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)


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

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.

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Marie T. Russell's Daily Inspiration

INNERSELF VOICES

full moon over a hot air balloon
Fear Unceasing or Life Abundant? Blue Moon Cycle in Aquarius
by Sarah Varcas
The period beginning with this first full moon (24 July 2021) and ending with the blue moon (22…
Horoscope Week: July 19 - 25, 2021
Horoscope Current Week: July 19 - 25, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
photo of stinging nettle flowers
Have You Talked to the Weeds in Your Garden Lately?
by Fay Johnstone
As an herbalist I have a very different view of weeds than the average gardener who can’t abide…
The Four Communication Rules and Violations, with an Emphasis on Listening
The Four Communication Rules and Violations, with an Emphasis on Listening
by Jude Bijou
I've found all good communication boils down to just four simple rules. Whether it's with our…
picture of a man writing on sheets of paper
Channeling As A Healing Tool and Its Impact On Grief
by Matthew McKay, PhD.
When my boy died, I had no belief that the dead could talk to us. At best, they seemed gone in…
Digital Distraction and Depression: The 21st Century Scourges
Digital Distraction and Depression: The 21st Century Scourges
by Amit Goswami, Ph.D.
We now have ever-expanding ways to distract and consume attention through the new digital opiate of…
holding up a mask of a man's face
Is There a Right Way of Interpreting Dreams?
by Serge Kahili King
When you give others the authority to interpret your dreams, you are buying in to their beliefs,…
Is the Emotion of Fear Strongly Related to Cancer?
Are Fear and Cancer Strongly Related?
by Tjitze de Jong
The emotional charge of fear is a huge one. It is the emotion I come across more than any other in…

MOST READ

holding up a mask of a man's face
Is There a Right Way of Interpreting Dreams? (Video)
by Serge Kahili King
When you give others the authority to interpret your dreams, you are buying in to their beliefs,…
Digital Distraction and Depression: The 21st Century Scourges
Digital Distraction and Depression: The 21st Century Scourges
by Amit Goswami, Ph.D.
We now have ever-expanding ways to distract and consume attention through the new digital opiate of…
spraying for mosquito 07 20
This new pesticide-free clothing prevents 100% of mosquito bites
by Laura Oleniacz, NC State
New insecticide-free, mosquito-resistant clothing is made from materials researchers have confirmed…
midfullness make some selfess 07 20
Mindfulness meditation can make some more selfish and less generous
by Michael J. Poulin, Associate Professor of Psychology
A cultural tradition that has changed across time and place is the practice of mindfulness.…
Writing letters by hand is the best way to learn to read
Writing letters by hand is the best way to learn to read
by Jill Rosen, Johns Hopkins University
Handwriting helps people learn reading skills surprisingly faster and significantly better than…
pregnant woman sitting with her hands on her belly
Essential Tips for the Journey: Release Fear and Take Care of Yourself
by Bailey Gaddis
Suppressing fear-induced emotions infuses life into them, often causing a manifestation of…
picture of a man writing on sheets of paper
Channeling As A Healing Tool and Its Impact On Grief (Video)
by Matthew McKay, PhD.
When my boy died, I had no belief that the dead could talk to us. At best, they seemed gone in…
holding up a mask of a man's face
Is There a Right Way of Interpreting Dreams?
by Serge Kahili King
When you give others the authority to interpret your dreams, you are buying in to their beliefs,…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

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