Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bitchface: Stop telling me to smile

I, like many, have a case of chronic bitchface. I guess it's epidemic these days. In my face I was born scowling and looking bored, and it's probably compounded over time as I accumulate exposure to general stupidity, evil, avarice, and all the other dwarfs (sorry, I meant deadly sins). Bitchface serves me well, I'm not aware I'm even doing it. Unaware, that is, until some helpful man helps reorient me to reality by making the patronizing/good natured suggestion that I should "Smile sweetheart! It may not happen!". My preferred reply would be "It IS happening!", but I sense that's not part of the script. Anyone with bitchface will probably attest, they are encouraged regularly, by well meaning men (and always men) to smile. 
Just smile and smile, like a fool, while the world turns to ashes, because you are a woman, and everyone hates an angry woman.
Part of the rub, for me, is that I'm generally not sad, angry or even unhappy. Most of the time I am actually thinking. Perhaps this is part of the problem? If I can't muster the common decency to arrange my mouth in a more pleasing configuration, clearly I need reminding. To what end would I reassure them that I am happy, content, lost in thought? How much of an idiot would I have to be to respond in kind, with a sunny smile at the behest of some complete stranger who has decided, quite literally, that he doesn't like my face. Can you imagine telling a male stranger to smile for you? How insane and actually how funny it would be? And yet how many of the bitchface sisterhood have had to peacefully endure being endlessly entreated to smile, smile and.....just SMILE goddamnit!

The good news is, I can still turn it around, by letting the sun come out in the form of an insincere smile.
It's not quite street harassment--it's so well meaning! Nonetheless it has always angered me, to be told by a male stranger to smile. I'm not a performer. I'm not here to reassure you with a vapid grin that "IT"s not going to happen.

I remember in high school a good friend of mine told me I have an 'intelligent face'. He said something like, 'you know with a face like that, you're no dummy'. And I kind of know what he means. I choose to think he meant a certain depth in the eyes, a determined set to the mouth, a quiet vigilance of the world. What he probably meant was BITCHFACE.

Would it improve matters if I politely assured these well meaning dudes that I am very content, happy even; that my unsmiling face is thoughtful, and that sometimes even when I appear dead in the eyes I am brimming with good cheer and (gasp) sometimes even goodwill towards others? No, not at all. Because this dude does not give a FUCK why how I feel. You've missed the point, he cares how he feels, and until all the women are smiling, he's not feeling too great.

Sometimes I will catch a glimpse of myself and realize that I do, indeed appear pissed off. The best explanation I can come up with for this is that it is evolutionary--I have learned through many years of hard experience, that it doesn't pay to look too approachable or cheerful, if you're a woman in the public sphere. Especially if you are alone. In addition to being a bitchface, I have another affliction, which is my aversion to talking to strange men in public when I am alone. I do not wish to be chatted up at the grocery store, to make small talk on public transportation. Bitchface, an ever present book and a set of earphones are my arsenal and insurance against any strangers looking to shoot the breeze with me. But I shouldn't really say 'strangers' when what I am specifically reacting to is 'strange tail'. Yes, loose men endlessly scanning the faces of women, assessing who is feminine, friendly or fuckable. I'm not using my bitchface arsenal to repel anyone else really, not children, not the elderly, not other women (who have never commented on my lack of a smile), and not dudes who aren't scared of books and bitchfaces.

These afficianados of the feminine smile don't much like seeing you with a book either. The combination of a book and a neutral face can be quite alarming to some, particularly if that unsmiling bookworm happens to have a vagina too! The term 'bitchface' might be considered negative by some. Not me, I like it. In truth the evolution of the face is simple, it's a face in repose, a thoughtful face, a reading, writing or relaxing face. Sometimes, in the public sphere though, make no mistake, it is a bitchface. Bitchface is, for me, and I suspect many women, insurance against public annoyance in the form of unwanted (usually male) attention. Who the hell wants to chit chat with that dour faced, humourless lady? Well, turns out there are lots of them, but first they all want you to smile!

So come on ladies! SMILE! Chances are your face won't break, it won't happen, and you might just make someone a little happier, because that is now your responsibility!

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