I think everyone in the whole world can agree that catcalling is gross, and street harassment is bad. But sometimes, there is a little gray area. For example, many people disagree on whether telling a woman that she's gorgeous counts as catcalling. Still others don't know or agree that telling a woman to "smile" is a form of street harassment.
Whether or not you think "smile" is harassment, it is definitely a messed up, unacceptable thing to say to someone.
As I wrote in Another Reason Not to Ask People if They're Okay: It's Really Freaking Rude,
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. She's a big girl.)
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.
Which is probably why a Quora user recently asked the community, Women: How do you respond when strangers (male) tell you to smile? She continues in the question details:
This is a common form of street harassment and I'm wondering how others have dealt with it. It makes me feel uncomfortable and angry so I usually keep walking without a word. But it would be very empowering to stand up for myself and maybe even influence the harasser to discontinue the behavior.
Great question! Here's my response:
I can't think of a time when a stranger told me to smile -- this is probably because I smile a lot. I smile when I make eye contact with people. I smile when I skateboard (which is my typical mode of transportation). I smile when I look at my dog -- who is probably with me about 90% of the time when I leave the house.
I also typically am not street harassed. Probably because I have no fear. I have roamed many of the “murder capitals of the world” alone, at night, without much of a thought. When I hear women lament about how scary it is to go places at night, I have a hard time relating. I’ve never felt that way before.
If anything, I have more of an “I dare you to fuck with me – no, seriously, I DARE you” attitude. And I think this shows. Catcallers are pathetic, and they don't want to mess with someone who might fight back.
To be fair, I am also much taller and stronger than the average woman. And man, actually.
But I've also consciously worked on being prepared to deal with bad situations. I'm not afraid to confront people who say rude things to me - and having a few responses prepared ahead of time is a great way for people who aren't yet comfortable being confrontational to get started.
So if someone told me to smile, I would probably say something like:
"Stand on your head. Hop on one foot. Entertain me!"
"Not to be confrontational, because I'm sure your intentions are good... But do you tell men to smile, or just women?"
"You know, I appreciate that you want me to be happy, even though we don't know each other... But you should know that a lot of women HATE when men tell them to smile, and others even consider it to be a form of harassment."
"It's not 1950 anymore. It's no longer a woman's job to be cheerful and delight men."
"Buy me stuff!"
Other women shared answers that are much funnier and cleverer than mine. For example, one user wrote:
"Some of my Greatest Hits:
The joys of being a feminist improviser let loose in a world of men who are just throwing opportunities at you."
Another user wrote:
"Comments like this are the perfect excuse to act unapologetically rude. If they feel entitled to tell you how you can be more pleasing to them, go ahead and return the favour; criticise the way they look. Ask them why they are wasting their time telling strangers to adjust their facial expression for them. Or just tell them to sod off."
Still another answered:
"Usually I give them a huge, wide, evil grin -- teeth bared. If they were particularly nasty about it, I do that and then start walking directly and aggressively straight toward them, at a fast clip. They tend to get very uncomfortable and move away. Then I go about my business."
"I usually go with the blank stare, held as long as possible. (My response might only be tempered by the age of the person saying it. If he was elderly, for example, I would just ignore the comment rather than being aggressive. My father had a bit of dementia in his later years, and sometimes, inadvertently, made insensitive remarks. I'm assuming most guys in the street are relatively dementia-free for this answer, though.)
There is a temptation for some to say they have good intentions/ are just being friendly/ mean no harm, or other such nonsense. It doesn't really matter what their intentions are. It's not about feminism; it's about good manners. These men are being rude and should be made aware of it. Women feel how they feel when they are harassed on the street, and their feelings should be respected. Ignorance is no defense, I'm afraid."
Other amusing ideas?
Other ideas? Share them in the comments!
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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