The other day I was at the public library. I was in a bit of a gloomy and distracted mood. A guy -- a stranger -- was walking toward me, and said, "Hi." I said "Hi" back.
He said, "You dropped something." I stopped, looked down, was befuddled. He said, "Your smile!" Oh, OK, a joke. I smiled weakly. He gave me a triumphant sort of smirk in reply, and walked on.
I was actually really mad. I know it's supposed to be friendly, funny, but it didn't really feel that way. In fact, it felt like this guy thought himself cheated out of something he had a right to -- a smile from a woman. And I felt like my mental space had been, you know, a little intruded on.
I've had this happen to me before. I tend to walk around with a pretty thoughtful expression on my face. Men tell me, "Smile!" but the tone is not one of friendly interest, the tone is one of, "WTF is wrong with you?" I'm usually very chatty and easy with strangers, but this just drives me nuts.
I tried thinking later about what was so maddening. Partly, I just feel guys would never do this to one another. If you see a guy with a serious or unhappy look, you might ask him what's wrong, but you wouldn't just insist on a smile. Not if you didn't know him.
So it feels like a tiny reminder that as a woman, your inner life isn't under the same protection. Indeed, it even seems possible that this little intrusion aspect is part of what men enjoy. Or at least it felt that way at the library.
Next time I'm going to try to remember to make some snarky reply. But I'll probably forget.