Anger Management

Why We Should Stop Telling Girls To Smile

Why We Should Stop Telling Girls To Smile
Young girls walk together during the annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver on Feb. 14, 2021. The march is held to honour missing and murdered women and girls from the community with stops along the way to commemorate where women were last seen or found. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Girls are constantly told to smile, from T-shirts sold in stores that say “everyone loves a happy girl” to the catcallers telling young women to smile when they walk down the street.

Audrey Hepburn once famously stated that “happy girls are the prettiest girls” — now this quote is reiterated in the post-feminist marketplace on T-shirts, pillow cases and stationery.

Perhaps the most public callout to a girl to smile was Donald Trump’s caustically sarcastic tweet that climate activist Greta Thunberg “seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!

But lift up the hood of this pressure to be perceived as carefree and happy and look underneath: something much more disturbing is revealed.

I have been studying the experiences of girls, particularly tweens aged eight to 12, with regards to consumer culture for the past 15 years. The pressure on girls to be fun, happy and smiling reveals much about the cultural expectations projected onto girls and girlhood.

Perpetual fun?

This constant expectation of girls to be always smiling depoliticizes girls and positions them as compliant in their own subjugation. “Fun” acts as a distraction from deeper political issues, discouraging girls from considering the exploitation and violence that girls worldwide face.

Why We Should Stop Telling Girls To SmileGlobal movements for social change are being led by girls, who are the most affected by environmental, labour and social justice issues. (Shutterstock)

Directing their attention to the myriad social and political issues facing girls, like the climate crisis or missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women, would upset the happiness and fun of girlhood.

Feminist scholar Sara Ahmed writes that happiness is promised to those who commit to living their life in an unchallenging way that does not upset the status quo. To challenge the status quo by drawing attention to these issues disrupts the fantasy.

If everyone loves a happy girl, as the T-shirt says, then unhappy girls are unlovable: it’s a clear warning to girls to maintain happiness or else face being “psychologically and aesthetically unappealing.”

Fun can be had with others, but at its root is an individual endeavour to be responsible for one’s own fun. The call to smile is not an invitation to celebrate the resolution of the misogynistic and patriarchal structures that are often at the root of unhappiness.

Happiness and fun are forms of popular feminism that frame gender equality as individual empowerment eclipsing a feminist structural critique. Unhappiness deviates from the post-feminist script in which women — who are responsible for their own happiness and emancipation — need to think positively and be inspired to make change. The emphasis is on individual actions over collective consciousness.

These moral demands for happiness and fun undermine citizenship and commitments to community.

Why We Should Stop Telling Girls To SmileA girl at a protest in Washington, D.C., holds a sign featuring George Floyd. (Obi Onyeador/Unsplash), CC BY

Girls’ leadership

The call to happiness and fun lets patriarchal structures and institutions off the hook for the injustices, unhappiness and pains of girls worldwide, and posits the responsibility for their own happiness on girls’ shoulders. But girls are no longer complying, including Greta Thunberg, who brilliantly turned Trump’s own words back on him.

Thunberg’s clapback to Trump flips the script exposing the misogynistic and ageist rhetoric on girls to be happy.

A global youth movement led by girls — like water activists Autumn Peltier and Mari Copeny, education activist Malala Yousufzai and climate activist Vanessa Nakate — are countering these narratives. They are fighting against climate change and advocating for social change using a whole and complex range of emotions,including happiness and fun.

Girls are refusing to be dismissed by misogynistic critics who tell them to “smile more.”The Conversation

About The Author

Natalie Coulter, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, and Director of the Institute for Research on Digital Literacies, York University, Canada

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

You May Also Like

INNERSELF VOICES

illustration of a film strip with various scenic pictures on each frame
Designing a New Future for Yourself
by Carl Greer PhD, PsyD
In the physical world, things have a past and a future, a beginning, and an end. For example, I’m…
teacher standing in front of students in an open classroom
Becoming Passionate About Public Education Again
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
We are almost all lucky to have someone in our lives to encourage and motivate us and try to show…
Aurora photo by Valerie Pond, October 10, 2021, Yellowknife, NT, Canada
Horoscope Current Week: October 11 - 17, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
Flower growing through a chain-link fence
So Many Questions... So Many Answers?
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
We go through life with so many questions. Some are simple. What day is it? What will I have for…
rainbow over a field
Give Yourself Time, Be Kind, and Heal in Your Own Way
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Unfortunately many of us have become victims of instant gratification. We want to succeed and we…
woman's head with a crack and with tree growing from the back of her head
Opening to a Whole New Way of Being
by Rabbi Wayne Dosick
Sometimes a pandemic—no matter how devastating—is just a pandemic. But sometimes— most times—it is…
Image of an open book floating in the sky with a tree growing out of the open book
Do You Believe in Miracles?
by Barry Vissell
Albert Einstein famously said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing…
a rainbow in the palm of an open hand
Finding Silver Linings and Rainbows
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Be open to discovering the gifts life is offering you -- expect silver linings and rainbows, be on…
image of woman holding up two colored eggs... with a surprised look on her face
I Think, Therefore I Am ... So What Are You Thinking?
by Marie T. Russell
In the 17th century, the French philosopher René Descartes came up with the "explanation for it…
Giving Birth to the Future and Achieving A More Life-Affirming Outcome
Giving Birth to the Future and Achieving A More Life-Affirming Outcome
by Ariane Burgess
I have heard women say, “I don’t know where to begin.” We begin with ourselves; we then work…
A Black Moon and Its New Cycles: Choosing Love, Choosing Life!
Choosing Love, Choosing Life!: A Black Moon and Its New Cycles
by Sarah Varcas
This black moon – the second of two new moons in the same zodiac sign – arrives at a time of…

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.