Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

“Gizza smile love, it may never happen”: why it's time to take a stand against Bitchy Resting Face

smiling.jpg

Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's regular column tackling issues on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. This week, writer and Women's Aid press officer, Alice Stride, explains why she's had enough of being told to smile, and why 'Bitchy Resting Face' is a term steeped in sexist patriarchal ideals.

alice stride

Feminist Alice Stride says:

As Hillary Clinton rocketed past Bernie Sanders on Primary Day on 16 March, cementing her position as the leader in the race to become the Democrat Party’s candidate for President, you may have been thinking about what an awesome moment it was. History in the making! A vagina could be on its way to the White House! A President with a First Gentleman! Extraordinary!

If so, you are a chump. Because, as made patently clear by several leading American news pundits on Twitter, the real thing to focus on was not that Hillary was making history. Oh no, sir. It is that Hillary wasn’t smiley enough after her victory. That’s right – she’s wasn’t smiley enough. They don’t want Hillary Clinton – they want Hillary Grin-ton.

The social media commentary about Hillary that evening made me despair - especially as it was coming from influential men who can set an example.

As a society, we are still threatened by the idea that a woman is not there to be purely decorative - that’s she’s not there to be adorable, and biddable, whilst men get on with The Big Stuff. This is what women being told to smile by men is; an insidious, tired little reminder that you exist only to please the chaps around you. That you exist only to be a grinning sexbot with ceaseless charm and a pneumatic arse.

To paraphrase Queen Feminist Caitlin Moran – is ‘being smiley enough’ something the boys are worrying about? Are the male Presidential candidates concerned with their cheeriness?  Bernie Sour-Face Sanders wasn’t jumped on by news pundits on social media. Nobody berates Donald Trump, or his wig, for failing to smile (however, as his smile is evocative of that horrid guy who deliberately splashes you with his car on a rainy day, it’s probably best for us all if he doesn’t).

fem

"As a society, we are still threatened by the idea that a woman is not there to be purely decorative."

I am regularly told to smile by random men as I am going about my daily business. It is tiring.

I am generally a very cheery person - and being told to smile as I am lost in my own thoughts is jarring. It is an invasion of mind-space – a draining demand on my time. I could be having a brilliant idea, or be ranking my top three cheeses, or be thinking over a family problem. And I am told to smile, and I come back to earth with a thud.

Once, I was told to ‘cheer up, give us a grin’ on the day my beloved uncle had died. The implication that there is nothing so pressing going on in my head that I can’t afford to tear myself away from it to smile at some dude is so offensive, it makes me want to scream.

I used to attribute my vaguely sour demeanour to Resting Bitch Face, or Bitchy Resting Face. When I first heard the term a few years back, and watched the YouTube video, I laughed at it and thought, “Terrific! Now I have an explanation for my angry mug!”

smile

"I used to attribute my vaguely sour demeanour to Resting Bitch Face."

But now I realise that it’s really bloody sexist. It’s a way of us proving that we are still ‘nice’, still ‘feminine’ – “Oh, don’t mind me, it just the way my face is, I have serious Resting Bitch Face!” We have to turn women just walking around, living their lives with their face, into an adorable quirk, with a silly name, to make it comfortable. 

That’s what women being told to smile is; it’s making other people, usually men – feel comfortable. Joe Scarborough’s tweet about Hillary Clinton showed that he is threatened by her power, and uncomfortable with the idea of a female president. And so he was compelled to remind the world that as a woman, she should be smiling. It was a way of putting Hillary firmly back in her place, to make himself comfortable.

This is why I am abandoning the term Resting Bitch Face. I will not use it to describe myself, or anyone else. I am not going to feel that I have to explain why I am not smiling on cue ever again – just as Hillary Clinton should not have to - nor any other woman.


Send your feminist dilemmas to Ask a Feminist editor, harriet.hall@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand.  

Related

london.jpg

The London mayoral candidates reveal their policies for women

feminism.jpg

“End branded feminism: it's a bloodletting of the movement”

vote.jpg

Why feminists should vote ‘remain’ in the EU referendum

hijab feminism.jpg

Why I stopped wearing the hijab

sexist semantics.jpg

The semantics of sexism: why we need to change the way we talk

iStock_000068851029_Large.jpg

“When did wearing make-up stop being a choice?”

the not face resting bitch face.jpg

Scientists have discovered the universal judgy face

lucy-mangan.jpg

“Advice I wished I’d known before now” Lucy Mangan's tips for life

ThinkstockPhotos-506316888.jpg

Finally, science discovers why we get Resting Bitch Face

Comments

More

“How pathetic sexists tried to tear down the first female Doctor Who”

Misogynists are terrified of Jodie Whittaker and everything she represents

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Jul 2017

“Love Island is proof that 'nice' is feminism's secret weapon”

Harriet Minter says it’s time we dispel the myth that being a feminist means taking no prisoners.

14 Jul 2017

“Rob Kardashian’s social media rampage isn’t funny. It’s revenge porn”

The Kardashian brother posted nude photos of his ex all over Instagram. This is abuse, not entertainment

by Moya Crockett
06 Jul 2017

“Why women are all beauty pageant contestants to Donald Trump”

“I bet she treats you well”

by Anna Pollitt
28 Jun 2017

“How sexists missed the point of this pivotal Handmaid’s Tale scene”

Offred was just getting her tits out for the lads, apparently

by Kayleigh Dray
26 Jun 2017

“The Tories are bartering with women’s bodies and it’s not OK”

Will Theresa May cling to power by trading on our reproductive rights?

by Anna Brech
12 Jun 2017

Ched Evans wants you to drink less to avoid being raped

Ask a Feminist despairs at the latest comments from footballer, Ched Evans.

by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
18 May 2017

Women of France, rejoice! A man has been elected President

by The Stylist web team
08 May 2017

“Why it’s time we challenged the idea of the feminine beauty ideal”

The war on make-up and 'natural' looks must end

by The Stylist web team
04 May 2017

“No more excuses: Why it’s time men joined the feminist fight”

We need to stop seeing gender equality as just a women’s issue

by The Stylist web team
11 Apr 2017