i can’t count the number of times i’ve been told to “smile” by a random man as i walked down the street minding my own damn business. even better, i’ve been told, “you’re too pretty not to smile.” as if my attractiveness warrants smiling (at a man) even when i’m not in a smiling mood. i’m clear that women don’t owe a man perpetrating street harassment anything, but what about those individuals with whom we might share a brief connection? even when i’m in a smiling mood, i’m faced with a more insidious form of boundary crossing that is just as inappropriate.
so the story goes like this, i showed up to a recent optometry appointment in a really good mood; it was friday, the weather was beautiful, i was wearing my favorite dress and i’d finally found time to get new glasses. the sales associate was a young dude who reminded me of my little brother, and we quickly exchanged black people pleasantries — where you’re from, what you got planned for memorial day weekend, etc. he helped me chose my new frames, and i left without categorizing our interaction as anything special or out of the ordinary.
when i returned to pick up my glasses, the same associate helped me, and we briefly chatted it up. less than 10 minutes later, i was out the door, and again didn’t note anything remarkable about our interaction. with this is mind, i was shocked when i came home to find he’d sent me a friend request via facebook. nevermind the fact that i’d met this man in a professional medical setting (insert hippaa violation), i’m shocked that someone i don’t know would feel it was acceptable to reach out to me using a very personal online platform, in my opinion akin to sending a text message, simply because i was…nice to him?
whether it’s cat calling, unwanted touching or lowkey social media stalking, i’m often left feeling that i’ve done something to warrant an unwelcomed male gaze. it’s not surprising that i have this emotion since women are conditioned through rape culture and patriarchy to blame ourselves for the results of “tempting” a man, failing to hold them responsible for their actions. intellectually, i know that engaging in a friendly conversation shouldn’t be construed as tempting — it’s basic human decency. however, the stakes are simply too high to be nice, and i feel an urge to bury the nice girl just to navigate the world safely. it’s exhausting to suffer the unwanted attention that a simple smile can bring.
*image via thefrisky.com