Stop Telling Women to Smile Part II (The “You Just Might Be a Sociopath” Edition)


Without going too much into it, I wrote a piece about the street harassment of women. I acknowledged that many women are put off by strange men who randomly tell them to smile, and pointed to the work of artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (pictured above), which inspired the conversation. (A few days later—and totally coincidentally—a video about Fazlalizadeh and her work related to her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project showed up on The Atlantic.)

I also included correspondence from some women who discussed their experiences and insights regarding street harassment.

I was heartened and humbled to receive a number of appreciative messages from women of all sorts of backgrounds for exploring the topic. I wish I could say that I was surprised to be on the receiving end of a barrage of comments that, taken altogether, suggest something to the effect of “You are a thoughtless, sexist femi-nazi and since I mean well when I make this request of women I don’t know, it is not my fault that presumptuous bystanders think I am coming on to them.”

Fortunately, comment sections are largely where the worst of humanity go to talk at each other and play out their fantasies of being reptilian philosopher kings and queens and so this is not necessarily representative of how all people think about this issue. And since a very good exercise for strengthening one’s moral compass should always be to do the opposite of whatever consensus is arrived at in these digital cesspools, this is a teachable moment. Whereas the commentators in question hear a woman’s experience and interpret that experience as that woman’s fault, we should strive to hear the experiences of those who share in earnest.

And perhaps you are not a total creeper when you tell a woman to smile, and maybe you think you are cheering them up, but when they are telling you that it stirs feelings of all of the other times that they have been harassed in their lives, maybe consider listening to them and don’t be an insensitive ass. Because if you don’t, I get the sense that you aren’t the totally rationale, enlightened person you are pretending to be while tearing down the experience of women who are telling you about the things they have gone through and the what that stirs in them.

At the end of the day, that was the point of what I wrote. Of course, this is not what the majority of those commented on as they largely addressed a number of points it appears they imagined when deciding which story to opine blindly on. I was suggesting—and I continue to suggest—that your intentions mean less than how your actions are received. To insist otherwise is to come off as a bit of a sociopath. So hear other people and understand their experiences, even if it means that you have to consider that maybe, just maybe, the way that you are comfortable doing things does not, at the end of the day, put everyone around you at ease.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.