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“Smile, bitch.”

I’m fourteen and walking home from school. The man shouting at me leans against a wall, his eyes locked with mine. 

By this age, I had mastered the response: The Polite Smile. The Polite Smile obliges, but does not encourage, and apologetically placates the order of a stranger. She is close-lipped and rehearsed: she does not invite company. By fourteen I had learned that if The Polite Smile is not used, the strange man will become increasingly aggressive. I knew that if The Polite Smile did not appear, “How old are you?” and “You got a boyfriend?” and “I can make you smile” will often follow. 

Image source: Pexels, Designecologist

This is not an unusual experience. This is not a new interaction. At the age of fourteen, The Polite Smile had been mastered and the number of interactions that have occurred in order for her mastery is countless. 

Many factors contribute to the unwanted advances of strangers. However, there is one in particular that, time and time again, is referenced: the RBF. RBF is a term that has been coined by popular culture. 

Resting Bitch Face. 

The term is not only sexist, but it additionally furthers the systematic reduction of women to mere sexual objects. The patriarchally-charged implications of this acronym are endless. The term RBF quite literally exists as a result of the societal expectation that women must always be happy. It furthers the notion that women only exist to be visually, physically, and emotionally appealing… at all times. As a result, there is a double standard that is created. The most infamously hostile resting face of Kanye West would never be referred to as a resting bitch face. However, women are quickly labeled as “bitches” when portraying themselves in the same manner. Women are taught from childhood to adjust their mannerisms in order to exist successfully within society. Men are allowed and encouraged by society to appear thoughtful and serious, and therefore men escape this social phenomenon unscathed. 

Image source: Pexels

Women are socially conditioned to believe that they should be seen, rather than heard. This social construct permeates the way that we are raised, the many ways in which we assess situations and relationships, and the ways we react to being deemed as “not happy enough”. It is for this reason that the unknown male stranger will order a smile as if it is owed to him. This societal expectation even additionally infiltrates our consensual experiences. A partner or unknowing girl friend will ask, “Are you okay?” or “What’s wrong?” or “Are you mad at me?”.

It’s just my face.

These early lessons and frequent interactions lead women to apologize more. This occurs as a result of the negative assumptions that are made about them and the constant habit of changing their natural mannerisms to exist in the world. 

In the recent years there have been great advances in raising awareness for women’s issues. But when women’s rights are discussed, the right for a woman to establish her own boundaries must be included in the conversation. Boundaries that allow for women to exist in the world however they choose to, where the personal choice of self-expression is customary. The freedom to exist in the world, without fear, no matter the facial expression. 

Josephine is a fourth year at the University of California Davis, where she is studying Sociology. In her free time, she enjoys picnics at the Davis Farmers Market and watching Friends. She is planning on pursuing a career in writing and hopes to be actively involved in the political realm after graduating. 
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