You Dropped Your Smile

The other day I was in a local downtown eatery when I overheard something that made me cringe. A woman sitting at the counter by herself was asked by a random older gentleman, “How far along are you?” He was sitting far enough away from her that he really had to project his embarrassingly out-of-bounds question, so much so that it felt like everyone around stopped what they were doing to wait with bated breath for her answer. I won’t get into how it played out, suffice to say that you should never ask a stranger any version of that question unless you happen to be a physician staring into the business end of a vagina that is in the middle of expelling a human.

Recently I’ve been feeling increasingly annoyed with this disturbing trend of men feeling entitled to make comments about or to women who are strangers to them regarding their appearance and bodies. Whether it’s the eyeroll-inducing “Hey, you dropped your smile,” or more disturbing acts like physically touching or issuing sexually explicit comments, it’s all different shades of the same bullshit behavior. Some people might not think that comments or cat calls from strangers is a big deal. These people are idiots. The fact is, when men feel they have the right to do these things, and when we allow them to, the message that we send is that women’s bodies are not their own. That by being in public, we automatically consent to being objectified. That our bodies are public domain, open receptacles for every remark and opinion that might grace the limited mental space of any mouth-breather we’re unlucky enough to encounter. According to Debani Roy, deputy director of Hollaback! (an organization dedicated to ending street harassment), street harassment “is about ownership of public spaces. It is also an opportunity to do this thing that everyone does to women—which is objectify them. It’s the idea that it’s okay to police what is acceptable in terms of what it means to be a woman, be feminine, be attractive.”

Some are of the opinion that us women should just lighten up. That the remarks are just the friendly (if a bit clumsy) outbursts of our fellow man who is simply attempting to connect with us. The problem here, however, is that within our society’s current condition, feeling safe is not a luxury we women are afforded most of the time. Furthermore, remarks which seek to criticize a woman’s appearance in some way or another still perpetuate the false pretense that we women are here for the viewing pleasure of others. Yes, I know that when I’m deep in thought or daydreaming that my face has a tendency to look annoyed. No, I don’t fucking care if that isn’t nice for you to look at.

So what can we do? In the past, I have had men forcefully touch and grab me, yell things at me, try to physically block my path, or rub their dick on me in a public space, and I’ve mostly tried to ignore this behavior. But increasingly I feel the better thing to do is speak up and let them know exactly what I think of what they’re doing.  If I say nothing, keep my head down and hurry past, I feel like I’m perpetuating the cycle. Alternatively, to step up and reply back (in whatever way you see fit), I feel is a better solution. If nothing else, it may give them pause before they behave badly again. Additionally, check out sites like cardsagainstharassment.com, stoptellingwomentosmile.com and ihollaback.org for alterative ways to respond or information on how to help combat the problem.

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Zooey Mae has been working as a writer monkey for Synthesis Weekly since 2007. Her favorite things include (but are not limited to), Jeffrey Brown, bubble wrap, Craig Thompson, pillow forts, receiving handwritten letters, and whiskey. She spends her free time stockpiling supplies for the impending robot Apocalypse and avoiding eye contact with strangers.

Comments

  1. emiliano says:

    well said, sister

  2. Ken says:

    As a man, I think it’s awful the kinds of harassment women are subjected to. That being said, what about the flip side? Where all men over 40 are supposed to look like David Beckham, George Clooney, or Brad Pitt? I am 41, 5’6″, and over 350 pounds. I get hate stares all the time from young women because I don’t fit their idea of “sexy”. If they do bother to acknowledge me, it’s with disdainful condescension, usually preceded by pained lip contortions. Since most are taller than me, they lean forward menacingly like I’m some cockroach that is to be smashed.
    In 1990, I was nearly raped by the Homecoming Queen and Head Cheerleader (both in basketball). She was on top of me just as our parents were exiting her house. That’s what saved me. Again, this was an act of power, revulsion, and hatred.

    1. Ken says:

      The meeting at her house was for a business deal between my mother and her father and mother. I was waiting outside in the car because we were going to look at another one.
      I have also been catcalled, harassed and even felt up by women as well.

  3. Samuel says:

    I agree that a lot of this type of behavior goes too far. Touching and groping is never okay. However, making comments and catcalling are not technically harassment. It’s rude and uncalled for, but not harassment. It is just someone being an asshole. People are assholes. Harassment is aggressive pressure or intimidation. Unless they are being overly aggressive to try to essentially force you into doing something they want, then it’s not harassment. The touching and groping is most definitely harassment, making comments (no matter how inappropriate or lewd) is not. It’s good that you are telling women to stand up to this behavior, but there needs to be a visible line of what is actually harassment and what is just being rude. Someone telling you that you dropped your smile is not only completely harmless, but it’s not even rude. It’s cheesy, but seriously things like that are a non-issue.

    1. Tanya says:

      Samuel. Wow. I am surprised that you don’t seem to understand that language can be used abusively. It is not just the words that we feel but the intention behind the words. Catcalling and objectifying comments are aggressive and the underlying motivation behind them is about power. At what point do you say your peace is disturbed enough that it becomes not okay? Someone yelling at me makes me feel unsafe. Perhaps this is a “non-issue” because you feel it doesn’t apply to you. Perhaps you have never had someone confront you with words and felt unsafe? Can you for a moment imagine yourself of diminutive stature, pretty and feeling assaulted by leering looks and personal comments that are invasive, making you feel unsafe and the whole of your identity becomes simply your body? Have some compassion.

    2. Phiz says:

      So… harassment is not okay, but being an asshole is? Because we’re just people, hyuk hyuk? You are truly a credit to your gender, Sam.

      Maybe you’re that insecure man-child who felt the need to Apache-war-whoop at me from the safety of his monster truck while I was at the ATM the other day. Talk about cheesy! Man-Child knew he was making an asshole move that would’ve earned him some “harassment” if he’d been standing in front of me. The “non-issue” here was his intelligence and masculinity.

      BTW, this isn’t just an issue for delicate, “pretty faced” females. I’m not a “fresh from the sorority house” type, but apparently attractive enough to have to deal with this kind of crap.

      1. Alex says:

        Your implied threat of aggression towards the dude in truck points out your preference for defaulting to base behavior yourself.

        1. Red says:

          Oh Alex, you card you. Between this and your reply below, it appears that your first line of offense is to turn a statement around back onto the speaker. It’s Phiz who’s barely suppressing “base behavior”, and Zooey who’s got “baggage”. Not the rude portion of the male population. Heavens no.

          Imagine me doing a slow clap for you for your cute little attempts at reverse psychology, written as they were at a quarter to 2 AM on a Friday night. Posting condescending drivel sure beats sleep or having friends, doesn’t it? Cheers.

          1. Alex says:

            You can’t possibly hurt my feelings, Sir? Madame? Why don’t you share something approaching an identity with the class? I’m glad you can decipher a time-stamp. What does your use of the term “card” mean?

            I didn’t comprehend any empirical or even first hand anecdotal evidence of men being rude in the column. I think I stated below that healthy, sane men will ask women “How far along are you?”. That’s why I went to my “line of offense”. You understand that you don’t get to FORCE me to possess the same fears you possess, right?

            By the way, I was working at 2am. I enjoy working at night. Nice stab though; You did make contact, but didn’t beyond the skin. Being productive at 2am DOES beat 90% of the friends I’ve known. It certainly beats celebrating pop culture and consumerism like I’m expected to do.

            I don’t want to clutter this thread with useless debate off-topic. I’ve made my opinions clear. I’m not trying to shove them down your throat or encourage any MORE legislation or regulation of our liberties to use our vocal cords.The dissolution of the 1st Amendment in our bill of rights is going strong. I thank bleeding hearts like you for supporting this with your fear, uncertainty, and dread. You can contact me at alexmobrien@gmail.com or irc.zeronode.net (me llamo es lrockhq) if you’d like to debate on another topic, “Red”.

            Perhaps we can segregate the men from the women; Maybe we can use chain-link fence like we do to keep “free speech zones” in order.

            BTW I also write music reviews here in the Synthesis now, so feel free to come troll me over there. I need to get to work.

    3. Alex says:

      Thanks for sharing your pragmatic, non-trendy views with the class Samuel. I agree entirely with your sentiment.This column (not regularly, but this one in particular) points to baggage being carried around by the columnist. If the article had been clearly written on behalf of some truely aggrieved parties, I would feel differently. The columnist is really writing in the vein of “white people problems” this time around.

      I look forward to reading future columns from Zooey that contain arguments that aren’t so fallacious.

      Btw, if somoeone’s asking “How far along […]”, it’s probably ’cause they love children and want to build a quick, transient social bond, as the majority of sane people do (sorta like “How’s the weather”, but deeper).

  4. Joey Moshiri says:

    So right on so many levels. I don’t see any reason for the male population to do this to women. It’s all about respect and being a gentleman, something their mothers obvious forgot to teach them. There are too many people on this planet for us to just disrespect eacthother like this. It’s about controlling yourself and not just acting on your brain’s stupid natural instinct to poke and destroy, it’s what makes us human and not animals. Maybe it’s because I’m a giant and realized at an early age that I could use my size for good or for evil and I choose to become a gentle giant, but I don’t see why I have to be the different one. Why can’t everyone have that compassion?

  5. Mark says:

    Not often do I believe that woman and men should not be compared on the same playing field, but this is one of them! Ken, you are how big? And two young women nearly raped you? Sorry buddy, but I am pretty sure if you didn’t take the necessary steps of simply pushing the girls off of you I think you were enjoying yourself. I think what zooey is suggesting is that women have a tendency to be much more helpless than a large built male and that vulnerability leaves them not only physically, but emotionally vulnerable. I am a male, and I think there are men out there who have and can be raped, but your story is spotty and doesn’t seem to check out. At very least this memory of yours is hard to believe. Do I think it’s okay if this did happen? No, but I think the message in this article is the all too common issue of men vomiting inappropriate slurs because what really is a girl to do? Is it a sense of entitlement (I fought for this country), testosterone (protein shakes brah), or just being an old (or not so old) creepy sleeze? Point being I don’t see many woman hooting and hollering at dudes or asking how far along they are on a regular basis. Everyone has their views and disgust of what they think is beauty or beast, but I believe is it much more vocalized by the male gender, at least face to face. Sorry for shitting on you Ken, but maybe start doing a few pushups so all those feisty ladies don’t come chase you down and humiliate you.

  6. Annie says:

    To every man who is going to write something on here about how they don’t do that/”Not all men…” or how they feel about being judged by women, or how that sounds more like a compliment than an aggressive act, please, just stop. Saying these things only you are missing the point. For every random drunk girl that might yell at you downtown at night in front of a bar, there are countless cases of women having men say (or even physically do) things that are much worse. When the girl is yelling at you I doubt it makes you feel less safe for even an instant. That is because men don’t have to worry about their safety in the same way women do. Of course you would just take it as a compliment and not harassment, because you know that woman probably won’t try to start following you, try to make you listen, or grab you to force an interaction. If a woman was in the same situation, at night downtown, or even in broad daylight going to or from work, these are all things she has to worry about. You might not think of, “you’re really beautiful,” as harrasment, but when you are a woman, by herself, walking and no one else around and a stranger you don’t know says this to you, it’s not fun. If you’re at a coffee shop, with others around you and someone comes over and says that and tries to actually make a real connection, that’s probably different. It’s the random, on the street, wildcard factor which is scary. Stranger danger isn’t just for children. Like yhe article says, women are not here for you to look at. They do not exist simply for your viewing pleasure so you don’t need to hold up your score cards as they walk by.

    1. Ken says:

      See Kristin, that is why your man won’t open up to you. You think that only women are treated as a commodity to be possessed and objectified. Let me ask you this. Do you judge your man by his career, his bank account, and how much jewelry he buys you? Women rightfully don’t want to be judged for their looks, yet they not only judge men on theirs, but if a man doesn’t have a sexy job ($1 Million+ per year) a huge bank account ($25 Million+), and buy several thousands of dollars worth of jewelry every month, then he is not worthy of a woman’s attention. And yes, I do feel threatened when a woman makes harassing gestures and shouts. I HAVE been followed, confronted, and threatened by women. I have been forcefully dragged to an isolated area and threatened with violent sex, as well as been touched on my genitals and thighs. What needs to be done is for both women and men to open a dialogue where victim/perpetrator and gender role stereotyping are explored and SIMILARITIES are emphasized. Women ARE strong, courageous, and ambitious, while men ARE caring, sensitive, and nurturing. Once the sexes see each other as equals, gender based hatred and crime will be reduced significantly.

      1. Ken says:

        Sorry Kristin, I meant my reply to be for Annie.

  7. Kristin Drake says:

    Yes, men can be raped or harrassed by women. The difference is that historically women have been (and still tend to be) viewed as property. So when I am walking down the street minding my own business and a random man slaps my ass or says some version of “Damn girl, you look good” I feel totally objectified, creeped out, and I no longer feel safe. I encounter this behavior several times per week, even with a seemingly innocuous comment like, “Hey girl, put a smile on that beautiful face!” I’m not going to say that this never happens to men, but I would venture to say that it doesn’t happen often, and when it does it doesn’t tend to have the same predatory message. If you see someone you find attractive walking down the street, just try smiling and say “Hello.”

  8. Noah Herbold says:

    I appreciate this. I have prided myself on treating women with respect throughout my life, but the more this issue has been publicized and addressed the more I am learning that I have more to learn. Just because men don’t think this is a problem or don’t notice the big deal, doesn’t mean it’s not there and very real for women who endure everyday. It’s time for a shift in perspective for everyone. The pendulum may have to swing to one extreme for a while to get more men to notice, but it will balance out.

  9. Jodi says:

    What does an aneurysm feel like? Because a couple of these comments make me feel like I’m having one.

  10. Ken says:

    My final comment on this subject is how sad the states of relations are between the sexes. Until 1980, Feminism was about the fight and struggle for basic rights and Independence. With increasingly decreasing frequency, this is still true. Unfortunately, since then, Feminism has become “feminism” where it is all about victimhood (as well as “mommy’s’ rights”). This is almost identical to “hero patriarchy” except where “feminism” holds women completely blameless, “hero patriarchy” blames women entirely. The dogma of both is that all women are victims and/or potential victims and men fit into three categories: perpetrator, bystander, or hero. Individual women have been taught to scream loudly at the slightest hint of danger, and a man will magically appear to save her. The flip side of this is that it is socially acceptable for a female to attack a male without provocation (especially if she’s “just playing” and “it’s all in good fun”). But even if he fears for his life, he cannot “hit a girl”. The assumption being that “All women are weaker than all men.” In reality, that’s as true as the tallest woman being shorter than the shortest man (something I know from first hand experience in both cases is completely untrue). It is also assumed that if a man faces danger from a woman, he can finesse or “power out” of the situation. Even though it is still not acknowledged, women can induce paralyzing fear in men. In fairness, organizations such as Rape Crisis (where I benefitted from excellent counseling) and Catalyst acknowledge physical and sexual violence against straight men, as well as gay men and women (straight and lesbian). In the end this gives me great hope.

  11. kb says:

    This is a ridiculous article. Not only full of unnecessary vulgarity, but also “me’s” & personal references that only distracted me from the point of this one sided argument. You can obviously write, you should know to keep yourself or of the the piece, this femi-nazi sentiment died out with Ally Mcbeal. .. tone it down, did your gyno pull the wrong tooth?

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you for your courage, kb.