Tag Archives: smiling

The Confusing — and Dangerous — Consequences of Teaching Girls to Smile


open-mouthed shark saying Debbie says:

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.


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Let’s Have Some Links

Debbie says:

The last few times I’ve sat down to do links, I’ve ended up with themed posts, but this time I have a wider range.

You might think Serena Williams wouldn’t be expected to smile when she had just defeated her sister and close friend, but no. Anita Little at Sociological Images defends Williams.


… during a post-match press conference on Tuesday, a reporter had the gall to ask why she wasn’t smiling.

Williams looked down and gave an exasperated sigh before shelling out the best response an athlete has given in an interview since football player Marshawn Lynch’s “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” trademark phrase.

It’s 11:30. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here. I just want to be in bed right now and I have to wake up early to practice and I don’t want to answer any of these questions. And you keep asking me the same questions. It’s not really … you’re not making it super enjoyable.

no matter how insanely accomplished or famous you become, you will still be subjected to the innocuous-sounding but ever-so-pernicious “why don’t you smile?” interjection from those who feel entitled to make demands of women. Williams’ retort was her attempt at dismantling that sense of entitlement. For those who say the reporter’s question was a harmless jest, they should ask themselves if Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal would ever be expected to defend their stern or tired expressions.

Williams is being honored, along with eleven other inspiring women, in a huge sea change in the famous Pirelli calendar.

Usually known for featuring the most beautiful models of the day, the famed Pirelli calendar is taking 2016’s issue in a whole new direction by featuring some of the world’s most inspiring women – from artists to athletes and even to bloggers.

In a preview clip aired on the New York Magazine website, the likes of Serena Williams, Patti Smith and Yoko Ono are spotted posing for legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Perhaps Pirelli has been paying attention to Rosie Nelson, crusading inside the modeling industry for ditching the skin-and-bones look. Liz Dwyer at TakePart reports:

“When I walked into one of the UK’s biggest model agencies last year they told me I ticked all the boxes except one—I needed to lose weight. So I did,” wrote 23-year-old Rosie Nelson on the Change.org petition she launched. “Four months later I lost nearly [14 pounds and] 2 inches off my hips. When I returned to the same agency they told me to lose more weight, they wanted me ‘down to the bone.’”

“When I look in the mirror I see someone that is healthy and comfortable in their skin. That’s because I had the guts to carve out my own path and refuse to let people pressure me into losing more and more weight,” wrote Nelson. “But… the reminders are everywhere that we need a law to protect young girls, and boys, who are put under pressure to be dangerously thin.”

Being healthy and comfortable in your skin is something so many of us are looking for. Sydnee Thompson at Black Girl Dangerous reminds us that “Defining Your Gender As A Black Queer Femme Is Revolutionary“:

Growing up, I knew three things: One, I was a girl. Two, I didn’t like it. And three, there was nothing I could do about either of them.

But how could I trust my feelings? As a Black femme, I already had the deck stacked against me. No matter what we feel, society tells us from the beginning it doesn’t matter. We face misogynoir that deems us unworthy of femininity and womanhood by default while simultaneously being objectified and fetishized, not to mention femmephobia that forces us to adhere to standards of presentation and then punishes us for it.

From childhood, we’re objects for the consumption of others, lacking agency or inherent value. All of that baggage muddies the waters when you realize you’re different and start trying to figure out why. Is it the internalized oppression talking, something else, or both?

Read the rest: Thompson is a clear, powerful, angry writer.

Jennifer Swann at TakePart talks about advances in transgender health care–and one trans woman behind a lot of the positive change.

Though [Tommilynn] Travis now lives in California, one of 16 states that have banned health care discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, she has nonetheless faced insurance-related delays and outright denials for transition-related health care.

But Travis now knows that such denials can be illegal, and she is at the forefront of a movement to get all trans people access to health care and force health insurance companies to pay for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery. …

All the hours Travis has spent “calling, fussing, trying to figure out who’s in charge, who’s holding things back—it’s going to pay off for all these other people who were too scared to say anything,” she says. She’s no longer alone in the fight for transgender health care, as she sometimes felt she was in New Mexico. Now she’s surrounded by a community of transgender men and women with urgent medical needs. “Rather than just be an advocate for myself,” she says, she now has “these 400, 500 other girls” to fight for. “It’s not just me. That’s the way I always try to look at it—as not just helping me but helping everybody where I can.”

And just in case you thought — as I kind of did — that you were versed in the complexities of gender, here’s an amazing gender variation story from Diane Kelly at Throb.

In an article for the BBC Magazine, Michael Mosely talks to families [in the Dominican Republic] with children that were brought up as girls because they lacked obvious testes or a penis at birth, but grew penises and had their testicles descend when they neared puberty. The local name for these children is “guevedoces”, or “penis at twelve.” But the change they go through isn’t magic–it’s an example of how multi-layered and complex human sexual development really is.

Here’s how it works.

The condition is the result of an enzyme deficiency. Guevedoces are genetically male, and have Y chromosomes in all of their cells. Their earliest sexual development is also normal: a gene on the Y chromosome turns the undeveloped gonads of the 7 week old embryo into testes, which soon start pumping out male hormones. Two of those hormones–testosterone and Mullerian-inhibiting substance–are critical for the development of the internal male reproductive system. …

When guevedoces are born, their external genitalia look female even though their internal reproductive structures are male. They’re raised as girls. But at puberty, the testes inside their abdomens start producing large amounts of testosterone. The effect is startling.

During puberty, testosterone makes the penis and testes grow into their larger adult form. The same thing happens to the guevedoces: but since their penis starts closer to the size of a clitoris, there’s a lot more growing to do.

I would have liked Kelly to acknowledge that there is no such thing as “the size of a clitoris,” (some are bigger than some penises). but basically I’m just fascinated by the story.

As always, I harvest my links from my usual reading around the web. Laurie found the Pirelli calendar story, and I thank Lizzy for pointing out the guevedoces story; I had already found it, but you never know — I might have missed it.