If you're a woman, you've probably had this happen to you countless times. You're out and about, minding your own business. Apparently, you have a straight face, which isn't good enough for the random guy near you. So, he tells you something like "where's your smile?" "you need to smile!" or "will you smile for me?"
While it's definitely not as scary as other kinds of harassment women have to deal with, it's still annoying. To me, it's definitely a sexist issue. Have you ever heard about men being asked to smile all the time? I was talking about this issue with my friend recently and she said that some men just can't help but see women as objects that they can control, and I agree. So does journalist and activist Bené Viera in an interview with Huffington Post:
"Men tell women to smile because society conditions men to think we exist for the male gaze and for their pleasure. Men are socialized to believe they have control over women's bodies. This [is the] result in them giving unsolicited instructions on how we should look, think and act. Essentially what a man is saying when he tells a woman — one he doesn't even know — to smile, is that his wants outweigh her own autonomy over how she exists in the world."
Basically, when a man tells a woman to smile, he's more or less saying that she isn't allowed to act how she wants to but rather she needs to act in a way that's pleasing for him.
The problem is even more awkward because these comments always come from a stranger. In my experience, I have never had a man I personally knew tell me to smile. The comment always comes from a random guy I don't know. It always makes me wonder why this random dude is so invested in getting a smile out of me. Why does he care so much what expression I'm wearing on my face?
Even more awkward: how is a woman supposed to respond to such a request? BuzzFeed compiled some funny tweets about how a woman could respond, none of which are to give a genuine smile. Let's be real, if a woman does follow through with the request to smile, it probably won't be heartfelt. And the answer is not to give in because that's just going to perpetuate the issue.
Hopefully, the men out there who do this will come to understand that it's not OK to ask a woman to smile. The women who will inevitably be faced with this dilemma shouldn't give in to the pressure to smile. How a woman acts and looks is entirely her own decision and she shouldn't be made uncomfortable by a man's comment.