So you're at a party, and you see a woman who is -- heaven forbid! -- NOT smiling. Do you:
a) Avoid her -- she's clearly in a bad mood.
b) Go ask her, "Are you okay?" "Is everything alright?" or some variation thereof
c) Treat her like a normal person who happens to not be smiling
If you answered anything but C, you are a rude, sexist jerk.
First of all, it's not the 19th century anymore -- meaning it's no longer a woman's job to be "cheerful." Second, what are you hoping to accomplish by asking that question? If the woman is feeling bad about something -- she's probably trying to not feel bad about it. Your rude, ignorant question, is an instant mood killer. (Remember: stereotypically, women are socially conditioned to be comfortable talking about their feelings. If there's something on her mind, she'll bring it up with her partner, family or bestie. YOU, acquaintance, classmate, boss, coworker, fellow party attender, passerby, etc., don't need to inquire.)
But, chances are, the woman feels fine -- she's just a normal human being who happens to not be smiling. Asking her if she's okay, then, is obnoxious. And it can make her feel bad or ugly. And it's an intrusion. And possibly, also, a mood killer. If this confuses you -- how can a woman possibly be okay if she's not smiling?! -- let country star Kacey Musgraves break it down for you:
Resting "Nothing's Wrong, I Promise" Face
Resting "This Is Just a Totally Neutral Expression" Face
Resting "My Mind Was Elsewhere For a Minute" Face
Resting "Please Stop Asking What's Wrong" Face
Resting "This Wouldn't Bother You If I Were a Guy" Face
When I wrote For The Love of God, STOP Asking People If They're Okay last month, I was thinking about all the reasons why having people ask, "Are you okay?" all the time is psychologically harmful. Basically, when you ask someone if they're okay, you're implying that they are not okay, but you can totally help them. In other words, it's a question that is high in agency (i.e., power, influence or control), and it demands a low-agency response.
Why? Because in order to have a smooth, tension-free interaction with someone, actions and reactions need to be complementary. You can't both act high in agency -- if you did, the alternative is conflict and confrontation, which most people try to avoid.
But at the time of writing, I was thinking mostly of people who are routinely disempowered -- people who are depressed, disabled, negatively stereotyped, recovering from trauma, etc. I had no idea how often women were asked this stupid, rude question on a regular basis... just for not being smiling.
But this morning, I read I'm Not Mad. This Is Just My Resting Bitch Face in the... wait for it... New York Times.
For those who need a review, RBF is a face that, when at ease, is perceived as angry, irritated or simply … expressionless. It’s the kind a person may make when thinking hard about something — or perhaps when they’re not thinking at all.
The article continues:
A New Jersey business journal, NJBIZ, even published a special report on the topic.
I was sad, but not surprised, to learn that the "RBF" is something that can hold a woman back professionally... but I was surprised by just how many times the women interviewed in the article mentioned people always asking them if they're okay.
Because, seriously... WHO DOES THAT?
I don't get asked that a lot, probably because, according to some sources, I'm a "smiley smiley." But, occasionally, I still get asked. Usually by someone who's new to my life (people who have known me longer know better). Usually for a stupid reason: I fell down during the basketball game. I didn't return a text quickly enough. Something mildly bad happened earlier, and I've long since stopped thinking about it.
Here's how I handle it:
The first time someone asks this, I tell them, "I'm not mad, but I will be if you ever ask me that again. Unless I'm lying in a pool of blood, do not ask me if I'm okay. It's rude, it's disempowering... and why would you even ask that?"
90% of the time, the person cleverly retorts, "Are you okay?!"
So I say, "Seriously. Don't ever ask me that again."
The second time they ask, I do get mad. Because if a woman is not being respected, it's important for her to be rude. ("Rude." Because if I calmly asked them not to do something, but they did it anyway and I got mad, I'm the "rude" one. Because if someone asks me an intrusive, disempowering question and it bothers me, I'm the rude one.)
And, while we're talking about it, here are a few other totally rude, stupid questions you should not be asking or saying:
Because why? Why would you ask someone something like this? Either they are tired/sick/stressed, and they're just trying to make it through the day... or they're totally fine, and you just made them feel like they look like shit.
I'll end this post the same way I ended Stop Asking People If They're Okay - Ask This Instead:
There are so many better things you could be asking them. Questions that remind them that they still have agency, independence, and autonomy. And that you care, and are totally ready to support them, if and when they need it.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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