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September 24, 2004



Great post! I know I'm not the only woman is constantly instructed by strange men on the sidewalk to "Smile!" Some stone faces aren't just hesistation but resentment of having people treat you like you owe them something for no reason whatsoever.


Nice to have found your blog. I am at the GTU in Bereley and an Episcopalian. Love Steve Earle (did you know he has a blog?)

The woman thing was fun my first day at the GTU. I know you know what I mean. :)

I look forward to reading your blog,


As a child, I was taught that smiling was polite and showed people how "pretty" I was. I went to a small private University where everyone knew everyone else within a couple of months and smiling was appropriate and safe. When I left that environment, I quickly found that smiling could produce incredibly poor and unwanted results. Shortly after entering the workplace, I was immediately chastised for smiling. Apparently women smile and nod their heads too much. Needless to say, the whole thing is confusing for women as well.

Amanda, I know exactly what you are talking about. What kind of reaction are these men expecting to elicit? Are there women out there that actually comply?


Yes, there are. I've accidentally complied a couple of times, since it's been drilled into me to make nice since I was a kid. There's no nice, gentle way to put this--some men feel that women owe it to them.

Worse is being told by strangers, "You'd be prettier if you (wore make-up, wore a dress, smiled, cut your hair, grew it long, etc.)" That sort of presumption really blows my mind.


I dissent from the notion that men have to "prove their innocence". Should the same thinking apply a minority male having to prove that he is not a criminal? Or a RC priest having to prove that he is not a pedophile? Or a woman having to prove that she is not manipulative? Every stereotype has some basis in one's perceptions, no matter how tenuous. But that link may be so slender that to brand a person with that stereotype is essentially unjust and a form of bigotry. Women must overcome the tendency to "brand" men. If they do not overcome this tendency, not only will men continue to be victimized, but so will the women making these judgements.

R. Alex

BCB & Amanda (and non-smiling women everywhere),

Guys - even ones you or I would call "dumb" guys - aren't without any smarts or awareness. They operate - at the least - on the same positive and negative feedback that most members of the animal kindgom (including humans) do. The reaction they are trying to elicit is very often the very one that they've gotten before.

If every woman responded as you do, they would probably stop acting that way. The problem is that many women *do* respond positively. The same men that make these crude gestures are, more often than not, more likely to have a partner or partners more of the time than those that don't. This is particularly true in high school and college, but it persists beyond.

So if I, as a guy that is respectful of men and women alike, am to bear the responsibility for those in my gender that are not such, do you bear any responsibility for those in your gender that respond favorably and encourage such behavior?

I am the last person to be rationalizing disrespectful behavior. Since I'm not a partaker, I've no reason to. For the last half hour after reading this post I've been looking at my closest friends over the years and I can say that I don't have much to apologize for there, either. I don't lead a "double life" in this respect.

That said, guys (jerks and non-jerks) don't make the decisions they do in a vacuum. Many men objectify women; many women act and behave in a way to be objectified. Many men behave boorishly; Many women respond positively to that behavior. Women can say they're justified in responding to all men as if they were a jerk; Men can treat every woman as if she wants to be with a jerk.

That'll get us everywhere, won't it?

You don't "owe" anyone a smile, but it's amazing how much more attractive a smile makes someone. I don't even mean "attractive" in the sense of sexual attractiveness, but in the sense of approachability. Not just women, but men too. If I were to counsel young men, in particular, telling them to smile more would be one of the first lessons.

So don't smile if you don't want to smile. Assume that I'm an oogler or potential rapist. No skin off my nose, really. It's sad to think about all the people that those who wear a defensive or tough expression miss out on meeting. If it's worth that to you, then by all means. Meanwhile, I'm going to be walking up and talking to that smiling girl beside you and she's going to be meeting an interesting and entertaining guy.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Guys, there are certain situations in which it doesn't pay for a woman to be too approachable. I don't want total strangers to find me approachable when I'm walking down the street. Not because I don't know that many of them are fine, reasonable, interesting and entertaining guys. But because, face it, I'm alone, on a street, and any man of the sort who might take my smile the wrong way is going to be at least half again as heavy as me, if not twice my weight. And I've been hearing for most of my life excuses for sexual harrassment and even rape of the form, "she invited it because she ..." was too inviting in some way. I've had it drummed into my head that if I dress too sexy, act too friendly, am too careless in where I go when, it's my fault whatever a man chooses to do to me. Call me defensive and tough, but if you were me, I think you might well feel and do the same.

In other situations, where I'm less at risk, then maybe it'll suit me to relax and smile and be approachable, and meet all those interesting and entertaining men and women who are now willing to talk to me. But the situations where I want to do that are ones where I feel much safer than "strange man walks up to me on the sidewalk when I'm out on the street by myself." Ones where there's at least someone in the vicinity that I could count on to come to my aid if I needed it (other strangers on a sidewalk won't necessarily do this).

When I'm by myself on a sidewalk, trust me, I don't want to be attractive, and I don't want to be approachable. What I want at that point is to be left alone.

I don't think I treat men in general as guilty until proven innocent; I get along fine with men at work, etc. But I'm sure not going to default to being approachable in all circumstances.


R, I would check that splinter in my eye before calling other people overly defensive.

I don't like guys who introduce themselves to me by telling me how wonderful I'm about to find out they are, and if not vacantly smiling at everyone who walks by will aid in that goal, so be it.


By the way, there's "approachable" type smiles and just plain ol' happy smiles. I'm a smiley person since I'm always amused at something or another. But the smiles that you are instructed to give out on demand are the "approachable" ones. Genuine amusement smiles crinkle up the eyes more.

Trish Wilson

I'm very reserved with strangers in public, like on a street, and I don't like some stranger, male or female but mostly male (I've noticed men do this more than women), telling me to smile. It makes me feel like it's my job to make that perfect stranger feel more comfortable in my presence when I (1) want to be left alone, and (2) don't feel that my facial countenance is anyone's business but my own. I certainly would never approach a man lost in his own thoughts and demand that he smile. I don't even make eye contact unless there is a good reason to. I've noticed that when I'm asked to smile I didn't even know this man had been watching me, since I'm busy minding my own business. That's disconcerting. Why are women expected to put on a pleasant social face to appease other people, as if we are expected to smile at the world and when we don't, something is wrong with us?

Trish Wilson

One more point - I wonder how much of the pleasantry is cultural or even regional? I live in a small town in Massachusetts where people tend to be a bit more approachable, probably because everyone here knows each other. The kind of behavior I see here in public would raise eyebrows in Boston.


Leo, the price we pay for not buying into that stereotype is enormous.

Meanwhile, I'm going to be walking up and talking to that smiling girl beside you and she's going to be meeting an interesting and entertaining guy.

She's also going to be spending a great deal of time fending off uninteresting and hostile guys who call her a bitch or threaten her when her smiling turns out to be mere friendliness, and not submission or personal interest.

And frankly, I don't get why you think anyone would be thrilled to meet a guy whose attitude is "Women must be receptive to my social overtures, even if I am a complete stanger, or they're missing out."


Trish, you nailed it. The funniest thing about a man coming out of the blue to instruct you to smile is that the assumption is always that you are either angry or sad. When usually, you're just staring into space.


Wow ... I must do something different, because I've never, EVER had a man ask me to smile. I live on the West Coast, right now in Southern California, but I grew up in NW Washington, and even spent two years in the deep south of Tennessee.... never has anyone ever asked me to smile. Of course ... I do smile at people.

I have to disagree with the feminist majority on this one. I smile at passers-by, whether male or female, because it gives me a bit of an endorphin rush to elicit a smile out of someone else. I make eye contact, give a friendly (not suggestive of coquetesh ... just friendly) smile, ask how they're doing, and all the while never stop walking ... and this is only if they make eye contact and smile at me /first/. It typically ends up being awkward for a few steps ... you and he (or her) trying to determine whether or not you should smile in this situation. Heck, I find myself encouraging more /men/ to offer a friendly smile when they walk by because they look like they're /afraid/ of me.

In gaining gender equality, I don't want to terrify all the men. Most of my best friends are men. I've always gotten along better with men or women. The LAST thing that I want to do is to make all the men cower in a corner, wondering if it's okay for them to smile or nod, or laugh at a joke, or hold a door open. Sometimes all it takes to get a man to give you a little respect (public or private) is to simply return the favor.

Now, all that said, I don't think that people should be walking around and forcing other people to smile -- male or female -- but a little more personability can go a long way. I mean, what kind of world of equality will we make when we're all equally afraid of so much as smiling at the other?


I have to disagree with the feminist majority on this one. I smile at passers-by, whether male or female, because it gives me a bit of an endorphin rush to elicit a smile out of someone else.

And hey, it's all about you, right? How dare the frowny majority try to ruin your day!

When a smile and "personability" is most likely to get no more than social courtesy back, I'll do it. Perhaps, as you and Phyllis Schafly would have it, it's something about us that gets the crappy reactions, but I'm a little over having to deal with guys who think a) I owe them my time and attention because THEY want it, and b) that if it turns out that I don't want any more interaction than a polite hello, I am a bitch who deserves verbal (and perhaps physical) abuse for leading them on.

R. Alex

For what it's worth, going to a random stranger and telling them to smile is just plain weird and I'm not exactly an advocate of that.

To date, I've never walked up and introduced myself by talking about how interesting I am. Don't plan to as I would be just as put off by that as you are. I actually don't even talk about myself first because I'm more interesting in learning about them than I am telling them all about me. But I do believe that I am interesting person to get to know and I'd probably say the same about anyone here, including those of you that I am disagreeing with.

As far as being "defensive," I don't have a whole lot to be defensive about. Smile, don't smile, it's no skin off my nose. I just find the attitude puzzling. I'm not instinctively a smiler myself, but I try to be more of one.

As far as "approachable" and "smiley smiles" go, I consider them both approachable to an extent. I've not been referring to seductive smiles or "come and talk to me ones," but overall demeanor. Smiley smiles go a good ways as well.

If I sound like I take this all personally, I only sort of do. My life has been rife with female-types (until recently, I've had more female friends than male ones) that buy in to this mind-set. They lean on their existing friends too heavily, wonder why they can't find that special guy, and don't see the role they're playing in all of this. The more social friends who also complain that they can't find that special guy are still looking, but lead, what appears to me, to be more satisfying (if more complicated) lives in the interim.

It's not a gender specific issue, as I've had guy friends with the same tendencies. It's bizarre to me that random strangers would walk up to you and tell you to smile. I took a quick headcount with ladies that I've talked to last night and today (6 in all, including AIM chats) and it's not happened to them in the manner described above, though none of them live in southern California (Two in Idaho, one in Alabama, and three in Texas), so I don't know what to tell ya about that, other than that it's really weird to me and I wouldn't condone that kind of upfrontwardness.


Okay, the issue isn't being a "good" woman who is smiley or not. The issue is that some men feel perfectly within their rights to walk up to women and request that they behave in a way that's sole purpose is to make others feel pleasant.

Is it sexist to expect women to just smile all the time so men can feel more welcomed by them? Let's see....Can you for the life of you imagine someone telling a guy that he can't get a date because he doesn't smile prettily enough at strange women?

It's creepy to expect women's outward appearances to be more reflective of men's desires than those women's own feelings. I have a big, eye-crinkling smile and a huge laugh. My friends clearly think this is great, but I meet plenty of men who are intimidated by a woman with a boistrous sense of humor. Should I rein it in to suit them? No. So why should I smile to be "approachable" when I have things on my mind other than making men around me feel smiled at?


Oh, and to drag it back to Hugo's original post, I think young women tend to have even more ugly experiences in the course of the day with blatantly sexist men in their peer group, which makes them even more hesistant to speak to their male peers and therefore even harder on those young men who do want to be nice.


I just find the attitude puzzling.

Imagine that an awful lot of those strange women you're dying to get to know are actually black belts in Krav Maga and could kill you with their pinkies. Imagine further that about half the time, when you smile at them or reply politely to their chatting at you, they take this as an indication that you are now romantically interested in them. And if you turn out not to be, odds are good that they will turn verbally abusive, perhaps even physically abusive, and accuse you of being a tease or a prick or stuck-up.

How many iterations of this would it take for you to quit being "approachable?" And how would you feel when a female acquaintance of yours pouted that men just don't smile at her anymore, and it's not fair, because SHE enjoys it so they ought to?

They lean on their existing friends too heavily, wonder why they can't find that special guy, and don't see the role they're playing in all of this.

That role being the failure to act "approachable" to perfect strangers? I somehow doubt that's the source of their romantic woes.


Wow... this is all getting very, very weird. I just can't imagine that something as simple as smiling and being friendly to another human being, whether male or female, is that big of an issue. I never, ever thought of it as one. And yeah, I agree ... someone coming up to you and telling you to smile (unless they're a friend who's telling you to smile because you seem down) is really, really weird. I maintain that it just must be where I've been in my life ... no one's EVER told me to smile.

Creepy. But this notion that you're smiling just to make yourself appealing because a man wants to make you appealing? Isn't that going against the whole basis of feminism ... I mean, Amanda ... if that's the case, then why do you wear pumps or dresses or make-up? Couldn't it easily be said that you're just trying to make yourself appealing by a man's definition?

Can't a smile just be a smile because you *want* to smile? Because you feel good about smiling at another human being?


Isn't that going against the whole basis of feminism

I don't *remember* falling down a rabbit hole, but I guess I must have. In what other universe is saying that you shouldn't have to smile because it makes random, unknown men happy 'going against the whole basis of feminism'?

Nobody is saying you CAN'T smile, Astarte. That's worlds away from saying that women SHOULD smile and be "approachable" because it pleases men for them to do so.


I simply don't see where anyone said that smiling at men was required because you must make yourself appealing to men.

Please point out where that was said. I could well be wrong.


When a perfect stranger on the street says to me "smile", my first thought is to laugh at him. Fortunately I do the sensible thing and ignore him. But then again, I have been the victim of attempted purse/satchel snatchings by people who ask for a quarter n dime for a phone or for a match/light. It is unfortunate, since I tend to be uncharitable out of fear, unless I have come prepared with loose bus fare money in pocket. I have to say that single women are far more likely to be the target of aggressive panhandling by men than couples or single men. The few aggressive types and thieves spoil it for the rest.


Astarte, you came rather close to saying that, with your suggestions that since we don't want men to cower in fear (of what? not being smiled at?), that we should show 'a little respect' first. Granted you were a little rambly, but you sure sounded as though you were saying we ought to be smiley and friendly to strange men so they aren't, like, afraid and stuff.


I never said anything of the sort, Mythago. Pleae don't read into what I have to say regardless of how 'rambly' it may or may not be. If you have a question as to my meaning, feel free to ask it.

What I did say (or, rather, mean) is that it doesn't seem fair to men to receive our frowns when they smile to us simply because women red men's smiles as lecherous even when they aren't.

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