Stop Telling Women to Smile

Sexism within rave culture is something that no doubt all female attendees have had to experience at one point in their life. Whether it’s a guy grabbing you and grinding on you, having your drink spiked, or being persistently followed around the club when you’re just trying to dance, creepy guys at DJ sets seem to go hand in hand and are now just a standard part of any rave I go to with my friends. So, when my group of friends went out last week we fully expected to experience some kind of creepy sexist behaviour towards us. We didn’t realise it would be literally as soon as we walked in, from a member of staff, instead of the crowd inside. 

When our friend went through security and pulled out her ticket to get stamped, she was met by three men at the counter, all of which I’m assuming were members of staff. As she showed them her ticket, one of the men scanned it, whilst another looked at her and said: 

“You have to smile if you want to get in.”

Literally without batting an eyelid, my friend replied “I don’t have to do anything for you,” held out her wrist for stamping and then went inside. The man then turned to me and said “Well she’s going to be a bundle of laughs tonight,” before the guy with the stamp turned to him and said, “Don’t be a d*ck.” I very sarcastically thanked the man for his comments before following my friend inside, where we waited for our other friends to uncomfortably go through the stamping as they realised we were all together and all pretty annoyed with them. 

Sure, at face value this seems like a harmless comment- smile, you’re going to be having fun! But she was just handing some man a ticket after being searched by a very serious security guard- who definitely wasn’t smiling. So why should she have been smiling? Why was it necessary for her to smile for them? Putting sexism aside, it is simply plain rude to be told by a stranger to smile for them when there’s literally no occasion to warrant it. But the comment ran deeper and illustrated the power dynamic between the two of them; he was the male member of staff in charge of her attendance, and he placed her in the uncomfortable position of having to perform for him in order to get stamped. We all appreciate that he was joking and she’d have obviously got in regardless of whether she smiled- it was simply the audacity of him, a male, in a position of power, to assume he had the right to tell her to smile. Even his male colleague called him out for it. 

It’s the same thing as walking past a strange man in the street who decides to comment on what you’re wearing by asking how cold you must feel. It’s exactly like when strange men catcall you when driving past you, or wolf-whistle at you down the street. It’s sexist because it is very common for a man to direct these comments towards women, yet almost never towards another man. I can almost guarantee that the man who passed that comment towards my friend would never feel in a position to tell another man to smile; he would never feel the same sense of entitlement to comment on how another male appears. It’s rooted in the belief that women exist to be viewed- and that man wanted to view my friend’s smile, and as a man, believed he had every right to do so. 

Men telling women to smile is rooted in a history of sexism and an imbalance of power. In light of ‘Times Up’ and #MeToo, we need to start with eradicating seemingly harmless comments if we are to ever see women on an equal societal platform. So everyone, do your bit and stop telling women to smile. 

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