Command: SMILE.

Another Harassment Hill story…

I was walking down 14th St. NW coming home from Target on Saturday evening, when a man standing at a bus stop says loudly at me, “Hey, you had better smile and make the world a better place!” He said it as a command, but he also seemed quite amused with himself and was chuckling.

I wish I had the quick thinking and/or guts to have said, “Hey, maybe you could make the world a better place by not harassing women who are just trying to walk down the street,” but instead I just scowled at him, intentionally making the least smiley face I could. As I kept moving down the hill, he started to shout something at my back like, “Hey now girl, I was just trying to…” but he trailed off.

Location: 14th Street NW, Columbia Heights

Submitted by CR

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10 Responses

  1. Jai

    Not to disqualify the author’s emotional turmoil over being asked to smile, but does this really count as harassment? I’m open to being proven wrong, but this just doesn’t seem to fit the title.

  2. Golden Silence

    The “Smile Police” as I call them may come off as benign to most people, but telling random women to “smile” is harassment in my opinion. Would that man have also told another man to smile? I doubt it.

    And the attitude some cop when a woman tells them that they don’t need to smile at their beck and call. Some men think that women are only on this planet to obey men’s commands. I’ve been a recipient of the “smile” too often for my tastes. A lot of times I’m tired, in a neutral mood, or just not in the mood to smile. A woman’s facial expression is not something for a random man to command.

    • Daniel M. Laenker

      Thank you for explaining this to me. I’d understood that “give us a smile, love” is highly offensive, but I wasn’t entirely cogent of the argument why until now.

  3. Caro

    Commanding women who are complete strangers to smile indicates to me that the harasser feels like it is a woman’s obligation to be pretty, non-threatening, sexual objects for men at all times. On a more basic level, it indicates that they think women’s presence in the world is *all about them,* and that they should get to influence and control how female bodies inhabit public space — which, after all, is what street harrassment is all about.

  4. Jai

    I looked up the definition of harassment:

    1. to disturb persistently; torment, as with troubles or cares; bother continually; pester; persecute.
    2. to trouble by repeated attacks, incursions, etc., as in war or hostilities; harry; raid.

    Perhaps being asked to smile is more of an annoyance rather than harassment? Perhaps a better choice of words might befit being asked to smile.

    • hollabackdc

      it actually sounds like the person in this incident was pestered. and regardless, since we define street harassment is a broader context, this would qualify under our definition.

  5. maus

    “Not to disqualify the author’s emotional turmoil over being asked to smile, but does this really count as harassment? I’m open to being proven wrong, but this just doesn’t seem to fit the title.”

    It’s not a huge drama, but it’s a pathetic catcalling come-on line. Anyone who defends it is either playing dumb and an ass, or good intentioned but socially stupid.

  6. jeanne

    When it turns into, “I SAID SMILE, BITCH!”, then you can be pretty sure that 1. the man is no longer asking and 2. it has morphed into harassment.

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