I’m going to start this blog off with a little story about an experience I had while on a family trip to Europe in late 2015. I found myself walking through the Dublin airport, about to fly to Paris. I’d been wandering through the duty-free section of the airport when I realised my flight had been called. I began to make my way towards my gate, backpack swung over my shoulder. I was still a distance from my departure gate when a man walked straight into me. The collision caused me to drop my backpack, the contents of which sprawled across the airport floor. Here is probably the place to mention that I don’t pack lightly, in my bag I had four novels amid the bevy of travel necessities I had squeezed into the over-flowing carry-on. The man that walked into me stood above me and watched as I scrambled to shove my belongings back into my bag, he even laughed when a passing traveller stepped on my beautiful cloth-cover copy of Lousia May Alcott’s Little Women. As you can imagine, I was pissed. I planned to stand up and walk away without a word to this rude man, but he obviously had a different idea. As I stood up he grabbed my arm and said ‘Smile, Love’. I shook my arm loose and stalked away (using all my willpower to stop myself from shouting at a stranger in the airport), as I retreated the man continued to yell, saying; ‘Smile! Your face won’t fall off!
With the conclusion of this story I come to my point. Why is it that when a woman has her guard up, or is simply lost in thought we say she has a ‘resting bitch face’, but when a man does the same we think nothing of it? Why is it that women are required to be accommodating, happy creatures 24/7 when men are not? In my opinion there was no reason why I should have smiled at the man who was so rude, but why was it that I was expected to? And furthermore, why did it anger him so much to see my displeasure at our interaction etched across my face?
I smile a lot. I smile when I’m happy obviously, but I also smile when I’m anxious, uncomfortable or embarrassed. It’s a nervous response, something that I’ve been doing my whole life. With this in mind, it was truly a marvel that I didn’t give in to the anxious little voice inside my head that told me to bend to this mans shouted requests and crack a face-splitting smile. My nervous-smile is something I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of for a little while now. I can’t quite understand why my immediate reaction to something uncomfortable is to laugh or smile. I wonder if it’s a societal thing, if my forced smile is a result of a lifetime of being told that a woman’s job is to smile, to be happy and presentable and most of all to be accommodating.
Realistically, the concept of ‘resting bitch face’ is not something that can only be attributed to women. No one has a smile on their face 24/7, but it seems it is only women who have the pressure to maintain the illusion that they do. I’ve heard the male equivalent of ‘resting bitch face’ talked about in passing before, for men this phenomena is called ‘asshole face’. Being called an asshole is certainly no better than being called a bitch, although one could argue that the increasingly popular use of the term ‘bitch’ to describe women who act out against the standard of behaviour set for us by society is far more common and acceptable than calling a man an ‘asshole’. By calling women who are not smiling ‘bitches’ we’re just propagating the idea that a woman who is not conforming to the misogynistic standards our society sets for us is somehow wrong or bad and deserves less respect because of that. In addition, the term ‘asshole face’ has had far less of a viral effect than ‘resting bitch face’, a phrase which is now relatively well-known and commonly used. It seems to me that this term is merely just an excuse to victimize women who refuse to allow their faces to lapse from the stepford-wife smile society tells us we must be wearing at all times.