Have you ever heard the phrase “smile, sweetheart?” Have you ever been told you need to let your hair down and loosen up? Has a stranger ever stopped you for engagement or conversation? For entertainment, companionship, or a quick “hello?” If so, Right Brained Mom’s story will likely sound very familiar to you.
The blogger and mother of five recently shared an experience she had while running on Scary Mommy’s Facebook page, and it garnered a lot of attention. More than 60,000 reactions and 9,000 comments to be exact. Why? Because it is sexism at its finest. It is posturing, through and through. And because it’s, unfortunately, hella relatable. It is also creepy AF.
“Last summer, while I was out for a run, a man yelled and waved at me from his porch,” the post from Right Brained Mom began. “I had my earbuds in and my music on, but he was loud enough to stop me in my tracks. He looked upset, so my first thought was that he was going to warn me about a bear ahead. [But when] I pulled my earbuds out and asked, ‘What’s up?’ he leaned forward in his chair, looking quite annoyed, and said, ‘You run by my house all the time and you never say hello, or even wave.’ This man was not within my line of vision. He was set far back from the road. Though he’d apparently been watching me, I had never seen him back there,” Right Brained Mom explained.
“Flustered, I said, ‘Oh. I’m sorry. Well, hello then.’ His expression changed to a more pleasant one and he said, ‘That wasn’t so hard, was it?’ and laughed. I waved and ran off… [but] by the time I got to my driveway, I was furious.” Right Brained Mom was enraged by the interaction. Why? Because it is an interaction she knew — and I know— all too well. A man was trying to tell her how to look and act. How to behave. He also felt entitled to her time and space. He genuinely believed it was okay to interrupt her to tell her to perform an action for him, and this is completely unacceptable, regardless of age.
“Here’s where some of you are going to think, Oh, how silly. No harm done. Or, He’s probably just a lonely old guy. It can’t hurt to say ‘Hello!’ [But] I challenge you to set aside those initial thoughts… what do I owe this man who is a complete stranger to me,” Right Brained Mom asked. “If he’s lonely, is it up to me to entertain him? If he’s sad, is it on me to make him happy? And–if I were a man out for a run, would he have stopped me and spoke to me in the same angry manner?”
And the answer is no. He definitely would not have stopped a man and told him to smile. Because women are held to a different standard than men. We are supposed to be sweet and nurturing, friendly, feminine, soft, and kind and when we act counter to these notions, people react negatively towards us. They tell us we are mean. We are callous and rude for not interrupting our day to pander to the needs of a stranger. But as Right Brained Mom explained — eloquently, I may add — women are not here to entertain men. Per-i-od.
“I am a mother of five,” Right Brained Mom continued. “I have very few moments in the day where someone isn’t demanding my attention. These runs keep me sane. I lose myself in my music and thoughts. It’s as close as I ever come to meditation. I was also working on my speed. Focused on taking seconds off my last run time. He stopped me from that,” she continued. “He believed that his needs were more important than mine.”
And this is — unfortunately — a very common line of thinking. Many men believe they are superior to women. They believe women should give in to their wants and desires. We owe them our fucking time and attention. We owe them courtesy, a nod, or a “hello!”And while sexism has led us to this place — while archetypes and stereotypes from bygone eras have allowed this mentality to continue — it is time we stop this insanity.
Women don’t owe you their time or attention. No one owes you a smile, wave, or a fucking hello. And how dare you judge, shame, or otherwise threaten them when they refuse to placate you. Behaviors like this are (directly or indirectly) aggressive. They perpetuate the belief that one gender is superior to another, that men are in power and women should bend to their whims and control.
“Men tell women to smile because society conditions men to think we exist for the male gaze and for their pleasure,” Bené Viera, writer and activist, tells USA Today. “Men are socialized to believe they have control over women’s bodies. This [is the] result in them giving unsolicited instructions on how we should look, think and act. Essentially what a man is saying when he tells a woman — one he doesn’t even know — to smile [or say hello] is that his wants outweigh her own autonomy over how she exists in the world.” In short, it’s a creepy asshole move. A power move, one which is meant to undermine and control.
We no longer wish to accept this sub-par treatment, sorry.
Right Brained Mom ended her post with a simple statement “women do not exist to please men,” and she’s right. And while this old man’s actions may seem innocent and insignificant, but they are indicators of a bigger, ongoing problem. He felt entitled to her time and body because of social conditioning. Because he likely had never been called out on before, and now he gets away with it because he’s old. Sorry, but old men do not get a free pass to be creepy jerks. Not any more.
“How many times have I heard a man say, ‘Smile, sweetheart,'” Right Brained Mom asked. “How many times have I been polite to a man who was making me uneasy? How many unwanted advances have I received?” Too many. “Too fucking many. These little things–the ones that some will tell you are ‘silly’–become the big things. The little things that we’ve been socially conditioned to respond to ever so sweetly, that we are often too nice to challenge–these become the big things that we can no longer ignore.”
So, not only is it time for us to stop ignoring these things when they happen to us, we must also stop defending these behaviors when people share their stories. Men don’t get a pass for their so-called good intentions. They don’t get to make women feel uncomfortable. And they definitely do not get to tell women what to do.