Why aren’t you smiling?

February 5, 2009 § 6 Comments

I experience street harassment practically on a daily basis. In the morning on the way to school, I often hear comments like ‘hey baby’ or ‘good morning, beautiful.’ Not to mention gems such as the one I heard recently, ‘I love the way you walk, but I’d bet I’d love you even more lying down.’ Mmm…I love my coffee with a side of harassment in the morning. However, the most obnoxious form of street harassment in my opinion is the kind that is not outwardly sexual, yet equally invasive and unacceptable. I’m talking about the comments I get when I don’t respond to the first come-on. For example, sometimes I just get a ‘hello’ or a ‘what’s your name?’ When I don’t respond, I get a comment like, ‘why you gotta be so mean?’ or ‘come on baby, I’m just trying to be nice.’ As if I’m supposed to respond to every sketchy man that approaches me on a sidewalk when I’ve clearly got more important things to do. Another extremely annoying comment is ‘why aren’t you smiling?’ I know a lot of young women get this one all the time.

The problem with these seemingly innocent comments is that they are a classic expression of the rape culture that we have created in our society. We make it acceptable for men to catcall women without fearing any punishment. Hell, I’ve been hit on by police officers! With comments like ‘why you gotta be so mean?’ or ‘come on baby, I’m just trying to be nice,’ these men expect us to not only passively receive their come-ons, but to thank them. Thanks sketchy man drinking beer at 8:30 a.m. for harassing a minor on her way to school!

I think that the blame can’t solely be placed upon the men that harass women on the street, in the subway or anywhere really. There has to be something wrong with a society that tells these men that the only way they can assert their masculinity is by catcalling women. That’s rape culture, folks! Men are expected to assert their masculinity in this damaging way, and women are expected to endure it. Fuck, we’re even blamed when we don’t endure it passively; ‘why you gotta be so mean?’ ‘why aren’t you smiling?’ Maybe it’s because I’m being hit on by a gross, much older man first thing in the morning and he expects me to be into it.

§ 6 Responses to Why aren’t you smiling?

  • Phoebe says:

    “Men are expected to assert their masculinity in this damaging way, and women are expected to endure it.”

    Exactly. And what’s worse is that women DO endure it. By the age of THIRTEEN I’d resigned myself to the fact that sometimes older men who I didn’t even know were going to say disgusting things to me even if I clearly didn’t like it and the only thing I could do in response was pretend not to hear it.

  • Katie says:

    I am so glad you posted about this. I think that this is one of the most prominent ways that women are oppressed daily. I have also had experience being called conceited or uptight not only when I don’t respond, but when I don’t allow men on the street to fondle me, or if I get upset. It actually leaves me feeling confused and angry. How should women respond? I hate being passive and not saying anything but I really don’t think sketchy old men trying to get with me deserve my thanks.

  • Rebecca says:

    I think it is important not to generalize by saying all men that cat call are old sleezy drunk men. This is damaging to your argument, it is all kinds of men. The reason cat calling is so detremental to society (women and men) is because it sets up the idea that a woman’s body is the cat caller’s property. A woman is seen not as an equal sexual being but rather an object that exists for the cat caller’s pleasure. This is where the rape mentality comes from; when a man sees a woman’s body as his, it is easy for that man to rape her or force her to engage in sexual activites because he believes that she exists for his sexual pleasure. Thus the concept of consent does not exist because the women is not a real sexual being.
    I think it is really interesting to talk to teenage boys about cat calling because a lot of them can’t grasp why it is so offensive. A friend of mine asked why I was offended by cat calls and thought that I should be grateful for the complement. This is another aspect of rape culture. Men think that it is a woman’s goal in life to be told that she ‘has a nice ass’ or like silvia put it, that they would love to fuck her. A cat call is not a complement because men do it to intimidate and make women uncomfortable; by making women vulnerable, men are able to feel confident with their masculintiy.
    Katie, I totally agree with you and often do not know how to respond, however this is part of keeping women oppressed. We are forced to be passive and keep walking because we do not know if the man is harmless or not. I’m not exactly sure how to deal with it but I would suggest that any time you are with a group of people and you feel safe, curse the motherfucker out.

  • Samuel says:

    This was eye opening, admittedly I have said “why aren’t you smiling?” to some of my friends without thinking about it. A indication of my own socialization.

    It is a difficulty to see one’s self as the oppressor without getting angry or defensive.

  • Silvia says:

    I really enjoyed your comment, Rebecca. I completely agree with you that it is not just sleazy men that catcall women. This post was the first in a series on street harassment and rape culture in which I’m going to elaborate on how women are expected to endure, expect and even seek the come-ons of men, both strangers and friends.

  • Lyndsay says:

    The other day a man walking past me looked into my face and said, “Smile”. It was so odd because something like that’s never happened to me before. I’d say street harassment is uncommon enough here but any amount is still too much. In the same week I was honked at which was strange. I really want to know what these men are thinking when they honk at a woman. I don’t want to feel like strangers are paying extra attention to me that they wouldn’t pay to a male stranger. (Now I hope I haven’t jinxed anything by saying I’ve found street harassment to be uncommon here).

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