Today at work I was walking back from the bathroom, and since it would be weird to say hello to everyone in the office every single time I pass by their desk, I walked by in silence and didn’t look at anyone in particular. I could feel it coming before he even opened his mouth:
“You know a smile goes a long way around here.”
I have only ever heard men say this, and I have only ever heard them say it to women. I have heard one account of a woman saying it to a male acquaintance of mine, but even then that’s just a person saying it to a person; when it’s a man saying it, it’s a man saying it to a woman. Even when it’s a woman saying it, she has lost if she does not get the smile; when a man says it, he has won either way, because part of the fun is acting like the smile is yours to begin with and is being withheld from you, and part of the fun is knowing that you grossed out and upset at least one woman that day. Even if a woman does get the smile, both she and the man win because she gets the interaction (or whatever else it is that she wanted; this is a person-want, a regular want, not a specific woman-want) and he gets a chance at sex. But if a man succeeds in getting the smile, only he wins.
I wasn’t smiling and I wasn’t not-smiling and so was everyone else in the office. We all had on a regular facial expression, a neutral expression, and that is what I had on too. Wouldn’t it be strange if I walked around with a smile on my face all the time while I was in the office? Smile creeps never acknowledge that if I had been smiling before they decided to call me out, it actually would have been really weird, because I would have been smiling at nothing. I guess that’s part of their angle–they catch me at a moment when they know I won’t be smiling, because there’s nothing in particular to smile about, so they know they have a very good chance of being able to obligate me into something.
I’m not saying that every single guy who does this is doing it in a creepy way. There are definitely some men who do it because they think they’re funny, in a non-sexual way, and because they’re so used to acting like the world owes them entertainment, and because they’re so used to not being wary of people of the opposite sex with whom they are not familiar, that the expectation of pleasantness (not just politeness, but specific happiness directed at them) and of entertainment comes naturally. This expectation in itself is dangerous, and is enough of a reason to do all-whoring, all the time.
But there are also people who knowingly use it to smile-rape, to take something from you that you otherwise would not have given them.
I am lucky in that I don’t work in the service industry; service industry girls absolutely do have to tolerate this kind of thing at work, whereas for me it is not part of my job description and if they want to make it part of my job then they had better give me official notice (and then I would tell them that if I’m going to be obligated to smile at men I don’t know or like, I better be getting paid, like, ten times more than I am now). The worst part of this is the possible implied physical threat (is there one, and if so, what is it, and is it always there or only sometimes? this is a topic for another post), but I’m actually here to cover two other points about smile-creeps.
The first is that they can use your lack of smiling at them to accuse you at future points of having a bad attitude, in the case of a place of employment or at a school (where you are a subordinate), or of having ill-intent in the case of a social situation (where you are equals with the other participants, but can still be vilified). In fact I was afraid of that earlier today, that if an issue ever arose between me and another employee, this man–who is a higher-up in the office–would use a supposed “attitude problem” to tarnish my image. I am lucky in that I could deal with getting fired from this job, but for a lot of other women it isn’t that easy. I nearly smiled back at him, but then I remembered that I’m not planning to stay at this job long-term anyway and if I lost it it wouldn’t matter.
The second point is that, when they can (and they really can), men will use something as wholesome and genuine as smiling to try to one-up you and make you give them something. I could see it on this guy from the beginning that he was like this, but until now the only proof I had was a joke he made about a local murder (he made a comment that women shouldn’t piss off their partners so much), but that of course was passed off as humor and since the murder was so close to us and our office had to deal with it, I accepted it as a lame but true attempt at a joke, which no one including the joke-teller could actually have found funny in earnest since the murder was so close to home and so serious to us. But now I know that my instincts were right.
Men will always acts like this; unless women commit to all whoring and only whoring, all-whoring-all-the-time, transactional sex in everything we do, we will continue to lose out and be taken advantage of in exactly all the ways I have just listed.