I’ve been clear for a long time on how and why men telling women to smile is wrong. Laurie and I have both written on this topic here before. Despite that, I was struck by Shannon Ashley’s clear and thoughtful essay on the subject.
Ashley starts with the relationship between Moby and Natalie Portman, which leads her by her own train of thought into how girls are trained to be “nice” and her own (astute) childhood history of not wanting to be nice to certain men.
Back in the late ’80s, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival had this very fucked up tradition where men dressed up as Vulcans ran around kissing women and girls with grease-painted lips.
I hated these men. They were inebriated strangers with beards not just invading my personal space, but actually touching me. With their lips.
The only way I knew how to get them to leave me alone was to start crying as if I was afraid of the Vulcans. Of course, I was afraid of them, but simply saying so wasn’t enough.
The whole situation with the Vulcans taught me that I had to make a scene just to be taken seriously. And even then, because I made a scene, I was also a sort of party pooper, spoiling the fun for these poor grown men.
Perhaps Ashley’s most original point is about how men find women’s refusals “confusing”:
I still hear men complain that women are too confusing. Perhaps, they’d be less confused if they took a no for… no.
But men can’t take no for an answer when they let their egos get in the way. A fragile ego needs lengthy explanations that assure a man she’s not really saying no anyway.
Or a fragile ego will hear “yes” even if the woman is saying no. And it’s certainly confusing to hear one thing from the person you’re talking to and another thing in your own head.
The confusion, because it is based in an unwillingness for one group to hear the other group, spreads through social circles and even across generations:
We tell our kids not to talk to strangers and then demand girls to be nice to every manner of man. The bag boys, the Vulcans, the musicians, the bosses.
Men are confused because they’ve never been required to hear a simple “no”; instead, their fragile egos are coddled. Women are confused because they don’t believe they have the right to say the simple “no,” or they say it and the men can’t hear it, which is inherently confusing.
Ashley doesn’t take the article to the final step, though she clearly understands it. “Confusion” sounds like something harmless or consequence-free: instead, it’s dangerous. Men who can’t hear no will sometimes (often) decide they heard “yes.” Or they’ll decide that they can take what they want without hearing a yes. No means no isn’t just about letting a bunch of men at a carnival kiss 8-year-old girls, it’s about rape: stranger rape, date rape, marital rape, gang rape. Rape requires a rapist who doesn’t believe that no means no. “You hurt my feelings” or “I was confused” are not excuses and cannot be tolerated. Period.
The drawing above is available for sale on towels, mugs, and more.