So, apparently walking up to random women on the street and telling them to smile or how pretty they’d be if they smiled is a thing… so obviously I need to let my beard grow out again, let the allergy-induced circles under my eyes deepen, and walk up to men on the street and assure them how pretty they’d be if they’d just smile for me.
C’mon, buddy. Just a little smile… yeah, that’s it. Smile for daddy, boy.
This is why I love you.
…I don’t know, kinda mixed feelings here. Studies found that simply choosing to smile will improve your mood. The relationship of the mind to the body is a weird thing, and we honestly don’t really know if it’s quite that we smile because we’re happy, or are happy because we’re smiling.
That said, it’s probably less creepy to use that as the reason: “Please, sir/miss, smile? It’ll help.” Spreading random encouragement in a non-creepy way!
Except that there is nothing encouraging or not creepy about that.
Here’s a litmus test:
If you’re in a public place and you see someone who isn’t smiling, are you willing and able to say sincerely,
“Are you alright?”
And then be prepared to ACTUALLY LISTEN TO AND CARE ABOUT WHATEVER ANSWER THEY WANT TO GIVE? Whether that answer is “I’m fine.” to “Fuck off.” to “Here’s my entire life story and oh god I just don’t know what to do!”. Are you prepared to offer support, or advice if it’s asked for, or HELP if it’s asked for?
Because if you’re not, keep your mouth shut.
You didn’t actually care about their wellbeing.
You just wanted them to perform happiness for the sake of yours.
Also, the-ones-that-come-true? Let’s look at the context of how this sort of thing actually happens. Not the ”turnabout is fair play” version. Not how studies say smiling blah blah, “please smile, it’ll help”. How this actually happens in the real world.
Which is, namely, that this is a thing men almost exclusively do to women.
Like, I’m 27, and in my, say, 15 years of being “of fuckable age or perceived to be that way”, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had this scenario played out on me. Always by men. Every time. And I have never in those 15 years seen a single instance where a woman was the “smile!”-er or a man was the “smile!”-ee. It’s not just me, either. Look anywhere people are talking about this kind of interaction, and you’ll see the same starkly gendered split.
When you have that kind of striking gender division on an act like that, it’s worth taking a look at. Why is this a thing only men do, and why do they only do it to women?
If it were genuine concern for people’s well-being, wanting people to smile to make them happy as you’ve postulated, wouldn’t you expect women to actually do it MORE, considering cultural narratives about women being all nurturing and caretaking and crap? And wouldn’t men also do this to other men, such that Randy’s proposed scenario in the OP wouldn’t be unusual enough to be funny?
So this strongly implies that there is another motive at play here.
Now, place this in the context of a wider culture which represents women as decorative objects there for the visual enjoyment of men, in a thousand ways subtle and unsubtle all day every day, and maybe you can see what that motive might be.
Place this further in the context of a wider culture in which street harassment is an all-too-common thing, again, pretty much exclusively practiced by men against women, and this potential ulterior motive starts to become even clearer.
Then, consider the reactions women get from men when the smile is requested, and they refuse to comply, whether because they’re tired, or legitimately sad, or irritated by the “request” (which on a bad day may well be the second or third time performative happiness has been demanded of her, and it gets old fast, trust me). That “smile, sweetheart!” with an amiable demeanor makes a swift 180 into glares and muttering and epithets. I have personally been called a bitch and a cunt, in the goddamn grocery store, because I was very focused on my grocery list and trying to keep a running tally of the total value of my cart in my head because my partner had just lost his job and his unemployment checks hadn’t started up yet so we were trying to scrape by until they did, and so when a man startled me out of my concentration with a “smile, honey!” I blinked at him and said “what…?” then shook my head and went on down the aisle. I didn’t swear at him. I didn’t tell him off, didn’t flip him the bird. Just was confused, and then my brain reverted to its previous state of internal focus without first modulating my features into the configuration he wanted from me. And for that, I was a bitch, and there was no need to be like that, fucking cunt. It doesn’t happen to me like that often, mostly because I have a fairly limited reserve of emotional energy (depression does that to you) and so most times it’s both easier and just plain automatic to flash a quick fake smile to shut the guy up and send him on his way, than to refuse to comply and deal with the consequences.
Of course, let’s also remember that compliance has consequences, too. I’ve also had a couple times where the requisite smile was then taken as an invitation for the guy to try to talk to me further and follow me down the street and ask me to get coffee with him. As if my smiling on command was somehow genuine flirting on my part and signaled interest, rather than capitulation.
So put this all together.
- Strongly gendered pattern of ask-er and ask-ee
- Women are already ubiquitously represented in mass media as being mainly decorative in nature, a decorative nature that is owed to the men around them.
- Women also are routinely victims of street harassment by strange men, which takes many forms.
- When a woman does not produce the desired emotional state on demand, the man asking often gets angry - not disappointed or sad, angry - and sometimes verbally violent.
- When a woman does give the man what he demanded, the man then apparently has the option of pretending the smile was genuine and directed at him, and taking it as an invitation to further interaction.
Does that look like a friendly gesture of one human being trying to help another human being into a better emotional state for the sake of that other human’s well-being?
I didn’t think so, either. Look at it like that, and it looks like a form of harassment with a thin veil of plausible deniability stretched over it. ”I was just trying to be nice,” pouted the man who had given an order to a total stranger and not had it obeyed. Yeah that’s…not really a friendly thing to do, and there is no universe in which that is a not-creepy and appropriate thing to do.
If you really want to make people happy? Try genuine compliments. Not creepy ones, and absolutely without the expectation of any specific response on the other person’s part. You are simply offering a pleasantry, and if they choose to take it, cool, and if they choose to leave it, that’s fine too. See how many people smile from that, as opposed to a command to smile. I can tell you I’ve been on the receiving end of both types of interaction, and “smile, sweetie!” raises my hackles and puts me on the defensive, whereas the couple times I’ve been no-strings-attached complimented by men made me actually smile, and boosted my mood for a little while afterwards besides.
Not to mention, you have no idea what’s going on in that person’s life. Maybe someone close to them has just died. Maybe they lost their job. Maybe their marriage is falling apart. Maybe illness has wiped out their savings and they’re being evicted from their home. How, exactly, is smiling going to help with any of that? When you’re feeling absolutely shitty, someone asking you to pretend happiness is just one more burden, one more moment in which you have to swallow your feelings and put on a mask, and this time not even for your coworkers or your family or your friends, but for the sake of a total fucking stranger, just because they think you should be smiling right now.
I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you’ve never thought through this, the-ones-that-come-true. But now that you have, please stop justifying men’s public harassment of women. Okay?