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viewpoint

Things can change

| Monday, November 2, 2015

I’m normally not very vocal about this, but I was told one too many times over fall break that I needed to smile.

Telling me, “You should smile, you’re life’s not that bad” or “You should smile, you’d look much prettier” is not a compliment. And, in all honesty, it’s probably not really intended as one. While I will give the men who said these words to me the benefit of the doubt and accept that they may have genuinely wanted me to represent myself in a more cheerful manner, saying those words does not have that effect. They are aggressive. You do not have the right to comment on whether or not I should be doing something, whether it is something as trivial as smiling or something more serious to do with my body.

I’ll be honest, I probably should smile more. If anyone has seen me walking around campus, they will have noticed that I have a very determined look on my face. It’s not that I’m not happy. It’s just my natural face. Being told my natural face is not good enough by some man on the street is not helpful to my self-esteem or to my general perception of myself.

A random man on the street telling me to smile more is different from a friend or family member. They tell me out of love, because they see me all the time, they know my thoughts, my decisions and whether smiling or not is something I should really do more.

Some might say I’m overreacting. But why? Most men are not told to smile more. Whether or not they smile, generally men are not called after, and their outside appearance is not commented on. Why would you not treat me with the same respect as the man who is walking behind me? The comments are unsolicited and unwanted.

I have the self-confidence to move on from these events. Even as I am writing this now, the effect those words had on me has dulled. But not all women can do that. And it is not fair that women are treated as objects to be commented on and rejected.

I am incredibly lucky and privileged. I have grown up with pretty progressive parents. I have never felt there is anything a man can do better than I can. I’ve discovered my talents on my own, and yes, it has taken me down a more traditional route of writing and performing. But it wasn’t because I didn’t have options. I have been incredibly privileged to have great friends, men and women, with whom there is a mutual respect and a mutual understanding of differences.

Treating women as objects on the street negates all of these positive experiences. Catcalling, referring to women as sweetheart or honey, simply treating us differently from the way you treat your male colleagues is discouraging.

The world is changing. I am extremely proud of how far this generation has gone in making everyone feel free to represent his or her most real self. There is still so far to go, and part of the solution is to recognize our negative behaviors. Sometimes, I will realize when I walk down the hall, I judge other women simply based on what they are wearing. But the only way we can move forward is to recognize it, wrestle with it, accept it and move forward knowing that change may come slowly, but it will come. And I thank everyone on campus that has shown me that it does come.

Kitty Baker is a senior program of liberal studies and film, television and theatre major and proud Cavanaughty. She can be reached at cbaker7@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Jariel

    Not every component of interaction between a man and a women that she MIGHT happen to find offensive is a form of direct or indirect sexual domination. Please explain why change is necessary when your overgeneralized interpretation of such interactions is not true. There seems to be an error in your way of thinking in justifying this change, when it is in reality you who is judging the guys who, are for the most part, making these comments with good intentions and are not in any way making the covert judgments. If anything, this article seems to be the exact representation of what it decries: claiming the right to another person’s expression. At any rate, your claim that men are not called out for not smiling is also false, as is your claim that their outside appearance is not commented on. There’s enough day to day evidence for that to be obvious.