You are not thinking about this anymore. You have taken scores of footsteps since that moment. You’ve probably downed a few more beers. You’ve slept and worked and laughed and done all of the things simple people with simple lives do. But, I am almost certain that you are not thinking about this anymore.
But I am still thinking about this. I am thinking about this enough that I jotted down notes about our interaction one night while lying in a hotel bed somewhere in the Financial District. I am thinking about that five minute exchange between us that left me with too many words I should have shared that night.
I did not smile as I leaned over and asked the bartender for another glass of Sauvignon Blanc. More specifically, I did not smile at you. I did not smile at you because I did not want to, and that should have been enough. It should have been adequate. It shouldn’t have called anything about me or my character or the tone of the night I was having into question.
But it wasn’t sufficient for you. A woman electing to keep her countenance solemn was not OK because somewhere written in your book of life, “Pretty women should smile.”
And when I still did not smile because I was acute enough not to merely bat my eyelashes at a backhanded compliment, you asked why I had an attitude. I told you that you were misusing the word, that an attitude is simply a feeling, and every human being has an attitude at any given moment of any given day. I shared that I am a writer by nature and a communicator by trade, so words matter. If you wanted to chat about attitudes and such, I required you to come more correct than that.
I still did not smile.
And the last thing you said to me is what’s been burning in the back of both of my ears. The last thing you said is what’s left me replaying that conversation and gritting my teeth. Because “Pretty women should smile” didn’t work and “Why do you have an attitude?” also crashed and burned, you tried a new conversational tactic. You told me that these situations–where men engage with me and insist that I smile–would happen often in life. You told me I should just get used to them.
I told you to have a good night.
But, what I wanted to tell you is that your so-called wisdom didn’t translate. It didn’t seep somewhere deep into my psyche and galvanize a change in how I respond to men like you. You can’t teach me the things I’ve already learned and experienced. See, I have known how some men think some women should behave since the moment my hips began curving like Coke bottles.
You are not the first man who insisted that I smile. You absolutely will not be the last.
I have been told to smile on street corners and in the same breath been called unkind names. I have crossed the street at intersections that would not lead to my destination in order to avoid head-on collisions with men I don’t trust. I have worn the war paint of averted eyes coupled with straight lips. And in spite of all of these things, some days I still lose the battle of making my way through the world as a person and not a possession.
i know these things are nothing new. These words are a drop in the ocean of how women who do not smile upon command feel. Women have had the seemingly innocent sins of men stuck to them like gum on the bottom of good sneakers forever.
But, today, I had to get your gum off of my good sneakers. So I penned a few sentences. I did not fancy them up. I did not paint them in my poetry. I did not do them the artistic justice they probably deserved. Because pretty women should not necessarily smile. But they should let their words take shape before something uglier inside of them does.