Anonymous’s Story: Don’t tell me to smile

A man with a clipboard was blocking women on the sidewalk and demanding that they smile on the sidewalk near the w 4th st station. When I told him to stop harassing women, he started ranting at me. I went into CVS and while I was in there, he came in and tried to scam the cashier into refunding something he hadn’t bought.

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  1. Liz says:

    This man’s holding a clipboard seems to have been a clear effort to make the women he chose to harass feel he had some “official” purpose to bothering them, make them think, “Oh, maybe he’s doing a study? A survey?” And then with that comes the anticipated accommodation: “It would please and/or help this man in some way for me to smile at him; therefore, I should.”

    It’s simple enough to think, “What does it hurt you to smile?” If I’m not feeling any specific trauma at the moment, a smile will not hurt me. But what WILL hurt me–and what hurts all of us, men and women alike–is this man’s presumption that he has a right to intrude upon my day and dictate my feelings and actions by virtue of my being a woman.

    From your account, he was not attempting to extract smiles from the men who passed, only the women. To him, apparently, women should be smiling and pleasant, but men are free to carry on with whatever expression and mood they please. Of course we know this is horribly sexist, but whether he intended this message consciously or not, he was acting to perpetuate the notion that women should be accommodating and pleasing to others (here, specifically, an unknown male). He was stating very clearly, regardless of his intended message, that his desire for women to smile warranted his intrusion into their day. He felt entitled to demand that women accommodate his wants and desires.

    Apparently he also felt entitled to some free money from the CVS. If he were truly, simply, hoping to make the city a friendlier place, he would have been encouraging all passers-by to smile, not only the women. His motivations, especially in light of his larger sense of entitlement, were selfish. He wanted women to smile, so he told them to. And he expected women–who are told early and often in subtle and blatant ways to be pleasing and accommodating towards men regardless of our personal wishes–to grant this wish without hesitation.

    Thank you for telling him to stop harassing women. Will it make him stop? Maybe and maybe not. But I will bet good money that more than one person heard/saw you take him to task for his actions and will reflect on why his behaviour was inappropriate.

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