I never quite understood it when women-–relatives, friends, co-workers, etc—complained about men asking them to smile. "You can't have it both ways," I'd argue. "You can't complain about men not approaching you, but also be annoyed with men suggesting that you should try and look more pleasant." Plus, what the hell is wrong with smiling? I guess it could be slightly annoying to hear a request like that all of the time, but how effed up do you have to be to be consistently mad at someone asking you to smile? It's not like these dudes are asking for women to tap dance nude, or even for phone numbers. A smile is a simple, natural, positive act, and I was annoyed with them for being annoyed by the request.
This all changed one day when, well, just let me tell the story.
"On the bright side, I still hate my job."
This last statement served as a culmination for a ten minute long speech/exhale/rant/stream of consciousness delivered to me during lunch with a friend ("Nicki"). She was having the awfullest out of awful weeks, and instead of biting into the ceaser salad sitting in front of her, she used a third of the precious half hour we had to eat to purge. I couldn't help but laugh at the last statement—a sign that, despite her bad week, her sense of humor was still intact.
Before I continue, I need to give a bit more background about this friend. We initially met each other through my girlfriend at the time (They were line sisters), and we grew to be friends over the span of that relationship, bonding over the same hate for Kobe Bryant. Since we both worked near downtown, we'd occasionally meet for lunch. Also, Nicki is very good-looking. So good-looking that there was never a time when we were together where men didn't either give me the subtle head nod of impressededness or try to sneak peeks (or slip numbers) when they thought I wasn't paying attention.
Why does this matter? Well, she got an emergency call during lunch and had to run out. We said our goodbyes, she walked out, and I could see her through the restaurant's window, waiting for a bus across the street. I didn't ask what the call was about, but it obviously upset her even more. As she stood there, her face sullen, her body language anxious, it finally dawned on me.
After hearing Nicki tell me the details of her awful week, watching her take a phone call that somehow made things even worse, and seeing her wait for a bus, clearly upset, it angered me knowing there was a good chance some guy would notice this beautiful woman—depressed for various reasons—and politely (but insistently) demand that she put a smile on her face. Despite the fact that he'd had absolutely no idea why she was down—for all he knew, she could have just found out a family member died (which she did, btw)—he might even pepper his request with an annoyingly familiar "Come on, sis. Things can't be that bad." Basically, since they obviously can't or don't experience the range of emotions that any other human (well, any other man) can and do experience, they should be able to smile on demand.
I'm not suggesting that men who do this are being intentionally hurtful and insensitive. I'd actually done that a couple times before myself, and each time I thought the request was playful and innocuous. It's just that, when presuming that nothing could possibly be that bad in an attractive woman's life that she dare not smile, you are dehumanizing them. It's a "nice" form of dehumanization, but it's still dehumanization nonetheless. It's also transparent. You don't see men running up to homeless women and the elderly and asking them to smile. The request is usually made when the requester thinks the requestee is attractive. It's not about a legitimate need for women to be happy as much as it's that smiling/pleasant-looking women are easier on the eyes and more inviting to approach. It's really not about the woman at all.
If you really are that hard-pressed for a woman to smile, tell a joke, slip on a banana peel, pay her phone bill; basically, instead of asking a stranger to fake an expression for you, do something that might legitimately brighten her day. Who knows, she might even smile. And, she might not. You have no control over that, and that's kinda the point.