Stop Asking Women to Smile: Serena Williams Edition

Whenever a man tells me to smile, I want to scream into the night. I know most women can relate to this feeling because it is terrible, and this request is annoying, and I probably was smiling until I saw who was about to come up and talk to me. And this is all something we’ll never escape.

And I mean “we” as in “you and I, writer and person, chilling out at our computers, currently.” But I also mean “we” as in like, every woman ever — including Mega Boss Serena Williams who, despite winning Wimbledon, nearly matching Steffi Graf’s record, and then winning out against her sister Venus Williams at the U.S. Open, still had to deal with some basic-ass bullshit. This time, courtesy of a — wait for it — male reporter. (Surprise!)

“Normally, you’re smiling when you win,” this person said. “You laugh. What is this tonight? Is it just because you beat Venus? Or because you are thinking about what’s coming up next? What’s wrong?”

First of all, the question. The question is wrong. Serena Williams is probably psychic and knew this question was coming and thought, “Oh fuck this shit, honestly.” And seriously you guys it is hard to smile when you are trying not to stand up and yell “IDIOT!” at the top of your lungs to whichever idiot happens to be speaking to you. (We engage with idiots daily, so we all recognize this feeling well.)

But instead, she just laid out the cold truth:

“To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here,” she said. “I just want to be in bed right now and I have to wake up early to practice. And I don’t want to answer any of these questions. You guys keep asking me the same questions . . . You’re not making it super enjoyable. Just being honest.”

Goddamn it, YES. First of all: journalists, it is very easy to ask questions that aren’t brutal. Second: an example of a brutal question is, “Why aren’t you smiling?” Third: an example of a reasonable response is everything Serena Williams just said. Why should she want to be there? I was at a party this summer where some ass-hat walked up to me and said he’d figure if he came over then I’d probably smile. And then, after morphing into a banshee and breaking every window in the venue with my cries, I got up and left. Serena can’t get up and leave. She also can’t say what she probably actually wanted to say which is . . . I don’t know, but likely what most of us were thinking while we were watching the clip.

But here’s the other thing: being told to smile or having the expectations of other people pushed on you is the worst. It is terrible. In those moments, you feel trapped, you feel upset, you feel like you’re not in control of your own life, and yet in that moment, and you almost wonder, “Well should I? Should I do what they want?”

The answer: nope! No. No way. Do not. Somebody tells you to smile, tell them to do whatever it is you think they should do in that moment. (Example: “Go fuck yourself!” It is a personal favourite.) Why? Because you have to do whatever you can to reclaim control. Serena Williams took control back by being honest and by being honest in a professional way. But not all of us will be getting the smile request from male reporters who get off on being condescending. Most of us will run into these weirdos at parties or in the street or at the grocery store. And when that happens . . . ugh. I think Broad City said it best.

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, Serena Williams, smile

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