In the social, professional and political realms, women are perceived as friendly and easy to approach. We always have smiles on our faces regardless of circumstances, but the problem is that we are socialized to behave this way. We are told to smile even when smiling is inconsistent with our emotions. In the article “Why Women Smile” by Amy Cunningham, she makes a statement saying, “Our smiles are on autopilot.” This leaves room for the reader to explore and interpret what it truly means to express happiness, and why women feel the need to overcompensate for their emotions in professional and personal settings.
What does society think a smile means? When you look up what a smile means in the dictionary, it says, “one’s pleased, kind or amused expression.”
However, that’s not always what a smile means for some women. We are seen as one-sided with our smiles. If we look your way and smile, it’s interpreted as an open invitation to speak to us, though that’s not always the case. Our smiles mean that we do not want to appear mean or rude. In this day and age, if a woman walks down the street or hallway and she doesn’t have a smile on her face, it’s essentially a warning sign that communicates, “Don’t talk to me unless you want me to say something that you won’t like.”
From personal experience, when I walk around with a smile on my face, I meet more people. Every once in a while, someone tells me they had always wanted to speak with me, but opted against doing so because I looked mean, as if the absence of a welcoming smile abruptly shut the door on anyone’s chance at social interaction.
Internally, I want someone to speak with because I’m friendly. I feel as though I have a smile on my face, but in reality, I’m scowling.
Not only in the eyes of curious onlookers, but also in the closed environment of my own home, I cannot let my smile stray too far. My hair? Let it down. My outside clothes? Take them off. My smile? Keep it by any means necessary.
As Amy Cunningham stated, “My smile has gleamed like a cheap plastic nightlight so long and so reliable that certain friends and relatives worry that my mood will darken the moment my smile dims.”
Personal households are supposed to afford comfort. Women are supposed to be allowed to abandon the facade we put up for everyone else. However, that’s not always the case. In our household, we put up a whole new facade, so it’s like we can never put ours down no matter where we are. Our family is supposed to be able to love us no matter our flaws. However, if they see us without a smile, they tend to believe that we are mad or depressed when, in reality, we’re simply content.
It’s important to understand the various meanings behind a woman’s smile. It’s not simply to express joy; it runs much deeper than that. Fake smiles are the number one facade that you will encounter every day when you walk around; it’s something that women get so accustomed to maintaining that it’s a staple of our normal everyday routine. These smiles are to hide how women truly feel, because some women do not want to appear too fragile or too masculine. They don’t want people utter a demeaning comment or view women in another light.
Another type of smile is the kind triggered by discomfort, which is a fine line to navigate, particularly for women in compromised situations. If you smile amid discomfort, it can make a compromised situation worse. It might seem like you are condoning unacceptable behavior, but I believe that in an uncomfortable situation, you should show how you feel. Because of that fact, women are at risk of potentially worsening the situation.
Finally, women in professional settings are expected to smile. The absence of our smiles is deemed unwelcoming, as if women are an instrument to embolden men’s egos. If we don’t, we might forfeit a potential job or be denied the promotion or raise that we seek. In the workplace, women have historically been relegated to status of welcoming committee while men are perceived laborious champions.
As a woman who works in a predominantly male field, I tend to smile through my frustration. My coworkers may think that I am a pushover, especially when confronting male customers. I am treated unfairly because of my gender. Customers might dismiss me, looking over my shoulder as they confirm my responses with my male counterparts.
Not only does such conduct make me uncomfortable, it’s demeaning to me as a woman.
There is not one basic standard for why women smile. In a perfect world, men and women would smile for the same purpose, only to express pure happiness and joy.
Unfortunately this is not the case. Women are taught to smile through the pain, which puts us in awkward positions and potentially makes us feel like we must to feign excitement. Not only do we hold up a facade for people that we don’t know, but for our family as well. We want to show them we are okay by maintaining our smile.
Ladies, let’s take back the narrative. Let’s control our smiles, untethered to the demand to enhance the male ego. In 2020, we smile when we are happy. We smile when we are excited. We don’t, however, smile to please others.