It’s My Body, and I’ll Smile If I Want To…

So I should probably just tell you up front that this is more of a rant than a deep (or even semi-deep) think piece…

One morning, I was walking into the sun – which was especially bright because we hadn’t had sun for so long that I’d forgotten to put my sunglasses in my pocket. And one gift I inherited from my father was the need to wear sunglasses because the sun hurts my eyes. (I promise I’m not a vampire.)

Walking on the opposite side of the sidewalk in my direction was a black man. I only mention specifically that he was black because it’s a personal practice of mine to greet other black people with a smile – especially when we’re in a part of the city where there aren’t many black people (or people of color in general). As the man approached, I made semi-eye contact with him – as much as I could while trying to allow in as little sunlight as possible. I gave him “the nod,” and he said, “How you doin? Don’t look so mean, God is good!”

Lucky for him, he didn’t stop walking, or I would have given him an earful. First of all, he was walking away from the sun, so he didn’t have to worry about shielding his eyes. Second of all, who died and made him the Smile Police?!

As a woman, I have spent a good chunk of my life trying to figure out how to avoid unwanted advances by men. I’m a naturally happy person who smiles and speaks out of politeness. By my late teen years, I realized that some men will assume a cordial gesture as flirting. So then, my “on the bus stop” practice was to put out the strongest “unapproachable” vibe possible by putting on a blank/non-smiling expression. But all this did was make men think that they had the right to command how I operated in my own body. Then I’m subjected to comments like: “You too pretty to look so mean.” “Aw, girl, smile. It caint be that bad!” “Girl, what he do to make you so mad?” And each of these men thinks that he is the most clever man on the planet. (Insert “not impressed” emoji here.)

Maybe I’m not a morning person. Maybe I have cramps. Maybe I just spent the morning crying in my cornflakes. Or maybe I’m just not in a smiling mood! Why don’t I get to control my own body? I’m pretty sure that most men (and unfortunately, probably some women because internalized oppression) who read this will accuse me of being too sensitive and tell me that I should be happy that a man is showing some interest in me. To you, I say………………stop. Just stop. I have been friendly to men out of common courtesy and then been stalked and/or had my physical well-being threatened. So to be perfectly frank, your opinion isn’t as important to me as my safety and well-being.

So, yeh. End of rant.