We’re strangers, and I’m out and about in public, minding my own business. I’ve never seen you before in my life, but you still thought you had the right to walk up to me and say:
Smile. You’re too beautiful not to be smiling.
I’m sure you thought this was a compliment. Because you called me beautiful. And I’m sure the way I recoiled instead of smiling felt like a slap across the face to you. But I was just trying to get through my day.
You don’t know the first thing about me. You have no idea that talking to perfect strangers makes me incredibly itchy, that it engages the anxiety that lies waiting inside of me to make life much more difficult than it has to be. And, honestly, you don’t have a right to know any of that information. Because we aren’t friends. We aren’t anything. We just happen to be in the same store at the same time.
Women going out in public doesn’t give you the right to make demands on them or tell them how they ought to be comporting themselves to better please you. That’s bullshit. You wouldn’t do that to another man. You would leave him to behave as he sees fit in the world. But I’m too beautiful not to be smiling in your expert opinion, and you took it upon yourself to remedy the situation.
You aren’t the first man to tell me to smile, and I’m sure you won’t be the last. The nerve this takes on your part is infuriating and frightening, but it’s also pretty damned commonplace.
Here’s what you don’t know about being female: it’s an open invitation. For unsolicited advice. For demands on my time. For blatant staring. For following me out to the parking lot. For asking repeatedly for my number even after I make it clear I don’t want to give it to you. For calling me a stuck up bitch because I’m not interested. How dare I not be interested. Because you are a catch. A nice guy.
Here’s another thing you don’t know about being a female: it’s dangerous.
The man who tells you to smile inside the building could be the same man who forces you into his van in the parking lot. He could be the same man who follows you home from the store. He could be the same man who lashes out at you physically after you refuse to give him your phone number. You just never know. So, you learn to perpetually walk on eggshells, because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
When I go out in public, I never stop looking over my shoulder. I take constant note of my surroundings and watch the men around me, tracking their movements. Are they too interested? Have I seen one of them a few too many times in the store? My mind runs nonstop, assessing, planning, worrying, anticipating the worst case scenario.
That’s what it means to be female.
Here’s one more thing you should know: my public face doesn’t belong to you. I don’t owe you a smile. I don’t owe you anything at all. Internalize that shit. Breathe it in and keep it there. Hear me when I say that that if I’m out buying groceries or poking around stacks of books from my local library, simply inhabiting the same space doesn’t give you the green light to exert your will over my behavior. I could be dealing with any number of personal tragedies. Or I could just not feel like smiling at that exact moment. It really doesn’t matter. Mind your own fucking business and let me do the same.
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