The widespread phenomenon of men telling women to smile isn't exactly a secret — if you're a woman. But, apparently, some people think the behaviour is so odd that it can't possibly be a thing that actually happens.
So when the Independent Worker's Party of Chicago tweeted, "who 'tells you to smile randomly on the street?' No one of course, you made that up," in a thread on 7th October, plenty of women on Twitter were quick to shut the tweet down.
Some women are sharing their stories with Shah, and what they have to say shows just how ridiculous these moments can be:
As many of the women responding the the thread pointed out, it's almost always men who tell them to smile. While the thought might seem nice at first glance — after all, he just wants you to feel happy, right? — it's a common form of street harassment and becomes menacing when you realise that a man telling a woman to smile is just another way for him to police her body and her emotions.
The problem is so widespread, it even inspired a popular street art project aptly called "Stop Telling Women To Smile." Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh uses her own blank, unsmiling face in her artwork to bring awareness that men asking women to smile isn't just them trying to be nice — it's about the power they believe they hold over women.
Street harassment like this "leaves women feeling vulnerable and unsafe in their communities, as if their sole purpose in leaving the house each day is to entertain men," Fazlalizadeh told CNN in 2014. "It makes women think twice about what they wear, the routes they take, even their body language."
The truth of her statement is clear from some of the stories women have been telling on Twitter. One woman, 22-year-old Ally Schroy tweeted that a man screamed at her to smile from his car while she was running one day and it caused her to change her route.
"After that day, I started driving several blocks away to run at a nearby park to avoid getting shouted at again," she told BuzzFeed.
More than 70,000 people retweeted Shah's tweet, which means there are probably more than thousands more women who have experiences like this. So, the original tweeter's disbelief that strangers really do randomly tell women to smile has effectively been proven wrong. Now, we need to do something about it.
Refinery29 has reached out to Shah and will update this post when we receive a response.
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