I just had a very weird experience, or maybe not all that weird in one way, but pretty damn weird in any other way. Not weird given that some people are bat-loony, but weird given that some people ought to know better. (Is it possible for people who are bat-loony to know better? Is that a ridiculous incoherent idea, on a level with belief in free will? Probably no and probably yes…but then the question becomes “exactly how bat-loony are we talking about here?”)
I was walking along a residential street a few blocks from where I live (so I don’t know anyone there, I don’t recognize faces), mind elsewhere (though nowhere in particular) as usual, and suddenly some grizzled auld fella who was pottering in his garden snarled* at me as he crossed the sidewalk toward the parking strip, “What would it take to make you smile?”
I jerked to a stop and turned to stare at him in astonishment, and after mulling it for a few seconds demanded why on earth he would ask me that.
We had a nice little shouty war there on the sidewalk, for three or four or five minutes.
He was of course surprised to be answered, and did a lot of angry shouting about seeing me walking past here all the time, and I never smile, I never wave, I never say hello. I did a lot of return shouting about being allowed to walk here, and not having even been aware of him until he challenged me, and why would he expect me to be smiling as I walked up the street. He did more angry shouting about there are two sides to the street, and oh fuck off, and I never say hello. I did more repeat shouting about why would he expect me to be smiling as I walked up the street and why would he think he gets to tell me how to arrange my face. He started telling me to go away, and I kept pointing out that he had challenged me. He did more angry shouting about always seeing me walking past, and he’s sick of seeing my horrible face “like this” and he did an exaggerated sad-clown face with the mouth dragged down like Emmett Kelly. Gee I love it when people do that. He wasn’t the first. I told him that’s how my face is. He tripped up then and apologized, but quickly thought better of it and went back to angry shouting.
Here’s the thing: I’m extremely ugly, especially now that I’m 153 years old. I do have one of those downturned mouths that some people have, so I do look very grumpy when my face is in neutral position. I’ve had acquaintances helpfully point this out to me, in case I wasn’t aware of it – “Gee, you’re a lot less ugly when you smile.” Oh thanks.
So yes, I’m ugly and I look grumpy when I walk down the street. But I have this core idea that I’m allowed to do that, and that people who live along that street ought not to come running out to tell me I’m uglying up their street. I also have a core idea that I don’t have an obligation to try to look less ugly for any random gardening men who might be pottering about when I pass.
I eventually got around to asking my antagonist about this – “Do you say that to men who walk by? Do you tell men to smile as they walk past your house?” He swelled up with more outrage, and started telling me he’d been in combat, I wasn’t a woman, get away from here with my lesbian bullshit, he wasn’t afraid of any men, he was afraid of women if they really were women. After lots of shouting back and forth along these lines, he slipped up again and said “But it’s none of my business.” “Exactly!” I said. “Bye!” That was my exit line, but he shouted after me “Have a wonderful day” so I shouted back “You too” so he shouted back “That’s the first nice thing you’ve said this whole time” and I shouted back “Gee I wonder why!” and after that all I heard was muttering, so I won.
I did you know. He thought he was just going to throw a little male weight around, with no repercussions. He wasn’t expecting a Spanish Inquisition I mean an aggressive ugly ol’ broad shouting at him for five minutes.
Now here’s what I want to know. Lots of guys here. What do you think? I don’t believe for one second that he ever, ever, ever says that to men. Ever. I don’t think for a second that he thinks it’s any of his business what expression a man has on his face when walking past his house. What do you think? Would a (straight) man ever say that to a man? And has any man ever said anything like that to you?
*Update: note that he snarled. This was not a friendly or flirtatious or neighborly overture; it was angry and hostile in the opening question, and it got much more so when I replied. When I asked him why he would ask me such a question, he approached me aggressively, demanding “do you know how to smile?” There was no ambiguity about this; it was not borderline; the guy was pissed off, and nasty, and in my face. He also got very rude, very quickly, while I limited myself to insisting that he had no business telling me how to look.