Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Socially Expected

 Forced smiles are always good.
Ophelia Benson recently had a neighborly chat:
I was walking along a residential street a few blocks from where I live (so I don't know anyone there, I don't recognize faces), mind elsewhere (though nowhere in particular) as usual, and suddenly some grizzled auld fella who was pottering in his garden snarled at me as he crossed the sidewalk toward the parking strip, "What would it take to make you smile?"

I jerked to a stop and turned to stare at him in astonishment, and after mulling it for a few seconds demanded why on earth he would ask me that.

We had a nice little shouty war there on the sidewalk, for three or four or five minutes.

He was of course surprised to be answered, and did a lot of angry shouting about seeing me walking past here all the time, and I never smile, I never wave, I never say hello.
"Let's put a smile on that face," he said in other words -- happily without a knife. Fun! Ophelia rounds it off with a question or two:
Now here's what I want to know. Lots of guys here. What do you think? I don’t believe for one second that he ever, ever, ever says that to men. Ever. I don’t think for a second that he thinks it's any of his business what expression a man has on his face when walking past his house. What do you think?
I think too many people have too inflated a sense of their own desserts when it comes to the facial expressions of others. Too many people expect the world to smile back at them at all hours of the day, whether or not a reason to smile exists. Socially Expected Smiling deflates the value of genuine smiling, and inflates the world's quantity of overstepped boundaries, and it needs to stop.

In answer to Ophelia's questions: though male, I do get the same crap once in a while because I am not inclined to walk around smiling -- not necessarily because I lack a reason to smile, but simply because I never picked up the habit of broadcasting the sunniest self-presentation to the world, and have never seen the value of cultivating it. A close cousin to this I get is the Social Expectation that I will give both a warm Hello and a warm Goodbye to individuals in whose vicinity I happen to spend time. While I am not personally aware of other men who are subject to these Social Expectations, I suspect I am far from alone.

And no, I don't imagine for a moment that men get these Social Expectations as strongly as women do. I think there is an even stronger Social Expectation -- in the USA, that is, where I am almost but not quite qualified to say the first thing about all this -- that women should be bouncing around with smiles across their faces at all hours, with or without any reason to be smiling. This is, after all, in keeping with their fundamental purpose in life, that of decorating the visual space men inhabit. Right?

As I said, these Social Expectations are misplaced and need to stop.

If plagued with a persistent need to see smiles on all the faces around you, go join a pod of dolphins or surround yourself with jack-o-lanterns. If you need a greeting every time you show up, and a sad whimper every time you leave, get a dog. Better yet, re-think your needs.

I hereby issue a pre-emptive fuck off to the next person who Socially Expects me or anyone else to smile, and I salute Ophelia Benson for pushing back against the petulant, needy toad she encountered.

1 comment:

Paul Sunstone said...

I tend to be a bit more outgoing than you describe yourself, Dale, but all the same, the false front is more offensive to me than an honest frown; any stranger who bellows "Hello" and back slaps me should prepare themselves to be bear maced; and I never go around telling people to smile.