Why Can’t Women Smile When We Want To?

Why Can’t Women Smile When We Want To?

If I had a dollar for every strange man who told me to smile I’d be practicing knit stitches with Vicuña yarn. As if it wasn’t challenging enough to navigate a busy city street while trying to make sure my purse doesn’t get snatched or pocket picked, but then some dude I’ve never even seen before in my life (and vice versa) thinks whispering or shouting, “Smile!” is going to brighten my day. I’m sure this worked at some point in time because crazy is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. So I’m hoping they’re not all wackos but bothering women on the street is a worldwide phenomenon. On October 28, 2014 a video YouTube hit the web, chronicling a young woman’s treatment by men as she silently walked the streets in New York City. It popped up on my Facebook homepage several times but I didn’t watch it because I had a feeling I’d be upset by it. However my friend Giorgina shared a For Harriet article by Omilaju Miranda contending that the backlash to the video by women is unwarranted. My curiosity was piqued that women found the video itself to be offensive. I had to watch the video after reading the article and as expected was completely upset by it. Ten hours of footage were condensed into about one and a half minutes, which is long/short enough for the public’s “Look, squirrel!” attention span.

This video dredged up all sorts of negative personal feelings and I ended up reliving every single bad experience I’ve had with male strangers. My mother always said “Man does try” so we should never be surprised when a guy comes on to us, but sometimes it simply isn’t called for and that’s my problem with the behaviour displayed in the video. The sad thing is that women resort to giving off hostile energy to deter men’s unwanted commentary and in doing so isolate themselves from everybody. There should be a picture of me next to the word unapproachable in the dictionary. I admit it. I wear a facial expression in public that says, “Do not touch me. Do not speak to me.” However I have a darned good reason why.

Many years ago I was walking with some friends one night after a class on High Street, San Fernando to a payphone on the corner. (I did say, “Many years ago” eh?) I was chatting with one of said friends and we lagged behind the rest of the group. Separated from the herd as nature documentaries say. A man startled me near to Scotiabank. He asked for the time. I didn’t stop walking and increased speed but he kept pace with me and was now uncomfortably close. I didn’t like the look of him but answered his question anyway. Big mistake! Now he wanted to talk and I only wanted to get away from him. I sped up even more but he didn’t give up and caught up with me a short distance from the payphone. He asked me to go into the bank’s enclosed ATM with him. I said no. He pleaded saying he didn’t know how to use the machine. I said no again and turned my back on him, trying to reach my friends and the phone to call home. That’s when he grabbed my wrist roaring, “YOU WILL COME WITH ME!” and started pulling me towards the bank. I shouted at him to let me go and one of my male friends rescued me. The would-be assailant ran away and took my smile with him. That’s when Miss Unapproachable was born. The next day I bought a cell phone and never let politeness trump my intuition again. Eventually I learned self-defense and kickboxing because the streets are never safe – ever.

I understand why the Hollaback video has been considered an unfair portrayal of minority males in the USA, but in my country approximately 98.8% of the population are people of colour. It would probably be easier for our women to count how many times we’ve walked the streets and a male stranger didn’t say something to us. I’m a pale-skinned woman which directly contradicts my place among the majority but my melanin-deficiency means men have shouted, “Whitey!” at me from passing vehicles for most of my adult life. Men I don’t know. Men I don’t want to know because they have more people I don’t know suddenly noticing me because of something I was born with. A guy once told me, “Smile nah, white girl.” I responded with a no and walked away as he cursed me. Shoshanna Roberts’ experience just proves to me that this invasive rubbish happens in NYC too.

This rampant disrespect of women, which is probably tied to people’s overall lack of self-respect, is seen online as well. For months now, my poor eyeballs have read articles with evidence of threats against women via social media. I’m not talking about the typical f-you stuff but torture, rape and murder threats along with the dreaded doxing. My shero, Felicia Day, explained her hesitation to comment on the Gamergate poop-storm because she’s “terrified to be doxxed” and then some cretin almost immediately doxed her. In case you haven’t heard about Gamergate, Wil Wheaton wrote an insightful piece about it for The Washington Post and I’m glad to say that I know guys who share his feelings on the matter. Thank God!

“We live in a society that’s sexist in ways it doesn’t understand. One of the consequences is that men are extremely sensitive to being criticized by women. I think it threatens them in a very primal way, and male privilege makes them feel free to lash out.

This is why women are socialized to carefully dance around these issues, disagreeing with men in an extremely gentle manner.  Not because women are nicer creatures than men. But because our very survival can depend on it.” – Brianna Wu, Polygon.com Jul 22, 2014

Jezebel staffers wrote an open letter to Gawker Media because of the parent company’s sluggish response to the site’s “rape gif problem.” Those three words say it all, right? A solution was implemented but only after Jezebel aired Gawker’s dirty laundry that female staffers and readers’ disdain for gory rape gifs weren’t considered a priority. Internet behemoth, Twitter, is now addressing their threatening troll problem with help from Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!). Internet anonymity is a double-edged sword. Everybody is free to speak their minds including hateful, depraved individuals. Why are common courtesy and basic decency ignored? Why do women earn lesser salaries but must perform as well as or better than their male counterparts? Why do men feel they have a right to interfere with women on the streets and online? Why should women be grateful for unsolicited attention? Why can’t women smile when we want to?