In our culture, friendliness is conveyed through a smile and it is agreed in the discipline of Anthropology that the smile is something that carries across all cultures. In every human society, smiles convey the same emotions: happiness, pleasure, excitement and other positive feelings. However, smiles seem to mean different things between the men and women, of our culture, who exchange them. As my step father said, a woman who smiles is seen as friendly, but also more likely single. Simply put, smiling is an attractive quality and most people flock to a warm smile like moths to a flame. For women, smiling could mean many things. I, among others, have often feigned a smile in nervousness, irritation, awkwardness and sometimes false happiness. In intimate settings, a natural smile shows a person is enjoying her or himself and the other people present. In professional settings, especially that of customer service, a smile, feigned or not, is a requirement. It makes the business seem warm and open to all but smiling on the job and even in less formal environments can lead to problems for women. Unwanted attention is often gained through a broad, seemingly genuine smile.
In Amy Cunningham’s essay, Why Women Smile, she mentions, “ We smile so often and so promiscuously… that the Smiling Woman has become a peculiarly American archetype” (325). On many occasions, I’ve heard of a man who yells at a woman on the street to “Smile baby! It ain’t that bad”. Smiling seems to have become something of a social requirement. To the observer, the smile-less supposed curmudgeon might be falsely interpreted. She must not be happy because she is not smiling. This particular individual could have trouble with smiling due to nerve damage, being in deep thought or maybe she has just suffered a death of a family member. Whatever the circumstances, the stranger has decided that he does not like her frown, for it must be so intolerably unattractive that he has taken it upon himself to make a statement.
On a daily basis, the public is reminded by the media that being attractive is important and a beaming smile is attractive. To be plain, humorless and rejected by men was a stereotype given to suffragettes in the early twentieth century, as the book Women’s Rights: Changing attitudes 1900-2000 (11) mentions. Smiling has been labeled as an essential quality for women in our country. Smiling is a social grace that could easily be sexualized because it opens the door for interaction and a lot of female to male interaction ends up involving sex. After all, women and men are made by nature to reproduce with each other, therefore sexuality between the two is biologically inherent. Even though this is the case, the act of smiling itself is not the root issue, it is merely the outer skin of the conflict. In the book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy spoke about the episode of the Tonight Show, in May 2003, which Katie Couric guest hosted. Couric later commented that she wanted to show America her “fun” side on the
Tonight Show, but in truth she was exposing more than being fun, or even being
sexual. Really what she was showing was that she was open to a certain sort of
attention- which is something that we specifically require if we are going to think
of a woman as hot. Hotness doesn’t just yield approval. Proof that a woman
actively seeks approval is a crucial criterion for hotness in the first place. (32) A smile can convey openness, submission, a willingness to socialize, playfulness and that a person is seeking not only attention, but approval. When smiling and nodding at what a customer or someone we have interest in has to say, the speaker may feel good about themselves and may gain a sparked interest in the listener. To be engaged in socialization likely means openness to more socialization. This is the point where the message of a smile can become tangled in a web of miscommunication.
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