Why Do We Expect Women To Smile? I'll Grin If I Want To!

Last updated by Katie M.

I have a problem, which in reality isn’t one. I don’t smile naturally. It’s normal, I’m a human being with emotions and thoughts which don’t necessarily make me want to smile. However, men have already asked me to smile. If there’s something that makes me want to burn everything, it’s when I receive such a request. I can’t stand this injunction to women any longer. We have to stop being told to smile! And why do women always have to smile? We’ll explain all about this sexist mechanism.

Why Do We Expect Women To Smile? I'll Grin If I Want To!

A sexist injunction: Having to smile since childhood

As women, we are subject to many more injunctions than men, and from an early age too. I have always been told that I have to smile since I was little. As if smiling is part of our feminine attributes. And generally speaking, you only have to look at my school photos to see that all the girls smile, but far fewer boys do so.

➜ It’s the same in magazines, 80% of women smile compared to 58% of men, according to a study by the University of British Columbia. What little girl hasn’t already been told, “you’re prettier when you smile”? That’s because, from childhood, we’re taught to match what men expect of us. A smiling trophy wife!

>>> Learn all about toxic positivity

Smiling women are more attractive to men

An American study was carried out in 2011 on dating sites to find out whether women that smile were more courted. This is indeed the case! The author, Brigitte Laloupe, who wrote the book “Why women earn less than men” explains: “Women are expected to be pretty, bring good humor and gentleness in life”. So, it’s a male expectation, we have to please men and correspond to the image they want of us.

➜ According to the same study, it’s the opposite for men. Indeed, they are more successful when they don’t smile. This is because women are more used to adapting to their mood and don’t mind if they don’t smile.

Asking us to smile is a public request

Well-known women are asked…

I have the impression that men consider a woman who doesn’t smile as an anomaly and that a light should be shone on her. Maybe that’s why I often hear men asking women to put “a smile on that face”. Because yes, it’s an injunction that’s publicly formulated, as with Serena Williams. In November 2015, she won the US Open. After that, she gave a press conference where she was exhausted. A journalist asked her why she wasn’t smiling. The tennis player was forced to justify herself, explaining that she was tired, it was late, and she just wanted to go to bed.

🤦‍♀‍ It’s hard to imagine the same question being asked to Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal… It’s always women who are criticized for not smiling, never men.

… as well as lesser-known women

However, it’s not just famous women that get this type of request. How many times have I seen men on social media commenting on photos of women, telling them it’d be better if they smiled?! By the way, this doesn’t just happen online, but also in everyday life. By an intrusive uncle at family gatherings, a stranger in the street who harasses people in public, a colleague or a toxic manager, etc.

➜ Asking a woman to smile is demanding that they conform to the fantasized view of female behavior in the public sphere.

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Asserting yourself by explaining you don’t want to smile

If we don’t want to smile, we don’t have to force ourselves to do it just to please others! Personally, if I don’t smile, it’s because the management of my emotions doesn’t allow it. When I smile frankly, it’s because I’m happy. I feel happiness and joy, which I express by smiling. If I’m doing a yearly balance sheet, walking in the street or thinking about something, I don’t want to smile naturally. As a result, when a man tells me to do it, it makes me feel like doing anything but smile. I don’t hesitate to point out to him that he’d never ask another man to do that!

💪 Self-assertiveness is also about saying what you think and expressing when something doesn’t suit you.

Raising awareness by sharing

The American collective Nightpantz Comedy wanted to make fun of this injunction. They made a fake advert for “Smyle for Women” pills, which make women smile when they don’t want to:

A video to share to make people realize how ridiculous it is! The actress Brie Larson, who plays Captain Marvel in films, had a great response to men asking her to smile. She simply photoshopped a smile onto film posters where men are superheroes:

Capture Tweet Bree Larson

Bree Larson, altered film posters by adding smiles to actors

Why you don’t tell a woman to smile

This constant expectation that girls should always be smiling depoliticizes them and positions them as docile beings. The "fun" thus acts as a distraction from deeper political issues, discouraging girls from paying attention to the exploitation and violence they face around the world. It is as if drawing attention to the myriad of social and political issues facing girls, such as the climate crisis or the plight of missing and murdered indigenous girls and women, would risk disrupting the happiness and fun of being a girl.

If everyone loves a happy girl, then unhappy girls can't be loved: it's a clear warning to girls to maintain their happiness or risk being "psychologically and aesthetically unattractive." It is okay to have fun with others, but at its core, you have to make an individual effort and be responsible for your own fun. The call to smile does not invite celebration of the resolution of misogynistic and patriarchal structures, which are often the source of unhappiness.

😁 Editor’s note: I’ll smile if I want when I want!

Smiling is an expression of joy and happiness. If you don’t feel like it, if you’d rather pout, sulk or frown, knock yourself out! And if these injunctions create uneasiness in you, a gap between whom you really are and what others seem to expect of you, take back control by calling upon a coach.

🤗 Understand yourself, accept yourself, be happy... Let’s do it here and now!


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