The temperature hovered around 90 degrees on a beautiful sunny day this past weekend but that was nothing compared to my internal thermometer about three seconds after I heard this from a passing motorist.
“Smile” the man shouted from the window of his rusty old van.
With that one word my amiable Sunday-morning state of mind was lost in a mushroom cloud of stranger-hate. What crime did I commit to warrant attention from such a dolt (story of my life)? I was squinting in the sun.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t feel like smiling for quite a while after the encounter. To be fair, I was busy mentally writing the screenplay for Saw 8 (one guess as to who Jigsaw’s going to chain to a pipe in an industrial washroom this time?)
I know I’m not the only woman who has experienced the “Smile!” phenomenon. Mention such an incident to any woman on the planet and prepare for a stream of obscenity-laden anecdotes and suggestive hand gestures.
In the top ten of female peeves it’s right at the top. I’d rather hear a frat boy scream, “show me your t—ts” than have one more middle-aged nincompoop command I say cheese in precisely the same spirit of “fun” that a movie cowboy pulls out a gun and tells the town drunk to dance.
Weirdly, I’ve noticed these hyper-concerned male citizens aren’t exactly smiling when they offer up their unsolicited advice. In fact, they look pretty serious about their desire to see the world’s female population walk around with a goofy grin pasted on their faces.
Whenever a strange man does this to me, I’m always tempted to ask what the [insert favourite expletive here] it has to do with them whether I’m smiling or not? One recent study offers a clue.
A few weeks back researchers in B.C. showed both sexes a selection of photographs of the opposite sex. Interestingly, men showed a marked preference for smiling women over those miserable spinsters who couldn’t even muster a freakin’ smile for the camera. Why is a smiling woman so appealing to men? Because her grin implies friendliness and approachability. Go get her, tiger!
I can’t help but wonder if it’s that desire to see every woman behave as if she were ready, willing and able that’s behind the old “Smile” edict. I also think that the kind of man who yells it out is labouring under the impression that it’s a woman’s job to try and look pretty at all times and when she doesn’t he sees it as his civic duty to apply the corrective.
“Smile” isn’t just a sexist demand—I’ve never heard one of my male friends complain that a strange man yelled “Hey buddy, won’t you give me a smile?”at them— it’s a ridiculous one. In the smiling stakes, I’d say most women have men beat by a mile. More importantly, if women are supposed to look happy all the time (even when they’re thinking or squinting) then I think it’s only fair that these men be held to an equally impossible standard, for example, they could try to be smarter and more self-aware.
With that in mind, next time some yahoo says “Smile” I think I might reply “Read a book!” That or “you first, dipsh-t”.
Has a stranger ever told you to smile? Does it bother you? Please share your thoughts here.