Recently, this corner of the blogosphere has been discussing women smiling (or not) at strangers. (You will find dicussions by: Amanda at “Mousewords”, Amp, here, at “Alas, a Blog”, Astarte at “Utopian Hell”, and Hugo at “Hugo Schwyzer”.) There have a been a number of issues raised; many are interesting and important. I’m going to ignore most. Rather, I will discuss this one:
With some frequency, strange men, suddenly, out of the blue, instruct women whom they have never met to smile.
Many women find the man’s behavior intrusive and often, aggravating. At the very least, the woman would prefer to be left alone so they can go about their business as they originally planned. They certainly do not wish to be forced to devote their attention to this complete stranger simply because he has suddenly demanded it.
The woman’s question: What response does etiquette dictate?
Well, it turns out that Miss Manners weighed in on this situation some time ago. Her advice:
There we have it! According to traditional etiquette, those who accost strangers and demand smiles are guilty of rudeness. The correct response by the innocent who has been rudely accosted is to ignore the rudeness.
The correct response has nothing to do with moral guilt or innocence or concerns over physical safety. It has nothing to do with friendliness and coldness. The etiquette question is resolved by examining who controls their boundaries. You get to decide if you are going to smile; I get to decide if I am going to smile. Complete strangers do not have the right to demand others smile.
Of course, we all know why this issue is a feminist one: Some people don’t believe women have a right to boundaries. Women do.