Nobody is immune from the sexist practice of (women) being told to smile, not even presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. After Clinton won big in some important primary states, “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough tweeted for her to “Smile. You had a big night.”
You know what, Joe? No. Hillary doesn’t have to smile for you, and neither do I, or any other woman out there. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve been told to smile by complete strangers. It’s annoying, frankly. Listen, I’m a happy person. I even do smile a lot, just not all the time. And that’s OK.
Maybe when you see me walking my dog I’m thinking about the 80 different things I need to do, or making a mental list of groceries or bills to pay, or wordsmithing a new article in my mind. Or, I just don’t particularly feel like smiling. That’s OK, too.
What’s not OK is telling women the “right” way to show their emotions. Has anyone told Bernie or Donald or Ted to smile? No? Then why Hillary? What gives anyone the right to chastise a presidential candidate who spends her life in the public eye and knows how those things work? It’s patronizing at best and infantilizing at worst.
Sorry to burst any bubble with this little truth bomb, but we — women — do not walk around wondering how we can best appeal to the folks around us. Yes, many of us take pride in our appearance, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to plaster a smile on our faces on command just because you think that’s nice. Women already have to work harder to be seen as less emotional or “bitchy” or any number of things that men aren’t strung up for. You might think that a quick, “How about a smile?” isn’t a big deal, but it’s the proverbial straw. We deal with so much crap that asking us to smile is just one more thing that weighs us down, and that’s nothing to smile about.
So, thank heavens people responded quickly and loudly to Joe (and others’!) demands that Clinton smile. Samantha Bee, host of the weekly TBS show “Full Frontal” started the hashtag #SmileForJoe to show how absurd Scarborough’s tweet really is.
“Full Frontal” showrunner Jo Miller spoke to SheKnows about the hashtag and the ridiculousness of demanding women smile.
“The overwhelming response stems from the fact that just about every woman has been told to ‘smile’ a thousand times — by strangers on the street, by superiors, by colleagues in the office and by every jackass who thinks it’s his business to arrange our faces for us in a way more pleasing to him,” says Miller, who also was the one who snapped the photo of Bee “smiling” for Joe. “Whether Joe intended to demean the former secretary of state — and I don’t think he consciously did — he unfortunately used language that evoked that humiliating, angering experience for a lot of women.”
What Miller calls “an opportunity for a teachable moment” was unfortunately marred when Scarborough went on the defensive, calling the hashtag response “fake outrage.” “That’s a pretty common automatic reaction when women or people of color try to describe their own experiences: They’re told their experiences aren’t real and their feelings aren’t valid,” explains Miller. As to Scarborough saying that Hillary Clinton is tough and can take it, Miller agrees that she is, but that isn’t the point. “#SmileForJoe was about what the rest of us felt when we heard the familiar command to smile.”
I know that I didn’t have to muster up too much motivation to contribute my own photo to #SmileForJoe.