I’m taking a brief break from my “Weight, Food, and God” posts to discuss something almost negligible. Almost.

This post will have none of the depth, academic acumen, or gravitas of all of the recent posts my fellow WITs have been producing (good job everybody, by the way), but I do have something I’d like to discuss. It’s probably going to come across as a complaint, and while it certainly is that in part, I hope that it is also a constructive plea for men to behave themselves a bit differently in public.

First, a story! Here goes:

I went to the dentist last week for a regular six-month check-up, and though I perform a near-neurotic teeth-cleaning routine upon myself every night (there are five steps; don’t worry about it), the dental hygienist told me I had a few “weak spots” on my teeth, and by process of elimination regarding my behaviors, we deduced that it perhaps had to do with stress, particularly stress related to comprehensive exams (now long done, completed in early April). Apparently stress can make your saliva more acidic? So, fellow academics, watch out for that! It’s not just candy anymore! Your job will rot your teeth!

Anyway, she wanted the (male) dentist to look at my teeth, so she went to go get him, and I was left to fret about my teeth in the chair and wait for what he would say. So it should be noted that I was perhaps fretting a bit, but more than anything just curious.

The dentist appeared, sat down, and said, “Hello, Elizabeth.”

“Hello there.” [Waiting for him to embark upon the wondrous mouth exploration.]

Looking at me for one second, he then cocks his head to the side and pronounces, “You seem pensive.”

“Um, I’m good?”

“Are you stressed out and pensive?  It seems as though you are.”

“Nope?” It should be noted that at this point I am making a concerted effort to seem more “friendly” by making my voice slightly higher pitched and by smiling slightly.

Staring at me with concern that indicates he doesn’t believe anything I say, he says, “Really?”  And keeps his head cocked to the side.

Searching for something reasonable and non-threatening to say, I stutter, “Um…I’m…getting ready for a conference later this week…and…I guess I am thinking about that?”

Feeling satisfied that he has identified The Problem, which is not the conference per se, but that I am, indeed, quite “stressed,” he says with a knowing, world-weary, and chastising tone, “Well you really need to relax. Go easy on yourself. Take a break, seriously. What would the saying be? Something like: ‘All work and no play makes Elizabeth a…?’  What is the saying?”

I just stare at him until he finally puts his tools and fingers in my mouth.

He confirms that I have weak spots and not cavities and determines our course of action.  Then once he’s done, he sits back and starts in again about my mental and emotional state.  Thank God he was there to help me navigate the treacherous terrain of my own psyche!

“Seriously though, take care of yourself. Relax. Take a break. You seem like you have so much on your mind.”

Of course I shouldn’t have anything on my mind, right? That, in and of itself, is an abomination.

I can’t take it anymore. I blurt out,”I am at the dentist!”

He smiles and feigns being hurt, so I continue, “It’s not you personally [though it kind of is, I’m realizing]; it’s just that I’m having my mouth poked and prodded, and you just can’t expect people to be at their best when they’re at the dentist! It’s unrealistic.”

This is only a fraction of what I would like to say to him, but that seems to do the trick, and he responds, “Fair enough!” And then we’re done.


Second, some analysis.

What I really wanted to tell the dentist was that it’s none of his beeswax how I’m actually doing. That if he were treating a man, and that man said hello to him in exactly the way that I did (no messing around, but perfectly polite, while waiting to find out exactly how much of my mouth is rotting despite my best efforts), that there is no way he would have hounded that man after the initial “How are you?” Because, you see, men have work and other important things to think about. They’re not emotional; they’re busy.

Perhaps you are thinking at this point that my dentist was pursuing this issue of my emotional state precisely because he knew that stress was a factor in the (un)health of my teeth.  A fair possibility, except that I heard the nurse get him, and she said nothing about my stress, and furthermore, when she interacted with me just before, she didn’t make a big deal out of my emotional state even when we determined that stress may be playing a role in my dental health. She said something like, “Wow, comps sound hard. Good for you!” And even furthermore, if my dentist had known about my stress as a relevant factor, he should have discussed it precisely as that, and in relation to my teeth as he saw them when he examined them.

In other words, my dentist’s job is to fix my teeth. It’s not to perform a willful gloss upon me and my emotions under the auspices of being concerned about me. I believe that his questioning resulted from good intentions, and I’ll even grant that I perhaps looked a bit worried and that I even have a naturally down-turned mouth. But so what?

Even granting these points, he was out of line to persist in his questioning by starting with an accusation (“you seem pensive”) and then inquiring over and over again about my emotions even as my laconic responses indicated that I was not there for an ad hoc therapy session. As a side note, he also had no idea what was going on with me; for two months I’ve been relaxing, to quote a wise wise lothario and sure-fire ally of feminist causes, like “a frickin’ rock star from Mars.”

This is beside the point, but it just emphasizes that my dentist’s gaze upon me was not only aggressive but deeply misguided. He was the one trying to set the terms of the exploration of my life, particularly my emotional life, despite my saying over and over that I was fine, and despite the fact that I, aware of how I can appear pissed when I am actually not, attempted to make myself less threatening by making my voice slightly higher-pitched and by smiling a little bit. And you know what? When I was doing that, some lightning-fast combination of thoughts passed through my circuitry, and at some intuitive level, I thought, “Come on, Elizabeth. Be a good girl.”

I single this story out precisely because it is not singular. This kind of exchange exists as part of a larger pattern of seemingly innocent and minor male-female interactions in the public sphere. I cannot tell you how many times random men have told me to smile in public (including a TSA officer as he was checking my plane tickets), and I cannot tell you how many times women I know have complained in passing about being told to smile in public by men. One of my friends said a random fellow stopped her on the street and told her to smile, precisely as she was meeting her then-boyfriend to confront him about cheating on her. And I cannot remember one time being told by a random woman to smile in public. This is all anecdotal of course. But do men tell each other to smile in public?

But even keeping in mind the anecdotal nature of these stories, I still maintain that these stories indicate a dynamic that we barely take the time to question, namely, that men, even and perhaps especially well-intentioned and benevolent men, think that they should be given some kind of access to women’s interiority. Because they’re nice and only want to help and to brighten the day of a young lass. That, because they care, they should be allowed to know what is going on with the women they encounter in public. Especially the younger women. And perhaps they want to know what is going on because of another aspect of this dynamic, namely, the assumption that women should be friendly and pleasant and generally smiley. This assumption is a subtle form of sexism that I think we all must wrestle with; even I myself have internalized it to some degree such that I become worried if somebody seems dismayed at my “pensiveness.” I guess a thinking woman really is a threat.

I do not contend that this kind of exchange in and of itself has a parity with the kinds of unspeakable violence men perpetrate against women all day, every day, but I do think it is noteworthy as a kind of “microaggression,” or minor exchange expressing and reinforcing sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, age-ism, able-ism…and any other kind of ‘ism.’ These exchanges function as microcosms of larger patterns of subordination and control and are rendered by even supposedly benevolent agents. They also seem so minor that when people discuss them, these people are often perceived as “whiny” and complaining about something that doesn’t matter. That’s pretty clever, if you ask me. Namely, finding subtle ways to marginalize and stigmatize those who perceive themselves to have been belittled by others. For sure, there’s the danger of people becoming overly-sensitive, but in my opinion, we haven’t done enough to examine to the quotidian and minor-league forms of oppression occurring in our lives. (And it’s complicated; we’re both agents and patients of microaggressions all the time, in complex and often interlocking ways. So we have to learn to name microaggressions both rendered to and by us.) Here’s the truth: we cannot combat the forces of sexism and these other -isms unless we are willing to look at the nitty-gritty details of human interchange. The devil is in the details, and it’s all of a piece.

So I’m contending that men assume implicitly that women should be “pleasant,” that it is their right to tell women to smile in public, and that it is their right to know what is going on with women, especially at an emotional level. And these rights are supposedly vouchsafed through the merit of “being nice.” How dare I come down so hard on nice men. But these assumptions give rise to all kinds of microaggressive exchanges all the time, and they tire me.

So this is a plea to the men who read this blog and who not have been aware of this kind of microaggressive encounter before: please stop telling women to smile in public. And please think more about how you engage with women in that public sphere. Ask yourself: are you treating them with full respect and with the humility to recognize that you know nothing about them and that their lives aren’t necessarily any of your business? I want you to think about these questions especially if you teach female undergraduates in any capacity.

And to the women who read this blog, for whom my story resonates, I’d like to say to you: smile only when you want to. Don’t be a good girl.

25 thoughts

  1. It is enormously helpful for me, as a man, to hear these sorts of anecdotes. I simply don’t have experiences like this and so don’t notice them when they happen. It helps me to be more thoughtful about my own action to read through another pair of eyes (and chromosomes!)

    Here’s where I’m stuck: I don’t actually know how to integrate knowledge of ‘the other side’ into a unified and acting male self. Let me provide an example that is specifically troubling to me.

    As a heterosexual male, I am attracted to the female body. I notice women’s bodies as female when I see them, and the female form draws my attention and fills me with delight. Sometimes – especially during summer when bikini-clad people are walking to the beach near my house – I find it’s all I can do to walk around and not stare at women who are walking by. After all, I experience this sort of attraction on a level that is only partially willed – I guess you could say it’s ‘natural’ (in the same way as my eye might ‘naturally’ and partially subconsciously be drawn towards other men if I were gay).

    Now, from listening to female friends, I am aware that the male gaze can be a form of micro-aggression and can be felt as uncomfortable and imposing. These experiences suggest to me that chastity is a real and necessary virtue, though they raise for me the question of the shape that chastity ought to take. On the one hand, some of the stories that women tell leave me so disgusted as to edge towards a conception of sexual morality so severe as to make Augustine proud.

    But on the other hand, being Catholic has already given me plenty of experience with the frustrations of seemingly unattainable moral restraints on sexuality.

    (I’m not talking about cheating on my wife or anything as dire as that, of course. I’m talking about much smaller habits. Microaggressions!)

    As another example of a small habit, we could come back to the assumption that women will be more emotionally available than men. As a boy, I was never really ‘masculine’ enough to be unquestionably accepted into the Obviously Straight Male Club. Part of the reason other kids sometimes called me “gay” is because of my own emotional excesses – for which unacceptance I compensated by making a lot of female friends and leaning heavily on their own expected emotional availability.

    My point is not that “sexism makes my life hard, too!” I’ve had it pretty good, and I’ve definitely benefitted from male privilege (for one, I think I am taken more seriously at my workplace by being male). It’s just that, in trying to become more aware of that privilege and how such awareness should impact my own virtue formation, I find myself at a very frustrating loss at times. My first response is simply to say to women, “Just tell me how to act!” But such a divestment of responsibility and moral self-hood strikes me as wrong.

    I guess what I’m looking for is something like, “The Man’s Guide To Patriarchy.” How can I be self-respecting and other-respecting, celebrate my own identity as a heterosexual male and the sexual- and gender- identities of others, aware without scrupulosity? Anyone know a good book? Have any thoughts? Know a woman who would want to be employed as my conscience?

    1. Spencer, I recommend the blogs of Hugo Schwyzer (http://hugoschwyzer.net/), a women’s studies professor at Pasadena City College who does a lot of work on integrating feminism and masculinity, and Melissa McEwan (http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com) who has a great Feminism 101 series and several posts in direct response to requests from men to address questions like yours.

      Great post, Elizabeth. Being told to smile by random men (and women!) is one of the most annoying things about being a woman in public, to me.

      1. Kris,

        Definitely. Thanks for the recommendations for Spencer and for the encouragement!

    2. Spencer,

      I hope the stuff that people on the comment thread have recommended has been helpful to you. I’ll just try to make a few general remarks about the dynamics you’re talking about.

      To be honest, if you were a random man who just made that comment, I would probably tell you to go educate yourself, but since I know you and we’re friends (and you’re a kind and caring dude), I want to deal with what you’re saying.

      So, my first bit of advice is to calm down. As you and I have discussed a few times, uncovering complex patterns of oppression according to any -ism can be difficult and painful business. Regarding sexism in particular, it’s important that women and men talk about it together, and that men listen to women with a great degree of intentionality as women articulate the contours of sexism as they have experienced it. In this way, I think that some kind of hermeneutical privilege should be accorded to women since it is so easy for people, especially men, to have a kind of scotosis or myopia toward sexism in its extreme and subtle manifestations. So, to answer your questions in a probably frustrating way, I think you just need to keep listening to what women are saying, but do so in a way that’s calm and doesn’t make you want to flagellate yourself….because, well, who is that helping?

      I have had similar confusions and doubt as I have tried to become more attuned to my own white privilege. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that getting paralyzed and self-loathing doesn’t help. We live in a racist society. I have internalized racism and need to accept that as a descriptive fact. Just because I try to be well-intentioned doesn’t mean I’m exempt. This acknowledgement is not meant to act as a blessing upon myself so that I can continue to be part of the shitty status quo, but rather, as a stop to the “Me? Racist?!! How dare you??” line that actually keeps me from listening to what various people of color are saying to me because I am so caught up in what’s happening in my own head vis-a-vis my defensive need to exonerate myself from the scandalous charge of racism. Or because I feel so paralyzed and terrible that I think I can’t make a move.

      So, again, calm down. We live in a sexist society. You’ve internalized sexism (and I have too, although that has different implications for me); accept that. Then start listening. And reading. A lot.

      I’m not sure what to say about your gaze upon women. I look at men I find attractive, so I’m not sure if noticing people you’re attracted to is bad. Maybe don’t gawk though? And try to cultivate the presence of mind to reflect in the moment upon how your gaze might be making that woman feel. But other than that I wouldn’t spend too much time fretting over that specifically.

      One thing I think you have a particular power to do as a man is challenge other men when they make sexist and misogynistic comments among each other. If men don’t check each other when it comes to sexism, I’m worried we won’t get that far in the cause. This can’t be something only women speak out about.

  2. thanks for this great post, elizabeth! i think it’s great not only because it is a means for consciousness-building for me, but also because i have a similar story that supports your interpretation. the last dentist i went to, who was a man, had a couple of pointers vis-a-vis my oral hygiene, but really his interest was in my career aspirations, and he took me into his office after our session to recommend mentors to me. we talked about my future and such for a half an hour or so, and he actually dismissed some of my bad dental habits to how busy i was at school! so your speculation that male dentists would treat male patients differently is, so far as i see it, right on.

    but there was also a gendered kind of encounter i had with the female dental hygienist who looked at my teeth first. she looked at my mouth, placed her hand on her hip, and said, “not brushing behind your teeth? your mother should have taught you better! let me take care of you.” which i see as part of a family of matronly, caregiving gazes (am i right to use this word here?) that women older than me sometimes exhibit. certainly i don’t mean to suggest that these two forms of unwelcome gendered relationships–older men to younger women and older women to younger men–are reciprocal or equal or complementary. also the presence of power, vested in men here as in wider society, skews the sexism into a ubiquitous oppression of women by men. still, as you aptly write, “it’s complicated; we’re both agents and patients of microaggressions all the time, in complex and often interlocking ways.” i’m not sure how to name the behavior of older women to younger men that seems to assume we are in need of a woman to take care of us, and i don’t know that it qualifies as microaggression. but anyway it’s there, and i thought i’d bring it up because apparently dental examinations are prime opportunities for the minutiae of sexism. thanks for giving me an opportunity to reflect on this experience with a new set of viewing lenses!

  3. +also, i should add in light of reading spencer’s post above that i apologize for monopolizing this comment space with men’s responses to a post addressed to women. i don’t want to make it seem like i only read this blog with a “yes, but” attitude, where i always want to defend men from charges of sexism. i think your post is exactly right and i should have emphasized that more. sorry elizabeth!

    1. Sam, I couldn’t help but be amused by your comment, especially your ending line about dental examinations and the minutiae of sexism. Thanks for telling me about that, though. The thing about the male dentist confirms some of my suspicions, and the thing about the female dental hygienist gives me more food for thought. –And I am sure she said that line about taking care of you in the most disarming way possible, so what would have been the proper way to deflect that? “Um, no worries. I’m cool with…adult responsibilities?” So awkward!

      And seriously, thanks for commenting. I want men to think about what I am saying and to dialogue with me about it. No worries! You’re cool with…adult dialogue on a feminist blog!

  4. Elizabeth, you are a frickin’ rock star from Mars but, as we’ve already discussed, I would really appreciate it if you would stop referring to me as a “lothario.” Many thanks.

  5. I am 53 years old and closer to 54 and I have long suffered from smiling good girl syndrome. To this day, although much of it is behind me, I still surprise people when I am very frank… it was so much easier when I was smiling.

    The behavior you describe is so frequently elicited by some benign good intention, but it is just one of many unrealistic expectations about women. Not to mention an exercise, albeit covert, of power and control.

    Reading this reminds me that one might be told that this is a “little thing” and to let it go… at least I’ve been told that more than once, by men and women. However, it is all the little things that add up.

    Thanks for this and for all the great things that you and the other writers of WIT give to us through your thoughtful and wise posts.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Fran!

      I must admit being disheartened that you are still expected to deal with this crap. I think I was chalking up some of this dynamic to being in my 20s and having always-older men acting out of not only a gender but a usually noticeable age difference (especially since I have a lot of older male professors). But I guess we women have to deal with this no matter what age we are.

      Good luck on being frank and smiling only when you want to!

      1. I have this up on my FB page, where a lively discussion has started among a handful of us and at least one of my friends has shown up here in this thread.

        Regarding the way you began that post, I did not see that, but when it was said, it made sense to me. In fact – and this is in regard to our age difference, I thought to myself that you are still (and I say this with no disrespect, rather the opposite – you WIT women are brilliant!) that you are young.

        All this “seasoning’ takes time and some of us were brought up this way and did not begin to think differently for a long, long time.

        As to my age, it still happens, maybe not as much, but it does. And I am still “well trained” enough to know that people love them some happy Fran.

        That is how I know I have really earned the respect or perhaps love of someone… they still want to engage with me even if I am not smiling. M

  6. I am here via a FB friend and, I must say, this is spot on and I applaud you! I am told time and time again I’m so much prettier when I smile. Gee, that’s great. Guess what? Get outta my way, I’m busy right now, I don’t exist to be pretty for your gaze. And I don’t feel like smiling right now, thanks. I think men would be surprised how many times a day a woman is to told to “smile” by random male strangers she encounters when she is not smiling.

    Great read, thank you!

    1. DW,

      Exactly. I also get the line about being so much “prettier” when I smile, ONLY BY MEN. A couple of years ago I even had a professor say AT THE BEGINNING OF CLASS in front of everybody (almost 30 people), as I was taking out my notebook like everybody else, that I was exhibiting my usual “Liz frown.” I was thinking, “What? This is my neutral face. My getting-my-notebook-out-of-my-bag face.” And then I felt weird about my face for the rest of class, when he was really the one with the problem! Also, I no longer go by that nickname, but he willfully insists on still calling me by it. (And if anybody at ND is curious which professor said that, just think about which male professor in ST would greatly enjoy making that comment in a supposedly clever way.)

      Do you have any suggestions for deflecting this kind of ass-clownery?
      Thanks for your comments!

  7. Elizabeth–excellent post…thank you!

    I do have a question, however. Why do you begin a post on “not being a nice girl” with what sounds suspiciously like an apology for writing the post?

    I do not think the subject of “microaggression” (love the term!) is a minor theme–or that it lacks “depth, academic acumen, or gravitas.” It is the sea in which we swim. When men stop assuming (or demanding) that they control women’s agency over even the smallest aspect of our lives, the “big things” (e.g., sexual assault, discrimination in the workplace) will likely become less and less of an issue.

    I do hope you will find another dentist ASAP. And I hope you send the current one a copy of this post.

    Spencer: In answer to your question, I suggest you visit the Feminism 101 section at the feminist blog, Shakesville: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/01/feminism-101.html

    It will take you quite some time to read through all of it, but–if you *really* want to find a guide to the patriarchy that will help you mold your expectations and your behaviors in the way you describe–there’s your primer.

    1. Hey Doxy,

      You know what? You have a really good point about the beginning of this post!

      I think when I started writing this post, I was banking on it being more of a story and a rant, but then I got into the analysis and surprised myself by how much I had to say. And FOR SURE I have internalized a microaggressive agenda to some extent–the topic of men telling women to smile in public surely can’t be worthy of consideration right? 🙂

      Thanks for the comments and the recommendation for Spencer!

    2. Doxy: When I read your suggestion that Liz find another dentist and send the current one a copy of the post, I was shocked. I completely think that’s the right thing to do, but I guess I just would have never thought of doing something like that. It would seem too aggressive or inappropriate or something? I think this is really evidence of the power of internalization of these kinds of microaggressions. Thank you for your courage!

      1. Julia–I think it’s important to remember that even people like doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc., are selling their services. They aren’t gods. (I’ve worked in more than one hospital, and I can assure you that is a True Fact. 😉 )

        Not everyone has a choice of healthcare providers, but most people do. And I think it’s important to use that choice when someone has treated you poorly–and to tell them why. If you leave, but don’t tell them why, they will continue to treat other people poorly and they have no incentive to change. If you tell them why, they at least have the opportunity to change. They probably won’t–but you never know until you try.

        With someone like this guy, I would expect to get a phone call or something trying to argue with me about how I was wrong and “oversensitive.” Which would would just reinforce the decision to find another dentist. If he called and was genuinely contrite, I would probably give him another chance. People who are willing to listen, learn, and change are allies–and we need all of those we can get.

  8. Great post, Elizabeth. Your dentist’s behavior was completely inappropriate, especially since you were going there to have work done on your teeth, not to receive a mental evaluation. (And, I question the helpfulness of telling an anxious person to “just relax,” as though the little lady can’t possibly have legitimate reasons for being anxious).

    The comparison between his behavior and the “smile” command is particularly apt. In my experience of having men command me to smile, they too (like the dentist) feign being hurt if I, say, instead raise my eyebrows as if to say, “Really? You’re ordering a grown woman to smile?”

    Like, what bicthces we are for having our own internal thoughts and reasons for not smiling for every random man we pass on the street.

  9. I’m really thinking a lot about Sam’s discussion of his experience with older women directed to him as a younger man, that there can be a kind of gender based assumption that young men can’t take care of themselves or something. I think that there is something important there to consider, becuase this does seem to be a kind of gender based microaggressive performance of “older” women, let’s say at least relative to the person with whom they are speaking. (Of course, this kind of behavior is also exhibited by men). So, I see Sam pointing to the ways in which women too can claim authoritative ability to read the needs of younger men and women–and, in my own experience, this is problem both within and outside the feminist community. While it’s a problem no matter where it happens, talking down to younger people as if they don’t know what’s what or can be analyzed from a distance, unable (or unwilling?) to hear what is being articulated, in some kind of relation to gender-performance, I have the hope to take this post to heart as I continue to mature as a feminist, resisting the easy pattern of claiming authority of age or experience that might make me think I’m all-knowing, so that I don’t enact the dynamic you’re describing with your dentist but from a “feminist angle.”

  10. I think you’re hitting on a really important point, but I also have a few nits to pick:

    First, I’m not sure you should speak so cavalierly about how “men do” such and such. Some men do such and such. Some men tell women to smile in public and ask them prying questions–which is definitely sexist and annoying, and they should stop. But not all men do this, not even by a long shot. Don’t lump us all in together!

    Second, actually, although it’s far from common (and I’m sure much less common than the reverse), I actually occasionally do have women, generally older than me, tell me I should smile and asking why I look angry/pensive/lost in thought/etc. Of course, I’m not arguing that this is due to some super-secret woman-on-man reverse sexism. I’m just providing some anecdotes about such scenarios occurring.

    Obviously neither of these points in any way detracts from your point, but I think they’re valid context for the discussion nonetheless. Thanks for the contributions to this great blog!

    1. Staplovich,

      Certainly not all men tell women to smile in public. I don’t think my husband does (he better not!), nor my male friends, nor my father. In fact, barring some of my male professors, I don’t *personally know* any men who do that. (And yet, dozens and dozens of men throughout my life have told me to smile randomly. What?) So, if you haven’t ever done that, don’t feel on trial by that aspect of the post. This is a post based on accumulated anecdotes and is meant to speak to a statistical but certainly not universal patten of behavior among men. I think this should be understood given the genre of the post and general casualness of blogging.

      At the same time, at the end of the post, I am asking men to pay more attention in general to the ways they interact with women, and I think that’s trickier. I think it’s easy for men, good men, to condescend to women just a little bit, and that it’s easy for many women, smart and self-possessed women, to take it. I’m especially worried about this dynamic when my male friends, many of whom are in the academy, will be teaching male and female undergraduates, especially when men and women, at least in college at ND, already seem in general to exhibit behaviors which are very stereotypically gendered (with the women being less forthright and assertive, etc.). This is all to say that there is a substratum of certain gendered patterns of behavior in which we’re all swimming and need to resist intentionally. This issue is broader than the explicit “smile!” demand, so I think men, yes, ALL MEN, need to be intentional about being respectful of women, and ALL WOMEN need to be intentional about resisting condescension and belittlement.

      Your other point about the older women speaks to Sam’s point (above) as well, and it adds more food for thought to this conversation. Maybe I should do a poll about who’s been told to smile by whom in their life!

      Anyway, thanks for reading.

  11. When I was 26yo, I was accosted on the subway platform in Chicago by someone who thought I should smile, “c’mon, it’s can’t be that hard, can it?” Even after I explained (and frankly why should I be defending my non-smiling) that I was headed to the airport because my mother had died the night before and I was flying out to bury her, there was still this mental health lecture about how putting a smile on my face would make it easier to deal with my grief.

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