on being told to smile {or, you can’t tell me what to do with my face}

i mentioned it on twitter yesterday, and it wasn’t a thing that ruined my day, but i had a random man (as in, never met him before, no idea what his name was) tell me to smile. and it triggered this urge to tell him that he couldn’t tell me what to do with my face. which i didn’t, because…that would be rude.

EXCEPT. y’all. isn’t it just as rude to tell a woman you’ve never met, whose life you do not know, to smile?

i didn’t say anything rude, because i wasn’t going to start something. but also, he was a security guard. and there is something slightly not smart about getting in the face of a strange man (for one) and that strange man being in charge of security – he gets an added layer of authority and power that i didn’t feel comfortable confronting. so i just told him i had been sitting in traffic on 66, and that i wasn’t quite in a smiling mood, and i went on with my day.

to a lot of people, being told to smile isn’t rude. most of those people are probably men who have told a woman (of any age) to smile. basically ever since i can remember, i’ve heard it all.

“smile, you’re so pretty”

“smile, what could be wrong?”

“smile, sweetie”

here’s the thing. telling someone to smile, assuming that they’ll do what you asked? that’s creepy as hell. and it’s harassment. no, it’s not “as bad” as the time a car full of men sped past me on a darkening street and screamed, as one, the c-word at me, leaving me in tears. nor is it “as bad” as a man complimenting my breasts (when i was in tenth grade) as i walked past him with friends. it’s not “as bad” as the frat boy who grabbed my butt as i climbed over a couch into his fraternity house (trust me. i got out of there about five seconds later). but it’s still harassment. my facial expression is none of your business. i’m not overreacting when i say that i hate when strange men tell me what to do with my face.

i may be pretty (i literally have no opinion on that), but you don’t know me. so don’t compliment me. it’s a compliment when a friend or lover or family member says that. it is creepy when it’s shouted across a street or from a car. it violates my space, it does not make me want to smile, and i owe you nothing for it. also, i’m not crazy for being a bit afraid that someone shouting that across the street might decide to act on their thoughts.

“what could be wrong?” the next idiot to try that spin will get an earful. sometimes, i’m in a bad mood. i also am not a clown who walks around with a perma-smile. maybe i look cranky. it is because i have learned that looking perpetually murderous cuts down on the number of idiots who harass me as i walk around in public. i will smile when i want to, and you can bet it’s not because you just made me realize how wonderful life is.

don’t call me sweetie. or babe. or peaches. or honey. you don’t know me. i don’t know you. if you’re going to ask me for directions, that’s fine. you should call me ma’am, or miss, though. that’s the polite way to talk to a strange woman. not giving her a nickname you probably use with your girlfriend. sweetie, babe, all of those words? they’re reserved for people i love and who love me back. trust me. i don’t love you.

i am certain that people will read this and think that i’m overreacting. those people have never been harassed when running errands, walking back from class (or bars, or dinner), going for an actual run, or just generally existing in the public sphere. i hate it. i hate walking with my head down because not making eye contact makes it easier to avoid that harassment. i hate walking past a group of men and hearing they tell me to smile (or fouler orders). i hate when i’m running and someone honks at me. WHAT IS THAT? WHO RESPONDS POSITIVELY TO THAT?

on twitter, someone retweeted a story of a woman who, when told to smile, used her middle fingers to turn up the corners of her mouth. i’m not sure that’s my style, but the next man to tell me to smile, or to throw a “compliment” my way as i walk by, he’s going to get an earful about respect and decency and not being someone who violates a woman’s space because she is a woman, an object for him to admire, and must enjoy getting “complimented” on a daily basis (because otherwise, i wouldn’t have these boobs, and these legs, and this butt. OBVIOUSLY i grew them all just because i like getting shouted at on the street). i have the right to be outside (or inside, for that matter) without being harassed. you want to challenge that with a pervy comment, because it’s a free world and you were just being nice? you’re about to learn a lesson about what it feels like to be made uncomfortable because of what someone else says to you or about you.