notions of what shape they want our faces to make.