• Kristin Perissinotto

Don't tell me to smile, give me a reason to

Grace Tame. The woman, the myth, the legend. An outpouring of support and memes (often the same thing for our generation) was heard across the country as she frowned in the company of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. As we all fucking should at this point. The viral photos have been circulating since, and have raised many conversations between women about how many times we've been told to smile. I'm no different. I had the tragic misfortune of working in a bar frequented by sports-loving middle aged men for a few months, and I was told to 'smile' or 'cheer up' more in those few months than I have in the rest of my life.

Now, as a politically-engaged young woman with a platform and a podcast, I'm often told something along a similar vein. Be less angry, drop the aggression, be more palatable, which actually makes me more fucking angry, believe it or not. I get angry about the state of the world because it's messed up. I channel my anger into action. I am never more active than on a day Scott Morrison has said something absolutely cooked about women, workers, the climate, refugees, First Nations People, the list goes on. So no, don't tell me to fucking smile. Give me a reason to.

The fact that the people most likely to tell women to smile, to be less angry, to cheer up, are the very reason why we're angry or unsmiling in the first place is pretty bloody ironic. The people taking time to write articles with 'tips' for Grace Tame or Tweeting about her 'rudeness' are the men who espouse sexist values and uphold the stagnant and regressive policies and culture we have in Australia. The men telling me to smile across the bar were the ones who, not one minute earlier, had harassed me. Women don't owe these men shit, and the suggestion we might smile in reaction to them is quite ludicrous.

In this climate (physical, political, and social), I'm surprised women are smiling at all. There are more reasons for me to frown in a day that there are to smile, let alone laugh. Every time I receive a news alert, it's met with a scowl. You can't travel one kilometre or watch a YouTube video without seeing a Clive Palmer ad. That's another frown. The weather where I live is unseasonably wet, and while I enjoy the rain, I can't look at a puddle without concerns of climate change. Where's the reason to smile?

And this isn't intended to be all grim. I still cackle at a TikTok or smile when I have a good conversation with a friend or colleague. But those feelings are not on demand. I don't owe anybody happiness, or more, the pretense of some. These men are scared and put off by a woman who's thinking enough, paying enough attention, to be angry or sad or disappointed or full of disdain. Scott Morrison might deserve a smile if his government had provided a sound COVID response. A man at a bar might deserve a smile if he told a genuinely funny joke or was polite. Or maybe gave me a good fucking tip.

What's more disturbing is the comfort of these men in asking for something they know is forced. Picture it. A woman is visibly unhappy. Maybe she's angry or sad. Maybe she's fucking pissed at the Prime Minister for reasons she's spoken publicly about for one whole year. A man sees her. He can see, from facial cues, that she's not happy. He asks her to smile. He doesn't want to make her happy or cheer her up. He just doesn't want to see that frown. He doesn't give a fuck if she fakes it. He just wants to see a pretty, happy face. 'Fake it,' he's telling her.

The men who tell us to smile, to cheer up, to be less angry, aren't interested in us. They're interested in how we make them feel. These men are made uncomfortable by an angry woman. They don't want to see it. They don't want to support us, they don't care why we're unhappy. They just want to turn away, enjoy us as entertainment - something nice to look at. They want to feel as though we enjoy their company, their existence.

There's not much to smile about in 2022, but I hope you take solace in this: women are getting angry. We're done tolerating the oppressive sexism in this country. We're done living under a federal government of overwhelmingly white men. We will be heard and we will be respected. We will be represented and we will take the space we deserve. And we'll do it all with a fucking frown.