Maybe we’re not smiling because we’re tired, maybe it’s none of your damn business
The only thing we’re laughing at is your stupid questions
by Lisa Pham
Women have long had to fight for several different rights granted to men over the ages. For example: the right to vote, the right to hold political office, and, more recently, the right to allow our faces to reflect our emotions when men ask us stupid, sexist questions.
As of late, more and more interviewers have been pressuring women to “Smile!” While this may seem innocuous to some, consider that while powerful female figures such as Hillary Clinton, Cara Delevingne, and Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams have all been called out for their supposed downtrodden expressions, no one in the history of ever has told a man to smile in an interview. (Although I’d be happy to smack that idiotic smile off Donald Trump’s face.)
Men are allowed to – no encouraged to – take pictures with faces that say “Nothing good exists in this world,” and nobody flinches. They are never accused of “resting bitch face.” It is normal and expected for them to look stern, exhausted, or frustrated – that’s what masculinity is about.
At a press conference in 2015, Olympic gold medalist, Serena Williams, was asked by a reporter why she wasn’t smiling as she usually does after a win, to which Williams replied, “To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here. You’re not making it super enjoyable. Just being honest.” This is a woman who has conquered countless Olympics, won the WTA Tour Championships five times, and is by far one of the greatest athletes of our lifetime – and the compelling question this guy decided to ask her was “Why do you look so down?”
Her response elicited some awkward laughs from the audience, but what it should do is make the press, and the rest of us, think more about what it means when someone tells a woman to smile.
A few months after this incident, Kyle Capogna, a recent college graduate, published an article in the Huffington Post, in which she shared an experience she had at a college party where a guy had walked across the room and yelled so severely in her face for not smiling that she feared he’d hit her. He told her to “leave if she didn’t want to have fun.”
Part of the work to change this involves changing how we view women, and how we create standards that differentiate them from men. It involves us accepting the fact that we have been instilled with certain gender expectations that compel us to think there is something “wrong” with a woman if she isn’t looking super positive. Maybe she’s tired. Maybe she’s upset. Maybe she is angry. Either way, it isn’t your business.
Williams, recently announced that she “won’t be silent” in the face of police violence against the African-American community, making an emotional Facebook post on Tuesday about her fears for the safety of her black nephew. The aforementioned reporter probably won’t be asking her why she isn’t smiling about this, but hopefully now he will have more meaningful questions for her in the future.