Thursday, October 13, 2016

‘I Will Not Smile. I Am Not Your Monkey.’

[ed. I can understand how women might consider this a form of microaggression (is that a term getting a workout this year, or what?), but at the same time I'd hazard a guess that most men would be flattered to have the same attention. Usually it's like we're transparent. I've had buddies and even strangers tell me on occasion to smile (or, 'lighten up'!) and my usual response has been to just shrug it off (or give them the finger). On the other hand, it seems any attempt at conversation with a woman immediately gets processed through a threat filter (you can almost see it happening before your eyes) and a lot of men simply avoid saying anything friendly, even if they'd like to. I guess the answer is to just not say anything complimentary (or otherwise) about another person's appearance. Nice weather we're having today, eh?]

In a previous note, a reader wondered “what might happen if one refuses to smile.” Here are some readers who did refuse—and then responded forcefully to the men who’d solicited their smiles. Sarah writes:
We all have these stories, don’t we? 
Long ago, I was out at a bar with some friends when a Nice Guy decided to be cute with me. My attention had wandered and this, apparently, was unacceptable. So Mr. Nice Guy grabbed me by both shoulders, shook me, and yelled “Hey! Smile!” 
This happened a month or two after I had been sexually assaulted. I’ve never liked being touched without my consent, and that was particularly true at this point in my life. I reacted instinctively and pulled back to lay Mr. Nice Guy out flat. I stopped myself before my fist connected with his face, but—too late.

My negative reaction to his “just trying to be friendly!” act got me a torrent of anger and insults: I was a bitch, I should crawl back under my rock, I was (of course) fat and ugly, etc. He was ready to hit me when my male companions intervened. Mr. Nice Guy slunk away, only after he had shared his opinions about my looks and attitude with the men in my group. 
I don’t believe for a minute that the problem in that little interaction was my attitude. I am certain that Mr. Nice Guy never would have pulled that stunt on a random male at the bar who seemed preoccupied, because he knew that doing so would get him punched in the face.
Anne writes:
Picture this: I had just left the nursing home to visit my dying mother (who did not recognize me in her advanced stage of Alzheimer’s) and pulled into a restaurant to have a late breakfast before the long ride home. I am sitting at the table, reading a serious email from my sister about my mother's care and what the long-term plan was for my terminally ill father. 
An older gentleman approached me and said, “Smile!” The rest of the dialogue went something like this: 
“Excuse me?” 
“You should smile. I saw you reading and you just look too serious.” 
“I’m not reading anything funny.” 
“Yes, but you are just too INTO it. I saw you through the window. You look mean, so I think if you would just smile it would make you feel better.” 
“Sir, with all due respect, I will not smile. I am not your monkey and you have no right to comment on my countenance. I think, therefore, that you should walk away and mind your own business.” 
His wife overheard this exchange and gave ME the stink eye. 
I told my girlfriends about this, and they said, “Aww, he was just a harmless old man trying to flirt with you.” This made me more upset than being told to smile; my friends just didn’t get it. Did I really have to explain this?? It still angers me when I think about it. (...)
To me, these stories illustrate part of why comments on smiles can be so insidious and so frustrating. To tell someone to smile is invasive. It’s a comment on personal circumstances, on the thoughts and feelings that person should be allowed to keep private. It’s rude in the same way it’s rude to comment on someone’s weight gain or scars or miscarriage or divorce. But a smile is the part of someone’s mood that gets presented to the public, so on its face (and I do intend that pun), the command to smile seems casual, innocuous. To reveal the very personal reasons why we might not feel like smiling can seem like a much more obvious breach of social norms. And the pressure to be polite, to not make a scene, is deeply ingrained in us from childhood.

by Rosa Inocencio Smith, The Atlantic | Read more:
Image: Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters