I'm well aware of the fact that I have resting bitch face.
I've had it since I was a child, way before the expression even had a name besides “looking evil." I would randomly be at home, just chilling, watching TV, or reading when my aunt would walk by, stop, and say, “What's wrong with you? Stop looking so evil!"
I used to be so confused because I didn't even realize I looked dissatisfied. I was honestly enjoying myself doing whatever I was doing. I didn't know that my seemingly neutral expression came across as pissed.
Flash forward some 20 years later and people are still telling me to “fix my face," but this time, it comes from men on the street as I'm leaving Starbucks on my way to work. I'm perfectly content with my morning latte and croissant, headed out into the city and off to work, when all of a sudden I hear a, “It's gonna be a good day! Smile little lady," from the middle-aged man with thinning hair and too much cologne as he passes me by.
At this point, I go from not knowing this man exists to being irritated as hell with him, and depending on whether I'm actually having a good morning or not, my responses vary between “Fuck off" and just ignoring him altogether and continuing on my merry way. Because one, I'm a grown ass woman, not a little lady. But moreover, your presence does not warrant a smile upon command.
While I know that my resting bitch face is something I should be more conscious of, still, why do I owe it to a complete stranger to make a conscious effort to look approachable? Men who tell women to smile do so an in effort to approach her to initiate further conversation--be it to throw a catcall her way or to strike up a genuine conversation.
“Smile more," may seem like an innocent way to break ice or even attempt to flirt, but really what's happening is that you're demanding that women give you permission into their physical and mental space, and to make you feel welcome. But why should I have to be welcoming for a man who I don't know and don't particularly have interest in getting to know?
Just like when a male reporter once asked Serena Williams why she wasn't smiling during a press conference, she said it was because she honestly was tired and didn't want to be there.
[Tweet "Women are expected to be submissive to men when men are the last thing on their mind."]
Women are expected to maintain an air of femininity and submission about them even when men are the last thing on their mind. It's as though we're conditioned to be prepared to accommodate men and their demands at all times, even when we're not in the mood or have no interest in entertaining men. I'm walking out of Starbucks with an agenda and a plan laid out for the day, none of which includs the man who finds me attractive/endearing enough to want to strike up a conversation with.
In addition to the patriarchal and sexual idea that men are inherently permitted to inhabit my space as a woman, it also can be a bit of a foot-in-mouth thing to tell a woman (or anyone else for that matter) to smile. You don't know me, so you have absolutely no idea what could've happened in my life in all the moments, minutes, hours, days, months, and years prior to you encountering me that could be causing me to exude a less-than-pleasant demeanor.
There could've been a death in the family, I could've lost my job, spilled my coffee on my work clothes, broken up with my boyfriend, gotten my phone stolen, or just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You don't know would've transpired that caused me to be in a bad mood. And me expressing those moods that are anything but happy is okay.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't approach a woman you meet on the street, but try to eliminate the microaggression that is “Hey, you should smile." Even if you changed your verbal and nonverbal language to something like, “Hope you have a good day," with a smile and wave, then I'd probably be more apt to respond in a naturally and genuinely touched fashion, offering a "thank you," and a smile back, thus opening the proverbial door of opportunity for you to further the conversation (if I'm not in a hurry), or it would at least allow for me not to feel as though I've been reprimanded by patriarchy for my expression, and you will have gotten the warm response you wanted.
But within the milliseconds you've known me and seen me unhappy, and demanding that I smile to appease your comfortability with me for the moments we spend in passing is a bit facetious. And quite frankly, I don't owe you anything.