At work I will occasionally find myself deep in thought while I work on some task, whether it’s punching in an order or cutting fruit for sangria. Sometimes I’ll be focusing on what I’m doing, and sometimes my mind will wander to anywhere and everywhere. Eventually, someone will interrupt my concentration with something like, “Are you okay? Why are you so serious?” Sometimes, I even get an “Are you mad?”
This type of question gets asked by coworkers and guests alike and can often be a lot more offensive in nature. Women have gotten this seemingly since time began. An art series by Tatyana Falalizadeh called Stop Telling Women to Smile has gone viral, adding more to the discussion of street harassment.
It’s not just people who harass women on the street who are the problem in this, though. I’m sure my coworkers and (most) guests certainly don’t think of it as harassment, and I’m not sure if I even do. After all, I’m in a customer service position. It’s part of my job to smile.
However, there is some sexism attached to this idea. I never hear anyone asking my male coworkers if they’re “okay” or “mad.” Somewhere along the line, our culture decided women were supposed to be pretty and happy all the time, while men could be as ugly and grumpy as they want. I think this stems from centuries of patriarchy, where women are mostly seen as eye candy–physical objects to be admired for their beauty and discarded for their lack thereof.
This seems to be an idea that spans many ages as well. Older grumpy women are considered “witches,” while older grumpy men are endearingly, sometimes lovingly, called, “grumpy old men.” Parents at the restaurant where I work are always prompting their young girls to perk up, while their boys are allowed to brood.
In a way, this is also connected to the patriarchy’s fear of emotion. Expressing anything other than an “okay-ness” in public–especially at work–is embarrassing and unacceptable. Men are expected to be tough and show no emotion, and if women want to run with the boys, they’re held to the same standards–as long as they look good doing it. That’s where the smiling comes in.
So what are we to make of this “resting bitch face” phenomenon? What will our response be when people wonder aloud if anything is wrong with us? Will we be embarrassed? Apologetic? Will we immediately plaster a smile on our faces?
I know what my answer is and always will be. “Yeah, I’m okay. Are you?” I will not apologize. I refuse to be embarrassed. I’m not here to look pretty; I’m here to work.
I smile at my guests to make them feel welcome and heard, but if I’m in the middle of something, I will unapologetically screw up my face if it helps me think and do my job better. Being conscious of what my face is doing often distracts from the task at hand. Only spies and actors need to be aware of such things, and I’m neither.
Smile when you feel like it. It’s okay to be serious. Who gives a fuck about resting bitch face?