Liberal, well-read men: What’s your favorite Christmas movie? Mine is Elf, especially the scene where Buddy says “smiling’s my favorite!”
But you know what’s not any woman’s favorite? When you advise that “they should smile more.” In fact, even if they don’t tell you how this makes them feel, this really pisses them off. Just ask them.
Why does it piss them off? Here’s a few reasons I’ve heard:
It invalidates their emotions.
It violates their personal space.
It’s annoying as hell.
Here’s a really funny video that drives home all of these above points and more.
What should you do instead of telling a woman, of any age, to smile more?
First, just keep your mouth shut if all you can think to say is that a certain woman should smile more, or “looks prettier or nicer” when she smiles, or that “it’s better for her career or relationships” or whatever when she smiles.
Second, if this is a woman with whom you work closely or have a solid friendship and you suspect that she’s going through a tough time, it’s much kinder and more helpful to ask her if everything is all right. Not because she’s not smiling, but because you’ve earned the right, through the relationship and trust you’ve established, to ask her how things are going. And because you have some freaking empathy. Be motivated by your empathy, not by your own need for a woman to have a certain facial expression or feel a certain way so it can make you more comfortable.
Together, let’s create a moratorium on telling women they should smile. That’s what male allies do; we become aware of words and actions that are unhelpful or even harmful to women, and we stop doing them. And we encourage other men to stop as well.