Learn to spot the signs »« What blocks empathy?

He was just trying to compliment you

Ah yes – the ever-popular “random man tells woman to smile” number.

When I did not smile (I continued looking for my keys in my purse and avoided all eye contact, in fact), he told me my “pretty face was going to waste.”

Ah, no. It’s not. It’s being put to good use keeping her eyes in their right place so that she can see to find her keys and make her way around, and keeping her mouth where it belongs so that she can eat. It’s not going to waste at all. Its function isn’t to provide something for that random man.

There are lots of comments. Some are interesting.

  • A guy did this to me recently as I passed him on a sidewalk, and I was so thrown that I actually did smile a little. Then he frowned and said “No, that looks fake.”
  • Oh, god. I don’t even want to see the array of comments about how dude meant no harm, feminists are crazy, yadda yadda. You people don’t get it. It’s basically a command to play cute for a random guy. Hard to imagine a random street guy telling another man to smile? There’s a reason for that. Fume.
  • It must be tricky to get through each day when every interaction is forcibly turned into a power struggle.

    He was just trying to compliment you.  He did not literally mean your face is a waste unless you are smiling.  All he did was call you pretty.  You brought all the drama.

    I love how people say the Seattle Freeze is not real when I read things like this.  This could not be more passive aggressive.

He, a complete stranger and random person, was just trying to compliment you. And we all want complete strangers trying to compliment us on our appearance (by ordering us to smile)?

Think, people. It’s not that difficult.

Comments

  1. Lofty says

    Hah, I’m as much a sucker for a pretty smiling face as any man, but I do try to earn the smile by a witty comment, a helpful gesture, a bit of courtesy, if appropriate for the moment. Not to buttonhole random passers by and demand it.
    Am I weird?

  2. karmacat says

    I would be tempted to say, “Well, nothing is going to help your face.” The best response probably would be not to say anything and look at him as if he is the most stupid person in the world.

  3. Acolyte of Sagan says

    I can say with all honesty that I have never told a random stranger to smile, or to ‘cheer up, things could be worse’, but I do smile at strangers for one very simple reason; I have been reliably informed that, when not smiling, I have a face that would frighten a police-horse. It didn’t take me long to figure out that people are far more relaxed around me when I smile.

  4. smhll says

    he told me my “pretty face was going to waste.”

    I translate this as “your face is failing to gratify me.”

  5. steve oberski says

    I’m pretty sure that the guy who told the woman to smile would not provide the same service to a Hell’s Angles motorcycle gang.

    Now I’m not saying that men who do this should get the shit kicked out of them but there should be some sort of equivalent social penalty for such actions. Or a legal penalty, as this sounds like harassment to me.

  6. Yellow Thursday says

    I’ve been trying to do some awareness raising with regard to my husband doing this. I’m pretty sure that, in his mind, he’s just trying to cheer the person up, but I’ve noticed it’s almost exclusively attractive young women he tells to smile or “cheer up.” Simply explaining to him why it’s bad has been enough to make him think about what he’s saying, though sometimes only after the fact.

    I, on the other hand, have been the object of this sort of thing enough (from customers) that I’ve taught myself to smile convincingly while I’m at work. I often feel like I fake cheerfulness and sympathy for an hourly wage.

  7. MarkF says

    There’s really not much difference between commenting on a stranger’s face and commenting on their breasts or ass. Unless the person has given you the impression that such commentary is welcome, you shouldn’t assume that it is.

    Most of us wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and suggest that their breasts were going to waste because of their poor posture. Is someone’s face really any different?

  8. says

    “You should smile/Why aren’t you smiling?/What’s with the frown?/Why are you wasting a pretty face?/etc.” = “Your appearance should please me. If you aren’t smiling, I am forced to consider that you have an inner life which does not revolve primarily around being attractive to people like me. How dare you. Fix it now.”

  9. leftwingfox says

    It must be tricky to get through each day when every interaction is forcibly turned into a power struggle.

    True, yet he somehow it becomes the woman’s fault for complaining about it, not the guys for initiating it. The power struggle is there, whether or not he cares to notice it.

  10. machintelligence says

    I think that something like “When I want your opinion, rest assured I’ll ask for it.” would be appropriate. Followed by “Buzz off!” if necessary.

  11. NitricAcid says

    I’ve been told by random strangers that I should smile. My face then usually contorts into a malicious grin that would creep out the Joker.

  12. smhll says

    Stephanie just retweeted a link to This today. (it’s art that says “stop telling women to smile”

    I wonder if the guy modeling the shirt would get smiles wearing it around. Or maybe just solidarity fist bumps.

  13. says

    Hey “Camomile Lox”? You’re “Eu” aka “Eucliwood” aka quite a few other sock names, right? Just the other day you were ranting on Michael Nugent’s blog about not minding if my friends and I were run over. Don’t try to comment here.

  14. ljbriar says

    Quick way to nix that, and likely ensure that whoever said it never does that again (warning for anyone currently dealing with terminal illness or who has recently lost a relative):

    “I just found out I have cancer.”
    “My father/mother/other relative/pet died last night.”

    It points out the complete absurdity of those demands in a way that’s completely unmissable.

    Unless they still miss it.

  15. Acolyte of Sagan says

    machintelligence
    March 25, 2013 at 2:19 pm (UTC -7) Link to this comment

    I think that something like “When I want your opinion, rest assured I’ll ask for it.” would be appropriate…

    When dealing with ignorant arses I much prefer “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”.

  16. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Acolyte of Sagan
    March 25, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    [....] I have been reliably informed that, when not smiling, I have a face that would frighten a police-horse.

    NitricAcid
    March 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm[.......]. My face then usually contorts into a malicious grin that would creep out the Joker

    What? You want a scary face face-off?
    If only I had a digital camera :-)

  17. Francisco Bacopa says

    Most of us wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and suggest that their breasts were going to waste because of their poor posture. Is someone’s face really any different?

    No, it isn’t. A command to smile really is pretty much the same as unsolicited advice that better posture would enhance the profile of the bustline.

    And quite interesting that you should mention posture. Many years ago I worked for a produce wholesaler while I was in college. We delivered produce to restaurants. Our driver that I made deliveries with was a street harasser. I had heard about harassment, but had never seen much of it in action. I coudn’t believe it. One day I confronted him about it. I said: “Look how she was walking all strong and proud with her shoulders back and neck straight. I saw her before you did, liked what I saw, and didn’t stare. But look what happened after you whistled and yelled, she’s all slumped over now and taking shorter strides. You say you like pretty girls, but you turn pretty girls into ugly ones.” He had no reply and was back at it next time we worked together.

    Only then did I understand harassment. They hate women. From 7th grade when I first saw some of my peers engaging in sexual harassment until then I had always thought harassment was cluelessness, then I understood it was hostility.

  18. Smokey Dusty says

    A Hari Krishna tried to sell me one of those smile stickers, to feed the homeless. I was in a good mood. I told him I do feed them. Lots of meat for protein. He laughed, to his credit, and warned me about Karma.

    All the while I was giving him my stony face. So I handed over 2 bucks (I was prepared to pay for my art that day) took the sticker and continued to frown, dubiously at it. I suddenly tore it in two and smiled broadly.

    Hey it works!

  19. Margaret says

    Argh. Makes me want to scream. I had a sudden flashback to being a kid sitting on the sofa reading and my mother commanding me to “Smile. No one will like you if you’re always frowning like that.” Not the same kind of harassment as from a random stranger, but certainly trying to train me into my proper place in society from an early age.

  20. Dunc says

    Quick way to nix that, and likely ensure that whoever said it never does that again (warning for anyone currently dealing with terminal illness or who has recently lost a relative):

    “I just found out I have cancer.”
    “My father/mother/other relative/pet died last night.”

    Nah, you’re still trying to justify yourself to some asshole. The correct response is “Fuck off.”

  21. opposablethumbs says

    Happens all the godsdamn time, to women and girls of all ages and appearances (though even more to younger, more conventionally attractive women). Francisco Bacopa you have it exactly right – it is a form of hostility, a socially acceptable way of interrupting someone as they go about their business, forcing their acknowledgement, to tell them their thoughts/preoccupations/concerns/selfhood are unimportant and that they are really a mere adjunct to this man’s day – street furniture to decorate his walk, his drive, his day. Micro-aggressions all the way

  22. opposablethumbs says

    The correct response is “Fuck off.”

    It should be. But in reality, any response other than a smile will get you accusations of overreacting. Hey, he was just being nice! What’s wrong with you!? Openly insulted. Possibly yelled at. Followed. You don’t know, and that’s the point – unless you are mob-handed or a lot bigger than he is (not all that likely), maybe you can’t afford the risk.

    He just exercised his power over you, and that’s how he likes it. Hell, even if you just ignore him you can sometimes get escalation for failing to acknowledge. You have no way of knowing if he’ll escalate or not – so is it worth the risk? For such a little thing, when all he did was jump in uninvited and unwanted and interrupt your existence. It’s the power-play, the imbalance of social and physical power that makes it such a vanishingly little thing for him but a (potentially) big deal for you to respond.

    Most times, the vast majority of times, nothing will happen. But you don’t know for certain, and that’s exactly the point. He’s declaring his authority over you, and yes of course you can tell him to fuck off – as long as he doesn’t turn out to be the one in a (hundred? however many) who then flies off the handle. The mere existence somewhere of that one in a (hundred?) who goes ballistic lends the weight of threat to all the others, the nice guys who are just saying something nice.

  23. fastlane says

    “Hey, you should smile more.”

    “…and you should mind your own fucking business. Have a nice day.”

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