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Is it sexist to tell women to smile?

by Jennifer Muirhead (follow)
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crying statue, Mary Magdelene
Statue of Mary Magdelene weeping at the entombment of Christ. Photo by Vassil

American artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh took exception to strangers telling women in the street to smile, with comments along the lines of "cheer up, it's not that bad." She has created a series of posters to do with this theme. The implication is that it's patronising to be told that you should project a certain emotion (happiness, contentment) whether you are feeling it or not, and that you have a right to feel, and look, angry or sad, whether passers by like it or not.

Have you ever had a stranger tell you to smile, and if so, how did it make you feel? Did you consider it sexist?

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Top Answers
You have hit a nerve with me on this one.

It makes me soooo mad, to be told to smile.

If someone would say that....I would just look at them in disgust.Make them 'think', before saying it again.
What if someone just lost a loved one.Or lost their job, or house....whatever, we have no right to expect a smile.Even if all is well with their lives, some people are just serious.I for one am, and sometimes we don't want to smile.

Our world has many complications, more than any other time...and we do have weight on our shoulders.
I wouldn't think it sexist.......but rude, absolutely.
I don't think it is sexist, but it is irritating. I was told to smile once when working as a waitress. Mind you, I was told to smile in the kitchen where no customers could see me. Little did the person who told me know, but many of our customers often complimented me on my friendly and personable manner.
by Vee
I don't know if it's sexist, but it's certainly annoying to be told how to look or how to feel. As a child I was often told "get that look off your face!" if I looked angry or unhappy. However, if I was smiling then I'd get accused of "smirking" or asked "what are you so happy about?". You can't win!

I think when people tell grown women (or men, presumably it happens to men too, I don't know) to smile it is usually meant as a kindness but it is dismissive of the way they are feeling. It would be more thoughtful acknowledge how they were feeling, ask why they were upset and whether they wanted to talk about it, or actually do something to try and cheer them up, not just tell them to stop LOOKING sad.
Jennifer - you brought back a childhood memory with "get that look off your face". My mum used to say the same thing to us when we were kids.
by norma
I think it is wrong to tell people to smile when they don't feel like smiling (I've had that done to me many times and it really pisses me off), but I don't see why it would be considered sexist.
I think it has something to do with the idea that women are supposed to look pleasing to men, and asking them to smile is another way of trying to enforce that. I don't know if it really works that way but I think that's the argument.
I never looked at it as a sexist thing, but I wouldn't want to be asked to smile. It's so annoying. I mean, if I wanted to smile, I would smile. Why would I smile when I'm not feeling happy?
Is it sexist or annoying? Do they do it to men too? I've had people say it to me, and instead of making me want to smile, it makes me want to tell them to go F themselves...so infact, it makes me angry. They'd be better telling a joke or something.
Not sure if it's sexist tho...
Annoying but not necessarily sexist. I was once asked by the Courier on a bus trip ( who I didn't like) did I ever smile. With a dead serious face I said "Yes. Every second Wednesday.!" He didn't think it was funny but everyone else cracked up. I thought I was hilarious.
What the???? How is trying to cheer anyone up or telling them to smile sexist?? The mere act of this has nothing to do with sexism or discrimination. It depends on the person's motivation for saying it that makes it sexist or not.

I've had people tell me to smile on previous occasions. On some, it helped me to get things into perspective, on others, I just thought "what on earth would you know about my circumstances?? - mind you're own business". But sexist?? Sorry - never in my book would I ever have thought such an act to be gender specific/stereotyped.
by kimp
Have a look at the project linked to above. My understanding is that the argument is that it has to do with the idea that women are supposed to look pleasing to men, and that telling women to smile is another example of that idea. I don't know whether it actually works that way, or whether it happens to men as much as it does to women.
I think in the old days there was an expectation that a woman was supposed to look "pleasing" to her man, but that started to fizzel out very quickly from the 1950s. I think looking pleasing to our partner (male or female) is a nice thing to do, but ultimately it's a choice for the individual. In the dating game, if I don't like a potential mate because I think personal appearance and outward attitude are deal-breakers, then I'm unlikely to continue the courtship anyway. Likewise I would no doubt "do as I would have others do unto me" and make myself "pleasing" to others, if that's an important thing for me.

Personally, life is full of ups and downs, and I'd prefer people to be happy when they're happy, and support them when they're down, and likewise in return, but people are always happy (or "pleasing") or always down. That's the world I guess. I certainly don't think there should be double standards based on gender, but as I said before, our behaviours become self-selecting after a while anyway...
by kimp
yes but mostly just rude
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