I Call for a Smile Boycott

I originally posted this to my local Craigslist “missed connections” section. It was eventually taken down as not being in the spirit of the thing.

Having walked for a while in the clement weather with my new favorite jam fed directly from the marvel of technology in my pocket into my ears, I reached an area not frequented by many pedestrians and allowed myself the kind of exuberance that I think we all wish to indulge in occasionally but rarely do.  To wit, I sang out loud, I waved my arms about, I lifted my mind to the heavens and the sun, and thought thoughts that no doubt would have become my next poem or perhaps a deep philosophical treatise, had they been allowed to run their course.  Truly, a moment  of peak human experience.  The joy of the body, the beauty of art and nature, the exaltation of the mind into lofty thoughts barely possible to express in words.

And then you walked up behind me and said, I quote “I believe you can fly” and inquired about what I was listening to.

First of all, just so you know, my pulse jumped into the fight-or-flight range.  Second, of course all this exaltation was immediately shattered as I was rudely reminded of the fact that I had allowed myself to become so immersed in my joy that I did not notice a man had walked up so close to me without being aware of it.

To my utter disgust, I smiled at you and told you what I was listening to and that I liked it.  Fucking reflexive victim-class compliance.  I wish I had scowled.  I wish I had told you to fuck off.  Of course, I didn’t because I am well trained in the Global Accords Concerning the Fair Use of Women.  If I told you to fuck off, as I had every right to do since you interrupted my private reverie, I had no way to know that you might not become violent.  Maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe you would.  It’s safer to play along and the training of 30 years of femininity is hard to shake.

So that’s why I’m writing this now.  Fuck you, guy.  I know you think you were just being friendly, but you were being rude and worse than rude.  What matters is not your intentions but the effect of your actions.

And I write this not just to you, oblivious privileged asshole, but to all of you, oblivious privileged assholes, who wonder why all the “pretty girls” look so pissed off all the time.  And I write it, even more, for my sisters who have been on the receiving end of your unwanted intrusions — for you sisters, who have had your thoughts interrupted, who have dared to smile your inner smile only to have some asshole wipe it right off your face by taking it as a sign of your sexual availability as opposed to some inner state that is none of his fucking business.  

When a woman in public allows herself to be exuberant, to be happy, to be free, and a man takes this exuberance as a sign that the woman is open to conversation and flirtation, he knocks that inner exuberance right out.  He reminds the woman that she is in public and exists therefore for the delectation of the male gaze.  He remind her that she is not a person but an object for the satisfaction of his desire.  It doesn’t have to lead to anything past the conversation, even the conversation with “a pretty girl” is a satisfaction of his desire, and we, women, are keenly aware of it at all times, since we live so much of our life at the sufferance of male desire.  

For the dude, it’s some kind of nice experience of talking to a pretty girl.  For the pretty girl it’s an unwelcome intrusion into her private thoughts, a sign of danger, another moment of self-disgust at compliance and the reflexive friendly response despite a feeling that is anything but friendly, or anger at the intrusion, a reminder that she is not her own person.  

This is why all the “pretty girls” look so pissed off.  If we smiled, you, asshole dude, and all the other asshole dudes, would think that it means we want to talk to you, because you think the whole world is about you, and any time a pretty girl smiles, she’s smiling at you.  Chances, are, we are not smiling at you, we are not interested in you, we do not want to talk to you.  

Of course, we are damned either way.  Smile and a man takes it as a sexual invitation.  Do not smile and we are subject to the demeaning demand from strangers that we smile for their pleasure, or, if we fail to comply, called names.

Ladies, women, girls, or in other words, sisters: since we cannot smile freely, let us scowl.  Let us go on strike against the pleasing, compliant smile.  It’s not easy.  That smile, the giggle, the reflexive flirtation (oh fuck I hope he goes away if I just play along)—it’s a hard habit to break.  But let’s break it.

Let me end then with a quote from one of my favorites, Shulamith Firestone:

“Because the class oppression of women and children is couched in the phraseology of “cute” it is much harder to fight than open oppression.[…] What woman can afford to frown when a passing stranger violates her privacy at will?  If she responds to his “Baby you’re looking good today!” with “No better than when I didn’t know you,” he will grumble “What’s eating that bitch?” Or worse.  Very often the real nature of these seemingly friendly remarks emerges when the child or the woman does not smile as she should: “Dirty old scum bag. I wouldn’t screw you even if you had a smile on your puss!”… “Nasty little brat.  If I were your father I would spank you so hard you wouldn’t know what hit you!”… Their violence is amazing.  Yet these men feel that the woman or the child is to blame for not being “friendly.”  […] [T]he oppressed groups must also appear to like their oppression—smiling and simpering though they feel like hell inside.”