This was originally publised at Missing Filter by Basic Pitch on September 19, 2016.
I had the strangest exchange at work the other day.
I was on the phone with an employee from another location. This was the 4th time I’d had to call them for the same simple issue. I am sure my already direct and sometimes terse approach did not sound as cheerful as it possibly could have. I re-registered my request that they take care of a very simple issue and as we were ending the call he said, “You really need to smile!” I asked why and he responded, “Because I’m sure you’re even more beautiful when you smile.” I assured him this was likely true, but he really shouldn’t tell people what to do with their faces because it’s incredibly rude. He responded with, “No it isn’t! I always want ladies to smile!” I said ok and hung up the phone.
After the phone call, I was stunned. There was a man attempting to control the position of my facial muscles from over sixty miles away. Not only that, he wasn’t making his mistaken appeal out of hopes it might make me happier, he was making the request so I’d be “more beautiful”. It was an entirely inappropriate and presumptive request. He was entirely out of line, and yet when I discussed it with other people at work they defended him by saying he was just trying to be friendly. I am still confused how him telling people how to look is friendly, but they assured me it was the case.
I am hardly the first woman to be told what to do with my body, and he is certainly not the first man to defend his demands as harmless and for my own well-being and has others defend them as well. Men stealing control and insisting upon obedience is a long and disgusting tradition in this country. One that much of society believes we’ve grown out of, but in truth, we’ve just gotten better at hiding. It shows its ugly face every time a woman is told to smile, told how to dress, cat-called, sexually harassed, victim blamed or slut-shamed, and in its worst and most damaging cases, when a woman is raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.
To be crystal clear, I am not implying, saying, or insisting that being told to smile is the same as being sexually assaulted, but the same societal illness creates a culture that supports both. Our current culture insists that men are stronger, smarter, more capable, and are rightfully deserving of agency over our bodies. Worse yet our society embeds neverending lessons into how we raise our sons, the media they see and hear, the traditional gender roles followed blindly by most. It enacts laws, policies, and traditions that subtly support these lessons learned from the crib. The laws that invade our uteruses, the defunding of our healthcare, the pay gap, the lack of equal representation, the discrimination women face when in STEM fields or any leadership position all help substantiate our society’s insistence that women are weak and not to be trusted to make their own decisions. With this brainwashing, it’s really no surprise that some men feel they have ownership over every facet of a woman’s existence. They believe they are not only our benevolent masters but we should consider ourselves lucky to have such guidance.
Fuck you. My smiles aren’t for you.