This article first appeared on The Online Citizen.
A smile is a wonderful thing. Yet it appears that a smile can have more connotations than what is usually appreciated (on the surface) in our society.
At the age of eleven, I was taught this poem when I joined the Brownies (a school uniform group similar to the Girl Scouts):
“A smile is a quite funny thing, as it wrinkles up your face;
And if it’s gone, you cannot find its secret hiding place.
But far more wonderful it is, to see what smiles can do:
you smile at one, he smiles at you; and so one smile makes two!”
Being a ‘good’ Brownie recruit, I took the poem to heart. However, this is what I unknowingly interpreted: I should greet people cheerfully; carry out my duties readily with a smile; and appear happy even if I am not, because, I want him to smile back!
Those two Brownie years aside, for most of my years growing up, I was told that I “don’t smile often enough”. I often wondered what was wrong with me. Why can’t I smile more? And on deeper reflection, I began to ask myself, “Why can’t I be allowed to smile only when I feel like it?”
Last week, I read an entry posted on Dodson and Carlin’s blog. In it, the author, who called herself ‘LilithLand’, related how she was with her female friend minding their own business when a group of people, including a guy, sat down next to them. He turned to her and commanded that she ‘smile’.
She looked him dead in the eye and said, “I’m not standoffish; I’m just a real bitch.”
Good for her.
The blog post reminded me of a recent experience. It was one of the many times when somebody, usually a man, asks me for a smile.
I was catching up with two male friends when, out of the blue, one of them remarked, “How come I never see you smile?”
Looking at the smiling picture on my name card, he continued, “You look much better when you smile.”
Doesn’t everyone? I ignored him.
He persisted, “Why don’t you smile now?”
Why should I? I am no clown, no performer and certainly not trying to impress him.
I fumbled a reply, “I smile when I am in the mood to.”
Somebody I know recently lamented how her husband complained about her sour face or ‘bitter gourd face’ (if you translate literally from the Chinese language). She has good reason not to smile. Her husband has repeatedly accused her of infidelity, and is physically and verbally abusive. She is miserable, depressed, and in reality, even suicidal. But, still, she is expected to smile.
Smiling makes the clouds go away, the sun come out, and everything all right.
Smiling makes us more attractive to the man.
Smiling means we are ‘good’ girls.
Smiling on command means we listen to you.
Smiling means we want you.
I am struck by how it seems to be a universal thing – from the U.S.A. to Singapore – women are expected or asked to smile!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against smiling. I am against smiling when its purpose is only to make the people across from you feel better about themselves.
The next time somebody asks me to smile, I have half a mind to reply, “How about you give me a bow then? Or pull out my chair for me? Or open the door? Isn’t that what men do for women?”
Possibly, I should say, “I will smile for my sake, not yours.”
Or answer, “I shall, jolly well, smile when I want to.”
In reality, I will probably say “I smile when I am in the mood to.”
It is amazing how many people are being sexist, downright rude, or playing ‘psychological games’, without even realising.
The next time you want to ask for a smile, think again. Are you asking for a smile because you are uncomfortable or trying to make yourself feel better? And, if you are being asked to smile, know you have the right to say no.
Dr. Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching. She is a certified sexologist with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality. She provides sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conducts sexual education workshops and speaks at public events. For more, visit www.eroscoaching.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.