A manhole covered painted with a smiley face.
A manhole covered painted with a smiley face.

Dear Paul

Paul Kiernan

I suppose I shouldn’t be answering this because I’m not a man who tells women to smile. I’m not a man who tells men to smile, either for that matter. So, I guess this leaves me out, but I want to drop my two cents in on this debate.

I work in a smallish office, and a few women I work with seem dower and sad all the time; I told one of them that she should smile more. She has such a pretty face; I think she’d be even prettier if she smiled. Now I am in a debate with two of my co-workers; one says it’s wrong, and one says it was the right thing to do. Was I wrong to say that?
Likes a Smile

Dear Smile,

I suppose I shouldn’t be answering this because I’m not a man who tells women to smile. I’m not a man who tells men to smile, either for that matter. So, I guess this leaves me out, but I want to drop my two cents in on this debate. I know some men think that telling a woman to smile is some sort of compliment; they say: “You’re so pretty; you should smile more.” I know they mean well, or they believe they do. But I think they’re mistaken.

A woman’s worth, a person’s worth, is more than the components of their exterior. This cannot be stressed enough in this world of social media and shaming. A person is worth more than their looks. A woman, especially, is worth more than her looks. Why do I say especially? Because I feel that women have been fighting this whole “don’t worry your pretty little head” insanity for a long time. Now, granted, men have to deal with the whole dad bod and the look trim because that’s power, but in reality, if a man has wealth, he can look and act like anything he wants. Women are not afforded that kind of leeway. We know the drill if a woman is strong, sure, and confident, she is a bitch. If she dresses to her strengths, she is a slut. And, if she is feeling low and unhappy, and she isn’t the smiling face over the brim of some man’s coffee cup, she’s told to smile.

Here’s the thing that men don’t realize. When a man says to a woman: you should smile; you’re so pretty. What he’s saying is, this is my world, and you are merely an object for me to gaze on, and the fact that you’re not smiling makes my world less splendid than I need it to be, so smile. Perhaps the guy isn’t thinking that maybe he truly believes he’s giving some sort of compliment, but the fact remains that he is not. She is not complimented; she is annoyed; she is marginalized; she is objectified, and, frankly, she’s probably fucking sick of that kind of shit happening.

Men get unhappy. Men don’t always smile. Men have good days and bad days. Men are allowed to wear whatever facial expression they want because … I don’t know, we just are. Someone may joke that we’re grumpy today or someone pissed in our Cheerios, but rarely does a man hear: “you have such a handsome face, you should smile more” or, “smile, it can’t be that bad, sweetheart.” Men just don’t have to deal with that, so why should women?

Again, a person is more than what we see, the way they dress, style their hair, trim their beard, apply lipstick, don’t apply lipstick ...a person is made up of many emotions and levels of intelligence, dreams, goals, desires, likes, dislikes, triumphs and failures. A person is a complete, rich, complex, and beautiful creation. Beautiful when they smile, when they weep, when they’re still, when they are in motion, when they are comforting another, making another laugh, dealing with another’s tears, a person is spectacular. See that. Know that. Approach the world that way, and you’ll realize that saying to a woman, you should smile or give me a smile or just smile, is saying to her, you’re not enough as you are, you’re not acceptable unless you do this, you’re ruining the world I occupy, and I am allowing you to occupy it as well but, only under the condition that you do as I say so that I am pleased.

Think before you say this phrase, A phrase that, to you, may seem innocuous, but to the receiver, it is a nightmare. It is a repudiation of their existence as a person. It is a blatant disregard for their rights, their place, and their being. The response to this kind of admonition by me is typically; I was being nice and complimenting her. But, it’s not a compliment; it’s a demand; it’s a form of control. Women have been subjected to these types of subtle controls for a long, long time; now, they just don’t want any part of that anymore. Why would they? Why would they want to go back in time and be arm candy and not be appreciated for all they do beyond being pretty and smiling for me? The idea that women should always smile is insane. And the idea that men think it’s okay, even good, to tell a woman to smile is absolutely wrong.

So, there’s my two cents. Men, just think a bit before you speak. If you really want to compliment a woman, think about why you want to give the compliment. Is it truly for her, or is it for you? Just think and remember that all people deserve respect, especially women. Why? Just because they’ve put up with disrespect and are still putting up with it on the highest levels, they are putting up with it from men.

It’s elementary; stop telling women to smile; it’s not kind, sweet, or polite, and they don’t need to be told how to express their emotional state of being. I hope that helps.

I hope that helps.