Things that you may not think are harassment

Everyone’s been talking about the Jezebel piece, where a woman walked around New York for 10 hours and recorded how men talked to her. Then, a few days ago, one of my Facebook friends posted this article from Bustle, describing six things you might not consider harassment, but really are.

It’s no secret I’m a feminist, though I normally don’t go around marching, protesting, and generally making a big deal of it. I’ve also been lucky enough to avoid any serious harassment during my 28 years as a female. However, one of these items touched a real nerve with me, and brought me back, in fact, to just a few weeks ago.

First of all, what Bustle says about telling a woman to smile:

Men often think they’re doing you a favor by telling a woman to “smile” in the street. But guess what? A woman can do anything she well pleases with her facial expression, whenever she wants. Women NEVER tell other women to smile in the street. They never tell men to do it either. That’s because there’s an inherent dynamic within our culture that (even subconsciously) makes men believe:

  1. A woman’s autonomy exists only in so far as she is pleasing to male proclivities, at which point…
  2. …as the ultimate owner of the female body, the man is within his rights to dictate to her how she should be conducting herself within it.

Because of this dynamic, being told simply to “smile” is harassment that reinforces this anachronistic power structure, leading women to feel out of control, and potentially in danger.

A few weeks ago, I was walking on my university campus and some guy leaning against a nearby building told me to “Smile, baby!” At the time, I just smiled and walked on by. I didn’t really think much of it, other than it was kind of funny. Later that night, at roller derby practice, I told my teammates about the incident and joked that he obviously had a problem with my resting bitch face.


Resting Bitch Face: it happens.

But the incident continued to bother me, and I didn’t realize why until I read this article. Smiling obviously makes you appear more attractive, however, as a woman, I am in no way obligated to appear attractive or pretty for anyone – especially a stranger on the street. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean that I have to go about my day, performing and pretending to be happy and smile-y, if only so other people will find me pretty. I am a human being, and I am allowed to have all kinds of emotions at any given moment, including when I’m walking down the street. Maybe I was pissed off that day. Maybe I was lost in thought. Maybe it was just a Tuesday at 5 p.m. and I was f*cking tired and wanted to get home.

I know the guy wasn’t “coming on” to me in any dangerous way. I did not feel in danger at the time. However, had I responded to this dude with the above response, I would probably be in danger of putting myself in a potentially threatening situation, which is just ridiculous. Defending yourself and your ability to walk down the road, un-bothered, can be dangerous for a woman. THAT is the sad state of affairs that the Jezebel piece hopes to point out.

Now to think up a good response the next time a guy tell me to smile. Or a car full of dudes honks at me for 10 seconds at an intersection (which also happened relatively recently). …  I wish I knew the answer, frankly. But this resting bitch face ain’t going away, I know that much.


One thought on “Things that you may not think are harassment

  1. A very interesting post. I agree with you completely. It is both rude and unnecessary for a man to suggest you smile. You are right, you do not need to do anything if you do not want to, even if it can seem to be as trivial as not smiling. Oh and the mode of address he used when he spoke to you is not nice. It made me cringe to myself when I read this. I do hate it when men approach you in the street and do something that makes you uncomfortable.

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