“Give us a smile, luv.”
Slight edge of threat in the old man’s voice.
Interrupts another futile effort to shop in peace.
Without a stranger prodding as if their right.
Demanding a pleasant demeanor
as they would train their pet dog.
Play act being nice and happy and compliant.
Usually for the benefit of men.
“Would it hurt you to smile once in a while?”
The warning tone is barely masked.
The boss is giving another lecture
Pointing finger hand gestures
Cornered in the office kitchen
Where no amount of peppermint tea
Will soothe suppressed rage bubbling
Because the boys in the club complained
A gal dared to question their authority.
“A smile is essential in a polite society.”
A country women’s association acolyte preaches
to girls angry for near endless stretches of time.
Instructed from birth to likely grave to be silent.
Why can’t their fury be visible?
To appease men and their insecurities?
For a woman’s place is behind her man.
Neither seen nor heard.
“Smile like you mean it.”
The man-child in the alley way barks.
Breath reeking of stale beer.
Pinning his prey rigid unwilling against cold bricks.
His hands pawing uninvited at its crotch.
While his mates milling nearby egg him on.
Not even sweatpants disheveling
enough to hide the allure of his captured feast.
A victim who forgot her species
never walk alone mantra — day or night.
Too late for safety in numbers.
“Smile sweetheart, you want this.”
I have been rather grumpy about the media attention given to a now former young Australian of the year for being herself and not smiling in a photo with a man who spent much of the time over the course of the last year disrespecting her. The hypocracy of one being unacceptable and the other not pissed me off more than usual watching the local politics play out like a slow-motion moving train crash.
I am not overtly feminist in my interactions with the world. Instead, my approach has been understated pursuit — tending to push whatever messages I have by creating strong female characters in the stories and novels I write. Their journeys tell the story. But the above “incident” reminded me so much of the experiences that my girl friends and I have encountered so many times just being. So, every time anyone asks me to smile when I don’t feel like doing so, some undiagnosed PTSD from a past undefined trauma seems to be triggered. I will smile when I want to. Don’t expect anything more. Don’t ask me to pretend.
The poem above tries to capture those common experiences that make the demands for a smile wrong.