Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm Annoyed: "Are you ok?" and "Smile more!"

In the middle of a post on Red Eye at Shameless Magazine's blog, I was struck by this paragraph:
The exact same dialogue that Lisa and Jackson have could’ve been filmed in way that made it seem romantic. But in Red Eye, Lisa is visibly uncomfortable with Jackson’s advances. She’s suspicious of him from the outset because he’s just too nice. Like her dad, he keeps on asking her if she’s all right, as if she doesn’t really know how she feels. How many women have been in that situation before?
One of my biggest pet peeves is the question "Are you ok?" sometimes followed by "Are you sure? You don't look fine." I'm not quite exactly sure why it bugs me so much, but I'm beginning to think that like most of my issues with society, the roots lie in our culture's patriarchy.

Most often, I'm asked if I'm ok when I'm just sitting, doing nothing or reading or watching tv or just being in the world. However, I think it's because I'm not actively smiling, as if the presence of a smile on my face would show that I am, indeed, all right. I'm sick of the idea that I have to actively present myself as happy all the time. Most of the time, I'm in a good mood - my default state of mind is generally a good one. It just annoys the crap out of me that people assume I'm not ok or that something's wrong when I'm merely sitting without a joyful expression on my face.

People have written before about how society expects women to look pretty all the time, and at the very least pleasant, which is why women, in particular, are expected to walk around with a smile all the time. I've had people walk past my desk at work and tell me to smile more, as if my natural face expression isn't good enough.

I'll admit - there are times when people have asked me if I'm ok and I haven't been and I've only admitted it a few times. However, I also think that my pissed off, expressionless face is a result of internalized sexism because I don't want to appear overly emotional - society expects women to be hysterical, emotional saps who can't be practical and I distanced myself from that image.

It just annoys me that I have to defend and explain myself and my mood if I'm not wearing a grin all the time.


T. R Xands said...

Huh, reading this post just reminded me of several contradictions with myself--I do the "are you okay? Are you sure? Are you really really really--" thing an awful lot, probably to the point of annoyance because I hate seeing people look so...meh.

On the other hand I resent the fact that apparently I'm supposed to just beam at everyone and when I'm not smiling I look "pissed" whether I am or not. It's also reminds me of my aunt telling me that smiling TOO much meant that something was wrong with me, and I should stop looking so happy. I'm so confused on what society wants me to do, damnit.

Amelia said...

I am the same! I always ask, "Are you okay?" (although I have been making a conscious effort to only do so when someone looks to really be not-okay) and I hate it when people ask me that because I'm not smiling.

In high school people would give me crap for "looking mean" and unhappy whenever I was reading or concentrating on something. My mom and sister do the same thing. "Are you okay?" and then I snap at them because, yeah, I was fine until you asked that.

It's annoying. I am normally in a good mood and I do laugh a lot. Why must people comment the second I stop making outward displays of happiness? Obnoxious!

Lyndsay said...

This is interesting. I'm trying to remember if anyone's ever said that kind of thing to me and I can't think of a time. If people ask if I'm okay, I think I'm usually not so I appreciate it. And I cannot remember anyone ever telling me to smile. However, if someone asks if a bad mood is a "woman" thing...ugh!

yellowpansy15 said...

I like when people ask me "Are you ok?"

1. Most of the time, I'm not.
2. It makes me feel like they actually care.

Amelia said...

I really wish that I could say that I felt that people asked me "Are you okay?" because they cared, but I don't usually feel that way (of course there are always exceptions).

Most of the time it's more like, "Are you okay? I'm asking because you are putting off a weird vibe that is making me uncomfortable and I wanna know if I should just stay away from you or what."

But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I hate the 'you should smile! You look so much prettier when you smile!' thing. I mean, really. Perhaps I don't want to look particularly pretty for you, person who I met three minutes ago and will never see again.

I think I'm a lot more bitter about it now, though, since I basically got fired for not smiling enough.

I don't mind people asking if I'm okay when they're sincere, but you can tell the difference between that and 'you are not actively trying to look pleasant! What's wrong with you?'.

INTPanentheist said...

Something like forty percent of women test as Thinking types as opposed to Feeling types in Myers-Briggs typology, and I'm one of the forty percent (although my specific type is one percent of the population) - a minority, but not a thin minority to be sure (and one that may be explainable by socialization, the same as men's exact reversal of those numbers). That means that, when I'm not hiding my feelings very badly (extraverted feeling is an inferior function in my type), I look rather distant and apathetic. That has led to many, many times in my life where I've been asked that question, and, when I'm asked, I go from a zen state of introverted thinking into fullblown Fe - "What the fuck is your problem, that you're bothering me? I was fine until you disturbed me!"

I would wager that this is more of a problem for introverted females (because a good woman is always sociable - men get more slack for being introverts) and thinking females (because a good woman thinks with her heart, donchano).

I tested F as a teenager. The further I get into adulthood and a stable self-concept, the more T I seem to become. I find this intriguing, and, again, wonder how much of some of the test results are a direct result of socialization - this post simply reflects the social expectations of females to behave as perfect SFJs all the time - solicitous, dutiful, smiling slaves to social convention. Fuck that.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid the double standard is acting like this problem is unique to women.

I'm sorry, but no.

I live in the south. I've never had a single woman mention to me that men are asking them to smile, or that random men are trying to act like they know about their lives.

However, every single female cashier, waitress, etcetera? They tell me "You should smile more". "You'd attract more women if you'd smile". "Why do you look so down?" "Is something wrong?" and call me "honey, sweetie, darling, doll, cutie, handsome" and 50 thousand other things.

lindsay said...

I feel that way a lot - I was fine till you disturbed me and assumed I wasn't fine.

Anonymous said...

I think sometimes the follow-up, "are you sure?" is just an assumption that people who really aren't okay will try to pretend they are. At least in the UK (where I live) reticence is common, and simply accepting the initial brush-off might not be best.

Equally, though, I think the tendency to ask "are you okay?" is also limited by the same reticence, so maybe it's less common over here unless there's something more obviously the matter?

And of course, when there isn't anything the matter, it sometimes just seems rude for someone to stick their nose in where it's neither wanted nor needed.

Anonymous said...

Several times as I've been walking down the street random men have told me to "Smile!" It makes me want to punch them in the face. Once a grocery clerk told my mother to smile the day after her father died and she told him off right in the check out line. Go Mom!

katwa said...

It just makes people feel good when they have happy people around (boosts their own lack of internal happiness). It's so stupid. Either that or they just need some excuse to be condescending while playing it off as "concerned nice-guy/gal". My face is naturally serious and I have been getting crap for that for years. Good post.

The Molotov Cocktail Party said...

I feel like I can identify with this attitude a lot. It wasn't until I saw the Male Privilege Checklist that it truly dawned on me: I have never seen a man approach another man and ask him to smile, let alone question his state of mind. Like you, even when I am in a pleasant mood -which is most of the time- I am approached by people (men, for the most part) either clearly questioning my happiness or implying elusively that it is to be questioned. My "look" is apparently the pissed-off variation, thus, I'm a disobedient product of the great patriarchal expectation. Well, so be it, because until it's realized that this illusion-based expectation is beneficial to no one, I probably won't be actively smiling any time soon...