I’m finally starting to become in tune with the real importance of being empowered as a woman. And why I owe it to myself and deserve the knowledge of knowing that I don’t need that Courtesy Smile. I never owned my womanly power before. But I finally realized why it is truly important to do so.
Last year was my first year in Chicago. I was quite meek, but social; clearly new to the grounds. And I was still wearing jeans. And I hated jeans. I was uncomfortable in jeans. But jeans were what I was used to. Jeans are not meant for me either, though. Small waist, huge ass, muscled thighs. If it weren’t for the butt, we would be in the clear. But it’s there and I have learned to love it and I hadn’t learned to love jeans and then I met LEGGINGS. HELLO, LEGGINGS. I owe a lot to my discovery of leggings. I had hated them before, blindly, because it was such a “fashion no-no”. But I tried them on, threw my long white undershirt that goes past my ass over them and then topped it with: first, sweaters, then flannel, then blouses, pretty soon I was actually wearing reasonable clothes. Then I found comfort in dresses and skirts and such. But leggings. I officially shop like I’m a superhero, looking for my uniform. Black leggings and a white undershirt. Top notch.
The point of that ramble is this: I am finally comfortable in my clothing. I finally have days in a series where I think “Yeah alright girl work it” and I go to class and look and feel positive. Sometimes I’m grumbly. But I have been dressing better in clothes that fit me nicer. Since this change, I have been approached more. By men. Lots of men. At the train station, at the bus stops, in elevators, waiting in lines, after classes, at night, in the morning outside of Dunkin Donuts when I am clearly busy and in a hurry and trying to get to class.
These men approach me and say things like “Hey baby, how you doin?”, “Can I have a minute of your time?”, “You look real nice”, “Smile for me, girl”, “Let me talk to you, what’s wrong”, “I want to talk to you”, “Oh, you’re not gonna look at me?”, “That’s rude, somebody didn’t raise you right”, “Your momma didn’t raise you right”, “Are you gonna be nice today? Are you ladies bein nice? Because I know you look good, but just because you’re attractive don’t mean you can act like a bitch. That’s called manners, ladies”.
The list goes on. These men approach me like I owe them something. Like, god forbid, I won’t be interested in what they have to say. If I say nothing, they pester me, call me a bitch, tell me I’m rude, tell me I need to get slapped, one man even told me I was racist, told other people that I was racist, and then looked me in the eyes and said “I beat up racists. I kill racists.” They ask me to smile. Why? Why do I need to talk to you? Why do I need to alter my mood for you? You’ve done nothing for me today. This blank expression? It means go away, it is not an invitation for a lecture about respect. True respect is understanding my boundaries and not insulting my mother (who raised me perfectly, thank you except no thanks you don’t deserve my thanks). Chances are, if the tables were turned and I was perstering you you’d laugh at me and tell me to back off. And it would be justified.
If I told you to back off? Again. I would be being rude. According to you. I didn’t ask you to approach me, I sure as hell have the right to tell you to back off.
A woman proposed the idea of a smile boycott. Because this is the worst. Men saying “smile for me baby”, not as in “smile to be happy” but “put on a satisfied facial expression so I can think that you’re enjoying this and get my ego boost for the day”. And we do it! Or even when they simply approach us, we toss on this smile. We let these men control our emotions and alter our state, just so they will go away. But they’ve already one. Not anymore.
I give my smiles my all from now on, and only when I mean it. And only to who I want to. I only when I don’t feel threatened. No, I will not smile for you. Not after you follow me home, telling me that my lover is a waste of my time (insulting not only him but me as well), begging for my phone number and trying to follow me up the stairs. No, I’m not going to smile for you, either. Not after you tell me how nice I look while staring at my legs and then grinning and saying “I mean, the tights were an invitation to stare, weren’t they?” Nope, still won’t smile while you sit there on the bus and wink and lick your lips like I’m actually enjoying this. Instead, I will feel how I want to feel. I will say what I’d like to say. And because my mother raised me right, I will do it in an honorable fashion. And if honorable fashion means speaking with a raised voice or pushing you off of me, hoping that it will shove the idea that you can’t do this to women into your head, THEN SO BE IT.
So be it, you bet your ass. My smile is for me and for those that I choose to share it with. At first I felt sad. I finally felt comfortable in my clothing and with myself and I felt like I could smile as I strutted down the street. But with that there seemed to come an invitation stamped on me that said “TALK TO THIS WOMAN LIKE IT’S YOUR RIGHT AND NOT HERS”. I was discouraged from looking my best. It felt like these men were taking away my power. Instead the situation has only made my power stronger.
I wear heels in public now. And I put really nice make up on sometimes. And I have an ass that is there because it is, not so that you can tell me it’s there. And I have breasts and full lips that are for my decisions. I have legs that I hate, but that’s not an invitation for you to tell me how wonderful they are. You will know if you are allowed to make such comments. But you? You are a stranger to me, and your approach has failed. These are my things. This is my body. Chicago is my city, too. And I smile because of that, never because of you.