2009-10-10

Smile! You're in public

I wasn't going to post about this clueless encounter originally, but changed my mind after posting a picture on FaceBook in which I dared to not smile, thus causing an outcry about how I looked "sad," "pissed," "upset," or "disappointed." All just because my face was at rest in this picture.

So what happened to me before the public outcry that I please put a pleasing facial expression on when observed, was that I was enjoying a nice seafood dinner and a drink in Halfmoon Bay. The bartender and I were bantering all the while, and when I was ready to pay, I was in a very good mood. I signed my check and was putting my wallet away as the guy sitting in a chair one over from me, who has so far not made any attempts at communication, demanded "Smile! It's Saturday night!"

I experienced a weird mix of emotions as a result.

  • The sentence seemed to indicate that the mood he was reading from my face was somehow unfitting for a Saturday night, yet I was perfectly happy after a great meal and a nice conversation with the barkeeper.
  • His remark also seemed fairly impolite in the context of our previous lack of communication.
  • Finally, I felt like he was intruding on me, demanding that I arrange my facial features in a certain way, regardless of how I was feeling. Assuming for a moment that his interpretation of my facial expression was correct, and I was unhappy for some reason, his demand for a smile seems callous.

I remembered reading about the phenomenon of strangers demanding smiles from women at some point in the past, so I googled it, and here's what I came up with.

This passage is found on Page 247 of Sex differences and similarities in communication by Kathryn Dindia and Daniel J. Canary.

So women are expected to smile more, and when they don't they are assumed to be grumpy. Nice. At least we now know why the guy at the bar took it upon him to heroically brighten my mood.

Now if we could only know what women themselves think about this! Oh wait! We can! They find it just as annoying as I did.

Surprised? Incredulous? Here's more, from Alas! blog. And another Alas! article.

You may be asking, why does what some may see as an innocent attempt to be friendly even merit all this research and thought. I could not put it into words better than Lucia in the second Alas article, so I would like to end my post with her quote:

"Of course, we all know why this issue is a feminist one: Some people don’t believe women have a right to boundaries. Women do."