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Telling women to smile on the internet October 7, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, societal commentary.
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There’s an interesting phenomenon that many women have experienced:  a random stranger off the street will suddenly come up to you and tell you to smile.  If you’ve never heard of it before, just google “men telling women to smile” and you can read more about it than I have room to give you here.  The general consensus is that it’s a control issue.  Men can demand things from women (or feel entitled to) because of their privileged position.

The funny thing is that you can get this on the internet, too.  Only there, I’ve run into it several times in the form of “you shouldn’t post that on your facebook page”.  It’s happened several times to me:

I don’t want to see pictures of your kids.  I want to know what’s going on with you.

I don’t want to see pictures of your dogs.  They aren’t part of your family.

I don’t want to see your political rants.  I want to know what’s going on with you.

Interestingly, that last comment came immediately after I’d posted something about how the president of our university mentioned my research in his state of the university speech.  This same person never bothered to comment on that point.

And this leads me to believe that this is exactly the same phenomenon, as it always seems to be men who say these things to me.  They somehow feel that they can exert control over what I choose to post and they feel I am not sufficiently entertaining.

I wonder how they would feel if someone said to them, in a conversation, “I don’t want to talk about what you’re interested in.  Let’s talk about what I want to discuss.”  Most of us think people like that are assholes.

After telling my husband about this latest comment, he responded incredulously, “It’s your Facebook page.  You can post whatever you want!”  And a few hours later, another friend posted exactly that on the conversation on Facebook.  I was more polite than that in my response, but given this has happened multiple times, I think I’m going to use this as my response from now on: “Don’t like it? Don’t read it.  I’m not here for your entertainment.  Also, learn to use the ‘hide’ or ‘unfriend’ options.”

Of course, that would be rude.  And women can’t be rude.

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Comments»

1. nicoleandmaggie - October 7, 2012
mareserinitatis - October 7, 2012

I remember reading that post. 🙂 I know FSP has posted on it as well as Feministe. And yet, it never goes away…

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2. John Schuch - October 7, 2012

I respectfully suggest you stop digging your own quagmire.

“Don’t like it? Don’t read it…. Of course, that would be rude.”

Says who? And who cares? It’s much more polite than my standard response to non-constructive criticism: “You’re an ass. Next!”

All of us, both men and women, have to suffer trolls and small minds when we offer anything in public. They are unchangeable (and IMHO, not worth the effort). I pass them by like someone else’s used tissue.

But then, I’m a guy.

I ignore trolls, and go out of my way to thank and support people who positively support me and others. I kind of think of it as my tiny contribution to psychological evolution of the species.

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mareserinitatis - October 7, 2012

I just posted a link to this article on Twitter: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/oct/05/women-work-life-balance-twitter

If you read through it, it talks about how women suffer when they are too assertive. Yeah, I’d like to say, “You’re an ass!” However, being a woman, I am judged by different criteria than you.

I do, however, totally agree with your sentiment. 🙂

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3. karifur - October 7, 2012

I don’t know if I’ve ever had random strangers tell me to smile. It has happened to me at work before (both men & women) willl comment on my bitch face when I’m concentrating on something. I just tell them I can’t help the face I make when I’m expending my brain power on something else at the moment. I usually joke that if they prefer I do a half-assed job next time, I’m glad to concentrate a little less & try to smile when I’m working.

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4. Mados - October 8, 2012

The facebook comments you quoted are extremely rude, and i think it is perfectly OK and ever desirable to answer something rude back, woman or not. Another option is to de-friend them. That is a softer solution since they may not notice it.

To answer back on the comment has the bonus impact that it shows everybody else that such comments are socially unacceptable.

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5. Mados - October 8, 2012

Asking a stranger to smile is rude too, as well as totally lame. It is a way for the people who ask to come out of the the closets as jerks.

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6. Charles J Gervasi - October 8, 2012

You mean I could just command people to smile and they would?

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7. Link love « Grumpy rumblings of the half-tenured - October 13, 2012

[…] the scientist talks about the problem with men telling her what to post and not post on the […]

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8. Donna Freedman - October 14, 2012

Setting aside the fact that you don’t get to tell me how to decorate the universe with my ladylike beam…How the hell do you know what’s going on in my life? There may be a REASON that I’m not smiling. (And even if there isn’t, you still don’t get to decide how I feel.)

Example: A guy bagging my groceries said, “Aw, come on, it can’t be that bad. Smile!”

In fact, it WAS that bad: My daughter was paralyzed and on a ventilator. I had been living in the hospital for a couple of weeks and had slipped away to re-stock my food supplies.

Which I told him. His face fell a mile and he mumbled and shuffled his feet and wouldn’t meet my gaze and couldn’t wait for me to leave.

Same with customer service folks: I know your bosses tell you to say, “Hi, how’s your day going?” when I come up to the counter/cash register. But a simple, “Hello” or “Good afternoon” when I get there and a “Thank you for coming in today” would work just as well.

(You can’t see me, but as I type I’m wearing my bitch face.)

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