Saturday, August 4, 2007


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.


Captain Colossal said...

It reminds me of our (ongoing) conversation about how everything about a woman's physical appearence is read as a statement of some kind. Not wearing makeup is a statement. Cutting your hair short is a statement. A short skirt is a statement. Everything about the way you look means something, and not caring about the way you look means something else, something bad. Whereas I feel like there's a way for men to dress that is neutral -- not good, not bad. It pisses me off.

Noko Marie said...

Yes, that pisses me off too. So much so that sometimes I hope that things will tend away from simple defaults for guys, even though I think it would tend toward a net decrease in the world's happiness. But only sometimes.

Once I read a story about some woman saying of other women in the workplace, "If your shoulders are showing, you might as well be naked." Yikes! I still can't not think about that when I go to work in the summer.

The Secretary said...

I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...

I remember taking a course on The American Novel as a college senior. A Student Council type, whom I knew a bit, once urge me before class to "Cheer up," apparently because I looked rather serious as I was waiting for the professor to begin. I think I was defensive because I honestly wasn't happy very much. I said nothing, or I said "I'm fine" or some other nothing like that, then stored the feeling away for years as an accusation about him: too stupid to feel anything about Portrait of a Lady.

kero said...

Same thing here, but it was a woman telling me I had "dropped" my smile, and I'm a guy.

My view on it is, smiling is nice, but we can't do it all the time. A smile is a way of expressing yourself, and a complete stranger does not have the right to go about telling YOU how to express yourself.

If it were someone I already knew, a friend or relative, then yeah, it would be kinda cute. But coming from some random person, it's just irritating.