When a man asks a woman to smile, the request often seems harmless to the man, but to the woman, the very question could make her want to fight. This is what Ebony contributor Damon Young realized after a recent chat with a female friend who was having a rough week.
After hearing Nicki tell me the details of her awful week, watching her take a phone call that somehow made things even worse, and seeing her wait for a bus, clearly upset, it angered me knowing there was a good chance some guy would notice this beautiful woman—-depressed for various reasons—-and politely (but insistently) demand that she put a smile on her face. Despite the fact that he'd had absolutely no idea why she was down—-for all he knew, she could have just found out a family member died (which she did, btw)—-he might even pepper his request with an annoyingly familiar "Come on, sis. Things can't be that bad." Basically, since they obviously can't or don't experience the range of emotions that any other human (well, any other man) can and do experience, they should be able to smile on demand.
I'm not suggesting that men who do this are being intentionally hurtful and insensitive. I'd actually done that a couple times before myself, and each time I thought the request was playful and innocuous. It's just that, when presuming that nothing could possibly be that bad in an attractive woman's life that she dare not smile, you are dehumanizing them. It's a "nice" form of dehumanization, but it's still dehumanization nonetheless. It's also transparent. You don't see men running up to homeless women and the elderly and asking them to smile. The request is usually made when the requester thinks the requestee is attractive. It's not about a legitimate need for women to be happy as much as it's that smiling/pleasant-looking women are easier on the eyes and more inviting to approach. It's really not about the woman at all.
Read Damon Young's entire piece at Ebony.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at email@example.com.