The thing I love about new environments is new opinions. It is a such a thrill to sit amongst fresh minds discussing topics that are tried and true in your intermediate group of friends. I have been fortunate to never come across the same opinion repeatedly and if I do, it’s always something new added to the mix.
I recently started working at a local university here in Baltimore through a temp agency (yea, I have a million jobs) and I have met some new characters along the way. Since they are such a colorful bunch, I am quite confident that I will have multiple blog posts directly based on our daily conversations. And this is one of them.
We have weekly Wednesday meetings to discuss productivity and common workflow issues within our small department. Being a temp, weighing on the decision-making process is not of utter importance so I mostly choose to stare off into the distance of the near by corner admiring the imitation woodwork. One day after said meeting, we were making our way downstairs and a follow temp held the door open for me to pass through. As I walked through the threshold, he turned to me and said “Smile.” Without missing a beat, I blurted out “That’s sexist of you to say.”
I heard a few snickers from the female staff members as we continued to descend the stairs. Meanwhile, the male temp kept asking why it is was sexist and this image kept popping in my head of Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s street posters.
Granted, my male counterpart was not cat-calling or objectifying my body but the statement holds power in my emotional psyche. I’ll give your a little background…
Growing up in an semi-conservative Southern family, I was exposed to traditional practices that today’s modern culture can no longer live by or accept. Examples would be always wearing dresses, speaking in a demure fashion about the weather, cooking, and other unsophisticated topics, and of course, bias conceptions of what makes a woman beautiful.
Everyday of my life, I was told to smile in either one of these two phases: “You should be grateful so smile,” or “Smile, darling, you’re prettier that way.” I strongly believe the reason why I smile so often, sometimes unconsciously, is because of these two statements being constantly drilled in my head. Naturally as a child, you want to please and the easiest way is to literally grin and bear it in front of adults; it is just preposterous that I still apply this philosophy to my life to this day. I literally can’t help it! So frustrating.
In my “Demon of Darkness” (as described by my Mother) stage, the system kinda of disappeared and my new favorite thing was to frown at everyone; consequentially, rage, anxiety, and self-loathing are not the by-products of a smile. I hated the idea of internalizing my emotions so if someone told me to smile, a trigger would go off in my head and I would rant to the ends of the Earth with my emotional baggage to some stranger who now thinks I am creepy…
Long story short, I got some of my screws re-tightened and returned to the world of smiles eventually. Fast forward to that Wednesday, I believe one came loose again..
Through my recent love of introspection, I quickly analyzed myself when taking a seat back at my desk. Why was I so annoyed at his statement? Was it really sexist? Am I just being sensitive?
Given my history and experiences thus far, it is not a coincidence that I felt offended by this statement, no matter how simple and unguided it was. Telling a woman to smile and be happy maybe isn’t sexist but it is an unnecessary social tradition that I believe we need to break. Mental health is an individual’s responsibility, not a public one.
However, this does not give me the right to place my emotional baggage on a complete stranger who is otherwise oblivious to my upbringing.
Ladies, how do you feel about being told to smile? Gentlemen, why do you tell a woman to smile?
You can learn more about Tatyana Fazlalizadeh here. As always, make you sure you like, comment, and follow this blog as well as connect with me on my other channels. Links can be found on my main page.