Two weeks ago I was at Southampton airport. I had been up since 4:30am and it was now 7pm and I knew that it would be probably be half nine before I got home. I was exhausted. Bone achingly tired, I had painful stomach cramps and a headache brewing. I was dreading the return flight because I hate flying. I was navigating the steps down to the lower concourse, internally cursing the poor dinner choice I had made. The goat’s cheese and red onion chutney sandwich from Costa had been vile. My stomach was now quietly growling when a man coming up the steps stopped in front of me and said,
“Smile love, it might never happen”
You Talking To Me?!
I was taken aback. Was he talking to me? Yes, he was. This man, this stranger, was telling me to smile. He had never met me before, he didn’t know my name, yet he felt that this gave him a right to tell me to smile. Quite frankly I felt like punching the smug smile off his face. Instead I grumbled something about the fact it already had happened and I continued down the steps. It was only later when I reflected on what had happened I realised that had I been a man then that incident would not have happened.
Is A Man Ever Told To Smile?
A man isn’t told to smile, why? It’s because in reality it is an act that suggests sexualisation. The mistaken male belief that a women should look pretty and, therefore, be smiling all of the time. It’s that idea that we, us women, are there for the male gaze only. All day I had been aware of feeling inferior. In the morning I had got a flight where we were told to sit wherever we wanted to. There were loads of spare seats, yet one man chose to sit right next to me. I didn’t feel confident enough to ask him to move and I spent the whole flight feeling on edge. Earlier in the bar a man had asked if he could sit on the seat next to me and again I had felt that I had to say yes. Despite the fact that I was just desperately craving some peace and quiet. I had spent the day being very aware of my gender and its inequality. I felt very aware of the fact that I was in a man’s world.
You Don’t Know Me!
The man who instructed me to smile did not know what I was going through. For all he knew I could have just been told that I had 1 week left to live. I wonder how he would have reacted if I had told him that I was worrying about selling our house, that I was worried for my husband who is clearly stressed, yet he won’t talk about it and that I am worried about my younger brother, who I just want to be happy. I had worry etched on my face for good reason. I have a family who I love and as a result I worry about them. I have thoughts in my head and I feel emotions, these show on my face. I am a woman, I am not an empty vessel. Therefore, I won’t always be smiling.
I Let Myself Down
I am cross with myself for all of the times I didn’t stand up for myself, for the time I didn’t tell the man to move away, for the time I didn’t tell the man there were plenty of other seats in the bar and for the time I didn’t tell the man to do one for telling me to smile. The other month I was out with a friend and a man approached me and started talking to me. He kept telling me that I had beautiful eyes, he kept trying to touch my face and arms. He invaded my space. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I felt intimidated. I felt cross for feeling that way. I shouldn’t be letting anyone intimidate me. I wonder if wearing my wedding ring would make a difference. They are too big and I need to get them resized. The reality is, however, that I don’t feel like I should have to wear a ring to warn a man off. I don’t see why I should have to wear a ring, a ring that symbolises the fact I am already another man’s property. I should be able to go out free from harassment.
I could shrug all of these incidents off but I won’t. Telling a woman to smile is sexist. I won’t smile because a man told me to. I will smile because I want to. In an airport at the end of a very long day you will find plenty of people who aren’t smiling, not just me. I suggest next time you ask a man to “smile love, it might never happen” and see what kind of response you get from him.