my boss is constantly commenting on my face and telling me to smile

A reader writes:

I was hoping for your input on something that has plagued me all my life. I am a woman who has a very masculine/serious looking face that many would consider to be RBF (or resting bitch face).

I am only in my mid 20’s and it seems to constantly be an issue at work. My male boss is always walking by my desk (while I am focused) and making joking comments like “Don’t you like working here?” or “Come on, smile!” I’ve heard comments like this ever since I started working in high school … and they always are out of male mouths. I have never had to face them on a near daily basis.

When I was younger, I thought it was something I was doing wrong. Now that I am older, I realize that this is because I am the splitting image of my father! He is a serious looking man due to his heavy brow and a droopy eye — but unlike me he seems to have always been respected for his serious look. No one ever told him to look happier.

I’ve tried to look “happier” by pulling my forehead back and consciously smiling, but it is exhausting and gives me headaches since my muscles aren’t relaxing. I make an effort whenever a client comes in (not often) and I am often praised for how friendly/kind I am to clients. I am a friendly person and customers always love me.

If I lose my “look” when speaking with a client and they make a comment, it is very easy to laugh it off. They often will complement me instantly about how nice I look when I smile and it can boost my day. But I cannot laugh it off with my boss because of how it makes me feel – I can muster a feeble smile but it looks very awkward and forced.

This is a very small workplace (two employees under this boss – no HR) so I need to deal with him if I want anything to change. My other female coworker just rolls her eyes at him and says that is how he is, but she is lucky enough to be tucked away in her own office where he can’t bother her as often.

He will also commonly make a comment like “you are so beautiful” when he wants something. The first time I thought it was a genuine compliment. After that, I started laughing it off, and now I can’t even smirk and just silently (and awkwardly) wait for him to tell me what he wants. Don’t even get my started on the constant mansplaining and insensitive jokes about women, minorities, and the poor.

I don’t know how to respond when he is making these comments. I want to shut it down and make sure he gets that there is no need to be saying this when I am working on reports and focusing on my work. I almost feel like I need a tattoo on my forehead reading “This is just how I look, keep your comments to yourself.” I’ve tried ignoring it but it is starting to lower my self-esteem as it is a constant reminder of my masculine features.

I don’t know if it will help you to see this stated plainly but: Your boss is an ass.

It’s 99.9% likely that if you were a man, your boss wouldn’t be telling you to smile. Men just don’t seem to tell other men to smile. It’s women’s work!

And it’s 99.999% likely that he definitely wouldn’t be buttering up a male employee by telling him he was handsome.

So this is all pretty gross.

Oh, and look, he’s a mansplainer and makes sexist, racist, and classist jokes! How surprising.

I’m going to suggest that you stop trying to adjust your face. It’s your face! It looks how it looks. I mean, yes, if you were constantly glowering at people because you were in an actual bad mood, I would tell you to stop that. But this is just your face, looking serious. I know that Serious Ladies are not so comfortable for everyone, but you are never going to win by trying to play to that crowd’s issues.

Instead, I suggest that you tackle this head-on and address it with your boss. I’d say this: “I have a serious looking face when it’s at rest. That’s just how it is. It doesn’t mean that I’m unhappy. And I think you know that I get a lot of feedback from clients about how warm and friendly I am to them. Can I ask you to stop commenting on my expression or telling me to smile while I’m working on my own? It really is just the way my faces rests, nothing more, and I feel uncomfortable having you remark on it so often.” Or, another version: “Hey, could you humor me and stop asking me to smile? It makes me feel like there’s something with the way my face sits while I’m focusing on work, which I know isn’t your intention. Thanks, I appreciate it.” (Caveat: Not everyone is comfortable or willing to be this direct with their boss. If that’s the case for you, then you have my blessing to use a softer version if that’s the only way you’ll realistically be able to speak up. But do say something.)

Also, the next time he tells you you’re beautiful, some options are:
“Eeeww, I don’t want to hear that from my boss.”
“Please don’t make comments like that.”
“Let’s leave your assessment of my appearance out of our work discussions.”

If you’re not comfortable with those, your current strategy of not responding also seems reasonable.

And for what it’s worth, the longer I write this column, the more I become convinced that tiny, three-person organizations are nearly always terrible news for the employees who work there — rife with boundary violations and unprofessionalism, among other problems. So when you’re ready to move on, aim bigger — I think it will lower your chances of another boss like this guy.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 587 comments… read them below }

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        Since I came to say “arg”, I guess I might as well leave it here with the “gross” and the “ugh.”

    1. Jamie*

      I found this very interesting. I have the same thing but don’t get the beautiful comments from my boss because we’re both men…….and well because I’m not beautiful. I get really fed up of my managers constantly commenting on my serious expression and calling me miserable. I’ve been at my company for many years now so it has become more of a standing joke than anything else but I do get concerned that I’m portraying a negative image of myself in regards to my future career prospects, even though I’m doing nothing wrong and it’s just my face.

      Also when you have been at a company a while, especially one that prefers to advertise externally for managers, you tend to “watch ’em in and watch ’em out” when it comes to managers – specifically sales managers therefore making me feel like I have to start all over again with the same comments from a new manager.

  1. JMegan*

    That’s the second letter this week where someone (a woman, ahem) is being told to smile at work. Knock it off, terrible bosses!

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      How about, knock it off, everyone who thinks it’s appropriate? Unless you’re taking my photo (with permission), you have to right to ask/tell me to smile.

        1. kckckc*

          I’m using that next time! I have a serious RBF because, honestly, who has the energy to smile all of the time?

          1. Jadelyn*

            Silence and one raised eyebrow usually sends them packing, in my experience anyway. But I like the “are you taking a picture?” response, too.

            1. Rana*

              When I’m in the right mood, I’ll favor the person with a horrifically fake grimace. That usually disturbs them enough that they back off.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Rana, I do the same! Think Aubrey Plaza pulling a forced smile (it has a Joker-esque quality to it).

            1. Hornswoggler*

              Or you could do one of those wonderful Wednesday Addams smiles that Christina Ricci did so beautifully in the film – enough to make birds drop out of the sky.

        2. I used to be Murphy*

          My response to “smile!” is usually a simple “no.”

          But I very much revel in making people uncomfortable when they’re being inappropriate and I don’t have to deal with this at work so I get to be more blunt because my economic security isn’t riding on it.

    2. Roxanne*

      Funny thing is, I was told that this week by another woman – she thought I looked too serious while walking back to my desk (I was trying to fix the darned printer). It’s annoying when she does it too.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Although it’s more common with men, I’ve had women do it, too. Personally, I think I’d look like a dimwit if I smiled all the time. There’s a time and place, people!

      2. motherofdragons*

        I was told to smile by a woman, a total stranger, for the first time in my life last week. I looked at her with a poker face and said, “I’m good, thanks.”

        1. KR*

          +1 I’ll have to try this one.

          Signed, Maybe I Wouldn’t Have RBF If People Weren’t So Sexist All The Time

      3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        I’ve actually never heard it from a man, but I get this from women a lot. Or asking me what’s wrong. I did start telling people that it’s just my face.

        1. Susan*

          My boss is constantly telling me to smile. And why am I constantly unhappy. I am so sick of it. I concetrate at work and get chastised for it. I am going to try some of these comments. I could comment on the warts on her face but I choose not to.

  2. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

    OP, you’re in your mid-20s now, so you’ve got at least 15 more years of this bullshit ahead of you. I definitely recommend taking Allison’s advice and learning to be direct in putting a stop to it. My 20s and early 30s would have been much more pleasant had I learned the art of directly shutting things down when I was your age.

    Another one to keep in your pocket that I’ve had success with: “That’s really not something you should say to me as my boss.” I deployed that one just a few weeks ago when my boss told me I reminded him of his wife.

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        He just ignored it, but at least he didn’t say it again. We have a pretty good relationship so I’m pretty comfortable calling him out on things.

        1. Pissed off*

          My boss yelled for me from his office in a meeting with other people. But he called me by his wife’s name!!! I was mortified.

    1. Gene*

      Yep, shut him down. If you feel like it, gently the first time. If gently doesn’t work, be direct and, if necessary, blunt.

    2. seejay*

      I had a random stranger ask me where my bike helmet was.

      Me: “That’s funny, you don’t look like my dad, husband, or at a far stretch, my boss or doctor. Are you?”
      Him: “… No?”
      Me: “Since you’re not, and I’m not under 18 and it’s not against the law, it’s none of your goddamed business.”

      I’m 41 years old. I don’t need a random stranger on the street asking me where my helmet is. I don’t understand people who think they can just go past socially acceptable boundaries of what’s ok to say to people. ><

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        Oh god, a couple months ago, and this was NOT my finest moment, it was 3 pm and I hadn’t had a chance to eat because I’d been in meetings all day. I had another meeting in a few minutes so I ducked to the vending machines and was standing there looking for something reasonably healthy, when a guy I’ve never seen before stops and tells me “don’t get anything from there – it’s all bad for you.” OK, I’m fat, I know. But I’m doing my best and it’s none of his business. I was also REALLY stressed and just done with everything. And before I could think I just responded “why don’t you keep walking and mind your own f**king business.” Again, not my finest moment, but I don’t work with him, haven’t seen him again, and don’t really care.

        1. KG, Ph.D.*

          I think you responded with far more tact than I would have been able to muster in that situation. :) I probably would have only been able to come up with “F**k you.”

          1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

            Ha. I’m much more…polite usually. I have a deputy right now who is VERY blunt (to the point that I’ve had to tell her to tone it down sometimes) and I think we’re rubbing off on each other. Thanks for the virtual fist bumps though (and from Sam, KG and Lydia) :)

        2. LCL*

          That was a totally awesome response! I am filing it away.
          One that I have used for the food police is:
          ‘You’re right! Please go to local bistro and pick up some lunch for me. And don’t take too long, I have to get back to work.’

        3. LBK*

          That is awesome. Probably mortifying the moment after you realized what you’d said but hilarious for the rest of us!

        4. seejay*

          Yep, not his business. As above, if not your parent*, spouse or far stretch boss or doctor, not their business!

          * and even parent, they can mind their own business too! My mom has a bad habit of asking me why I’m eating candy, cookies or pizza for breakfast when I’m over there for holidays. Last time she said something, I responded “because I’m a fucking adult and I can eat pizza for breakfast if I want without my mom telling me what I can and can’t eat”. I was really pissy so yeah, I actually did drop an F-bomb on her but she’s stopped nagging at me about what I eat for breakfast. XD

      2. Shannon*

        A few months ago, I was starting to diet. I was still learning how and when to feed myself when one day, I’d realized I’d gone just a little too long that day without enough calories. I was a bit tired and light headed. I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner and a snack to tide me over until I got home.

        As I’m loading my groceries up in my car, some guy walking in the parking lot tells me, “Smile! Cheer up!”

        I finished loading my groceries into my truck and stared him in confusion for a moment. When it became apparent he was talking to me, I said, “I don’t want to,” without smiling. I was pretty proud of myself that day. In the past, I might have smiled or said, “I don’t want to,” with a joking type smile.

        He had nothing to say in return.

        1. a*

          That’s great! I love it when I can hold back my instinctive reactions to appease someone after they say something rude.

          The other day I told a guy that I used to watch Game of Thrones, but don’t anymore (I didn’t tell him why, but it was because all the sexual violence was starting to trigger some unwanted memories), and he said, “You’re losing points.” Not the worst thing in the world to say jokingly, but he’d already made some other comments that made it pretty clear he thought a) it was really important to me whether he found me dateable and b) it was appropriate to make constant comments about my appearance and general worth as a person.

          In the past I might have smiled awkwardly and made a joke, but this time I just looked at him blankly and said, “Ok.” He may have walked away thinking I was a socially awkward weirdo who couldn’t take a joke, but I’m actually pretty satisfied with that.

    3. neverjaunty*

      This is excellent advice. OP, you don’t want to be kicking yourself ten years from now thinking “if only I’d known….” Embrace your Resting Murder Face! It is both a sword and a shield against assbags like your boss, which is precisely why it upsets him and he tries to get you to “smile”.

      As an antidote for what AAM correctly describes as the crowd who has issues with Serious Ladies, I highly recommend looking up #DudesGreetingDudes on Twitter.

          1. Jadelyn*

            It reminds me of the tumblr post with a gif of Charlize Theron explaining how to do the Murder Walk (from when she was the Queen in the recent Snow White movies), and someone responding with their experience of doing the Murder Walk while in cosplay as the Winter Soldier, which culminated in advice for getting through a crowd: stand tall and walk like you’ve been sent to murder Captain America.

            1. KR*

              Or the scene from Syrup (2013)

              Men categorize women in one of four ways: Mothers, virgins, sluts and bitches. Of course none of the above is suitable for the modern business woman. But you can create your own image by selecting pieces of each archetype that work for you. The sexual attractiveness of the slut. The wisdom of the mother. The integrity of the virgin. The independence of the bitch. This leaves men confused and unable to pigeonhole you. What they are forced to do instead is take you seriously.

              1. AthenaC*

                I’ve talked before about having to walk that agressive-submissive tightrope as a professional woman (which confuses the hell out of my conservative male friends because they simply Don’t Get It), but I think that paragraph is a much better description.

    1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

      When men condescending explain things to women, especially women who are more expert on the issue at hand. For a recent example, there was a man on Twitter condescendingly explaining thermodynamics to a female astronaut.

      And in about 30 minutes, there’s a good chance this comment section will be flooded from MRA types from the rest of the internet.

      1. Temperance*

        “It’s just rude, jerky, condescending behavior, NOT SEXIST” or, my favorite “WOMEN DO THIS ALL THE TIME”.


        1. Observer*

          My response to “It’s just rude …” is “So what?”

          It’s like the whole stepping on my foot thing – if you are stepping on my foot get off. It doesn’t matter if you are doing it because you are racist, sexist or just a plain jerk. Just STOP IT.

      2. AVP*

        My literal favorite thing to do is to call people out on this, and spell out why it’s annoying as clearly as possible. Even my partner does it occasionally – last night I had to say to him – “Are you, a person who has only read articles about this topic, trying to explain film/tv/book options to the person who works in the relevant industry and has literally processed contracts and negotiated them?”

        Fingers crossed that the AAM Comment Threshold keeps the rest of the internet at bay today.

        1. Maxwell Edison*

          My spouse is often a mansplainer, most recently explaining what an acronym is to me (BAs in journalism and English, writer, and full-time editor). At the time I just guffawed at him. Next time, I’m going to play dumb and say, “What? I don’t understand,” to everything he says and see how long it takes for him to catch on.

          1. Amber T*

            There was a woman on twitter (I don’t know if she’s famous or this just caught the interweb’s attention), but she tweeted something along the lines of “I’m just going to play dumb every time I get mansplained to.” One guy tweeted back “That’s called deception, my dear” and she immediately tweeted back “What? I don’t understand.” They had a quite a long exchange after that with all of her tweet backs being something along those same lines.

        2. Isabel C.*

          Oh, God, my last ex. A week into officially dating, I told him the plot of the novel I was writing (first one I got published, BTW) and he (a STEM major with no fiction publishing experience) responded that it would never sell because blah blah nobody wants cross-genre stuff.

          In retrospect, should have called it off right then.

      3. Artemesia*

        It was coined in an instance where a pompous academic nattered on to a woman about a book she should ‘really be aware of’ if she wanted to become more knowledgeable about X field. She was the author of the book.

        1. Temperance*

          Didn’t he approach her after she was presenting on the subject to let her know that this other academic was so much more well-versed than she?

          1. Marisol*

            No doubt that also happened, but I’ve always heard that the origin of the term is thought to come from an article by Rebecca Solnit titled “Men Who Explain Things.” She didn’t actually use the portmanteau “mansplaining,” but it was coined shortly thereafter in response to the article. I just googled her and learned that Solnit followed up her article with a book, Men Who Explain Things to Me which I think I might read.

            1. Lucky*

              It’s good – I listened to the audiobook on my commute and found myself commenting (alone in my car) “go, girl” and “aw, hell no.”

          2. zora.dee*

            I just recently re-read Rebecca Solnit’s original article about it, she hadn’t been presenting on the topic, she was just chatting with the host of a party she was at. It’s a great article and pretty short I highly recommend it.

        2. LBK*

          I enjoyed that someone recently tweeted at Zoe Kazan telling her she should really watch A Face In the Crowd, a film made by her grandfather, Elia Kazan. You’d think the names might have tipped him off.

          1. anonderella*

            derailing to talk about film..
            one of my favorite movies!! Watched it for a college class and will still enthusiastically discuss its poignancy – years later showed my SO (who normally only watches stuff with guns and drugs and explosions) and now he actually requests to watch it from time to time. Although, he does struggle with the accents; he’s having a really hard time with Quarry, right now (I’m a native Memphian and loving it).

      4. Kore*

        My favorite was someone trying to explain Deadpool to Gail Simone in line for the movie. When Gail Simone is a noted Deadpool writer and is namedropped in the actual movie.

        1. Annie Moose*

          Gail Simone is the best. I believe it was her who coined the term “unicorn” for female comics fans–you know, because apparently we’re imaginary. Also “women in refrigerators” (to describe how the disposable way women are treated in comics, named after the infamous time the Green Lantern’s girlfriend was murdered, chopped up, and stuffed in a fridge). She’s somewhat of an expert in the field of men trying to explain to her how comics work.

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            Oh, I didn’t know she coined that term. I use “fridged” all the time when talking about media and the portrayal of women in fiction, so it’s nice to know who coined it.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              I love how influential women comic writers can be, even though so few people realize they exist. I use the Bechdel test a lot. For a lover of SF, it’s sad how many shows/movies fail the test…

              1. all aboard the anon train*

                I like the idea of the Bechdel test, but I think it’s rather limiting. I mean, there are a lot of amazing movies that have strong female characters whose stories aren’t about romance or men, and those fail the Bechdel test because they don’t talk to other women. And then you turn around and you can have a very gendered makeup or cleaning product commercial pass the test, or you could have a ridiculously misogynistic movie pass the test.

                Basically, the idea is good in theory, but I don’t think it’s the best way to measure the quality of women in media. A good starting point, though.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  That’s almost the point, though – it’s not meant to measure quality of women in media so much as it’s meant to point out that EVEN WHEN you set the bar half an inch above the floor, there’s a shocking/depressing number of media that STILL manage to stumble over it.

                2. Kore*

                  The Bechdel test works in a couple of different ways. First, for individual movies, it’s generally a low bar. While it’s not necessarily appropriate for every single movie (there are plenty of movies with a very small cast of characters), if you have a large ensemble movie and you don’t pass the Bechdel test, there’s probably something wrong there. A movie can be feminist without passing, but it’s not super hard to pass. It’s the bare minimum for representation for women in most movies.

                  The other way to use it is to look at patterns. On, they have 6686 movies added, and only about 58% of movies pass it. While that might seem not too bad, that’s such a bare minimum of representation – all you need are two female characters who have names talking about something that’s not a man. That’s it, it’s super simple and easy, and over 40% of movies can’t even reach that barrier. I haven’t found a site that details a reverse bechdel test (where you swap the genders) but I’d say nearly all movies would pass that.

                  The Bechdel test is just a start, but it’s a pretty easy way to say “oh hey, there are zero female characters in this movie.”

                3. Charlotte Collins*

                  There are more expanded versions of the test (for example, should it count if the women talk about marriage and/or children/babies), but it is something that one wishes Hollywood were more aware of.

                4. Lucky*

                  As others have said, the Bechdel Test is the lowest of low bars. A friend loved to use this example:

                  Showgirls: Nomi Malone and her best friend Molly talk about eating chips and doing their nails. Showgirls passes the Bechdel Test.

                5. Lissa*

                  It’s also not that movies that don’t pass it are bad or sexist, it’s more a commentary on how *many* of them there are, and how if we try to think of the reverse it becomes far more difficult. The existence of a movie set, oh, say, entirely in a men’s prison is reasonable and shouldn’t shoehorn in a conversation between women just to do it. The problem is more pervasive than that.

                  I think it’s really common to see people point out things like the Bechdel test and think of specific reasons why it’s OK in *this one* specific case, but the problem is rarely specific examples.

                6. snorkellingfish*

                  It’s also worth noting that the Bechdel test was coined by lesbians, and wasn’t just meant as a test of female representation generally: it was also meant as a test of the basic prerequisites for lesbian representation. So, it’s genuinely great that the Bechdel test has broader use and relevance for the representation of women in movies, but if it doesn’t quite reflect the needs of straight women when it comes to representation that’s because that wasn’t quite what it was made for.

                7. Drew*

                  I was on another forum reading a review of the new Ghostbusters that whined that it failed “the reverse Bechdel test” and I had to stop and reboot my brain because it was stuck in a “what…that’s…not a THING” loop.

                  Also, screw that guy, because the new Ghostbusters was awesome.

        2. neverjaunty*

          That was amazing.

          Not quite mansplaining, but a related favorite is the female game designer who was wearing a Bioshock T-shirt at her local Starbucks, and some dude condescendingly said “I bet you haven’t even played it.” So she ruined the surprise ending for him.

      5. Ask a Manager* Post author

        And in about 30 minutes, there’s a good chance this comment section will be flooded from MRA types from the rest of the internet.

        That’s actually pretty unlikely (it’s never happened before — maybe one or two, but never a flood). But I do want to preemptively say that I’m not up for comments here claiming that mansplaining is a sexist term, which has happened before and which is ludicrous, as it’s a term that itself describes sexist behavior. So I’ll say right now that I’m going to shut those down if I see them this time, including removing them if necessary.

        1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

          Ah, that’s what I’m remembering – the arguing over whether or not it’s a sexist term.

        2. Ted v2*

          So since the question of whether the term is sexist is out of bounds, then can I ask what the term is when the perpetrator is not a man?

          1. civ*

            I lose a lot of respect for Alison when she implies that she alone is the arbiter of whether a term is sexist and implies that those who disagree are “ludicrous.”

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              I agree to the extent that if she doesn’t want the topic to be addressed, she should just say that no one should address it. Instead she basically said that no one can address it except for her. I can see how that could be extra infuriating to those who disagree with her. A simple “let’s not open this off-topic can of worms” would have been better.

              But you misread her. She did not say that the people who disagreed with her are ludicrous, she said that they were making a ludicrous claim. That’s an important distinction. Attacking people is mean and shuts down constructive debate, but attacking ideas is fair game.

            2. Trout 'Waver*

              Because it’s a common tactic for racists, sexists, etc. to try to turn the tables by claiming the other side is racist, sexist, etc. It’s disingenuous and leads nowhere productive.

            3. ThatGirl*

              It’s not racist to point out that someone is being racist.

              It’s not sexist to point out sexism.

              It’s not homophobic to point out anti-gay bias.

              And yet these are common tactics use to try to turn the tables. All Alison is saying is that pointing out sexism by using the term mansplaining is not sexist.

            4. Katniss*

              You lose respect for the owner of a blog for deciding what is and isn’t allowed to appear on her blog?


            5. Lissa*

              She’s not saying she’s the sole arbiter. She’s saying she doesn’t want to have that conversation here, and I totally agree with her. Whatever your opinion on the term, the conversations are derailing, annoying, nobody gets their mind changed, and everybody has heard all the arguments on both sides before. Why not just skip it?

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            I do kind of wish we had a generic term like “condesplain” to describe any form of condescending explanation, with mansplaining being a specific subtype in which sexist men condesplain to women.

            Because some people condesplain to everyone, no matter their sex. (I’m looking at you, Dad!)

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                I just need something to use at the parents’ dinner table that’s less of a mouthful than, “Stop condescendingly explaining to me things in which I am more of an expert than you are!”

                1. LD*

                  Isn’t that one of the features of being a parent? I know not all parents do this, but it’s common enough that I believe most of us would recognize it. And, thanks for the chuckle at your description!

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Ted v2: The term is specifically intended to describe a form of sexism that’s linked to much larger patterns of systemic sexism in our society.

            civ: I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying here — I’m not claiming I’m the arbiter of whether a term is sexist. I’m saying that this particular word exists to describe a type of sexism, and I’m not going to once again host a debate on whether that in and of itself is somehow a problem. I’ve allowed that here in the past, it’s hugely derailing and obnoxious, and I’m not up for it again.

            1. Ted v2*

              Thanks for answering. I wasn’t aware of that, and it makes the debate a lot more clear to me. I think the problem (at least from my end) is that I’ve never heard it used in the sense that you’re describing. I’ve only ever heard it used as a description of obnoxious “Person X condescendingly explained something to Person Y that Person Y already knew.” That doesn’t carry the systemic sexism idea, and genuinely does (to me) make the term sound sexist. If that makes sense, it might also be fueling others’ confusion at the “it’s not a sexist term” idea.

              1. Tracy*

                You have proven that you have no interest in even entertaining the idea that this is part of systemic sexism, so why should she spend time on this?

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                That’s sort of like saying that “Man X sexually harassed Woman Y” doesn’t carry any implication about systemic sexism because it’s just an interaction between two individuals.

                People aren’t going to always add on to these anecdotes “and this happened in a broader social construct where Woman Y was constantly encountering this from random men.” It’s implicit in the discussion. If you don’t realize that, though, then sure, you could come away not understanding that systemic sexism is part of the problem. That doesn’t mean that it’s not; it means that you’re overlooking an inherent part of what’s being discussed.

              3. irritable vowel*

                The word “man” is in the term. It’s *specifically* about men condescendingly explaining something to women. One cannot say that Mary mansplained something to Tom because it is a gendered term. Gendered ≠ sexist.

                1. Serafina*

                  “Gendered =/= sexist.”

                  THANK YOU! Why is this so difficult for people to wrap their brains around this concept!
                  It’s not racism to call out racism!
                  It’s not sexism to call out sexism!

            2. civ*

              I think you could describe the boss in terms that already work very well (e.g., “sexist” and “condescending”) rather than with a loaded term that many find obnoxious and that has proven in the past to be derailing to the main point.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                The fact that some people find terms describing sexism and racism to be loaded and uncomfortable isn’t something I really want to go out of my way to accommodate.

                1. Ted v2*

                  I agree with you Alison, but to civ’s point, and along with my comment above that, the reason the term is obnoxious is that there’s a wide disconnect between the meaning you described and the way it’s actually used by many, many people. That’s not helping things. Maybe they’re misusing it and I’m not arguing with that, but in my experience the misuse is FAR more common than the correct use. If a term is so easily misunderstood as sexist, maybe a better term is needed.

                2. LBK*

                  there’s a wide disconnect between the meaning you described and the way it’s actually used by many, many people

                  I have yet to see the term misused in the way you describe; I would assert instead that if you think it’s not being used in that way, you’re ignoring the context of its use.

                  If a term is so easily misunderstood as sexist, maybe a better term is needed.

                  This line of reasoning has been pervasive in gender-related debates as long as the term “feminism” has existed coined and probably long before that in every other kind of description of institutional prejudice (see also: people objecting to “white privilege” or “homophobia”). It’s a weak semantic derailment that only seeks to push the discussion into being about the words being used rather than the idea being discussed. You can change vocabulary every day for the rest of your life and people will resent it and view it as sexist no matter what, because ultimately people just don’t believe the behavior it describes is sexist, so they’ll always object to whatever term you want to use for it.

                3. Trout 'Waver*

                  [i]If a term is so easily misunderstood as sexist, maybe a better term is needed.[/i]

                  The term is only misunderstood to be sexist by people who don’t recognize systemic sexism.

                4. Fish Microwaver*

                  I find the term “mansplaining ” obnoxious for reasons of language and etymology. I don’t think it is helpful against systemic sexism because it is difficult to take seriously. To me it comes across as a childish nonsense word.

          4. SarahTheEntwife*

            I’ve seen similar portmanteaus coined for, say, a white person -splaining racism to a person of color, but if there isn’t some sort of privilege/power dynamic going on the term doesn’t really apply.

        3. AF*

          Thank you! The suggestion that it is sexist is an attempt to shut down/shame the person pointing it out, whereby further proving that it exists!

      6. Minion*

        Okay – another question. What are “MRA types”?
        Not sarcasm – I don’t have a clue and while googling generally helps, I’m thinking that phrase may be general enough to not yield many results.

        1. LBK*

          It stands for Men’s Rights Activists, ie people who spend a lot of time whining about feminism and not really doing much for men’s rights, whatever rights they believe those might be.

          1. Marty Gentillon*

            It’s so sad that those jerks have won the term “men’s rights.” It would be really nice to be able to use it to support a more emotional, more vulnerable, and less violent version of manhood than is often standard in our society…

            1. LBK*

              Fortunately there is a term for someone who supports the breaking down of masculine stereotypes and reducing the negative impact they have on men and our society as a whole. It’s “feminist”.

              1. Marvel*

                I think this sort of misses an important factor in the situation, which is that many feminists would (understandably) prefer that feminism be about women’s issues, and not about men at all. While some people are definitely all for including men’s issues under the feminism umbrella, others are tired of hearing “but what about the men?” all the time in a movement that’s supposed to be about uplifting and empowering women.

                I think that’s a pretty justified perspective, honestly, but it does tend to leave a void where there’s no real term for someone who advocates for the breaking down of masculine stereotypes for the sake of men or more male-identifying people, specifically. Some of that gets lumped into the more gender-inclusive subsets of feminism, some of it gets lumped into LGBT activism… but there’s no specific term for it, which can be frustrating.

                1. LBK*

                  I think this sort of misses an important factor in the situation, which is that many feminists would (understandably) prefer that feminism be about women’s issues, and not about men at all.

                  I try to flood my online surroundings with as much feminism as possible and I don’t see this sentiment anywhere. I think the weariness around the “but what about the men?” whining isn’t about wanting to focus solely on women, but rather a) because it ignores all the good that feminism is actively doing for men and b) because generally, I find that the people who want to focus on men’s issues have zero interest in even acknowledging that women’s issues exist. It all comes back to almost all men’s rights movements being created and promoted as an alternative to feminism, not something that works in conjunction with it.

                  I mentioned bell hooks below, but another super prominent modern feminist is Anita Sarkeesian, and she also speaks about men’s issues and the ways that sexism affects men. Sure, she spends a lot more time talking about how it affects women, but I think that’s justifiable because a) she’s a woman, so she’s probably going to have the most perspective on the things that affect her, and b) it’s pretty clear that sexism affects women more negatively as a whole, so there’s more ground to make up. It’s frustrating to me as a male feminist to see so many men who think they aren’t included in this movement and who reject attempts to actively welcome them into it, like He For She.

                2. Marty Gentillon*

                  I would argue that the real problem with the label “feminism” for this is that too many men associate it with the “women need men like fish need a bicycle” variant of feminism, preventing any serious discussion.

        2. Annie Moose*

          MRA = men’s right’s activists. Sometimes they’re also called “red pillers” or “TRP” in reference to the Red Pill subreddit (which is populated by MRAs taken up to eleven).

          Google further at your own risk. Side effects may include vomiting, bleeding from the eyes, fantasies about strangling people over the internet, and loss of brain cells.

          1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

            Right. They’re essentially dudes who are angry they’re not getting laid by supermodel-looking women, and have decided they hate women as a result.

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            I’ve got to disagree that red pillers and MRA’s are the same thing. While both complain to high heaven about feminism, red pillers focus on things like pick-up tactics and sexual and relationship “strategies”. MRA’s focus on social issues in areas they perceive men to be discriminated against (the draft, criminal sentencing, child custody and support, circumcision, etc.). The Red Pill and MRA subreddits pretty much hated each other last time I checked.

            1. Annie Moose*

              Oh, absolutely the MRAs and TRPers love to go around talking about how different they are, but they’re definitely in the same ballpark: feminism is the Worst Thing Ever, the world would be better if women would just keep whining and focus on what’s really important (i.e. men), and women’s problems just aren’t as bad as men’s problems. TRPers are just worse.

              (worse in that most MRAs at least don’t outright say things like “women shouldn’t have the right to vote”, that is)

        3. Student*

          It stands for men’s rights (activist?). They like to talk about how women are oppressing men. While they have a handful of issues that I consider legitimate concerns, it’s overwhelmingly a bunch of extremely anti-feminist reactionary stuff. Gamergate was one of their things, as was the Ghostbuster remake backlash. They crop up in a oddly wide number of places – they want men to be more involved in home decorating, but also want men to have the ability to force women to have abortions/not have abortions/ want men to be able to get out of child support. I find the vast majority of it to be entitled BS, a kind of anti-feminist version of the “all lives matter” racist crowd, with occasional nuggets of real issues like concern about fairness in child custody arrangements and women’s dominance in the US education system.

        4. Retail HR Guy*

          It won’t be popular here, but I’ll go ahead and out myself not as a very limited MRA sympathizer in order to counter-balance the decidedly anti-MRA responses you’ve gotten here. I don’t consider myself a MRA because (a) I’m not actively doing anything other than typing on a computer so how much of an “activist” can I really be, (b) I would rather think of myself as egalitarian rather than concerned exclusively with the rights of any particular group, (c) MRA and anti-feminism too often overlap and I’m not into that, and (d) too many dedicated MRA’s are often wearing crazy pants.

          However, there are legitimate arenas in which men are discriminated against, and the fact that women are more discriminated against overall never seemed like a good argument to not rectify discrimination anywhere we find it. Child custody and support, disparate treatment of male victims of domestic abuse, circumcision, the draft, huge differences in criminal prosecution and sentencing, rape against males being ignored, men being statistically much more likely to be murdered, killed in war, suffer workplace injury, or commit suicide, etc., are all legitimate areas of concern.

          So, yes, some MRA types are very much the kind of annoying sexist jerks who would love to flood a blog comment section with defenses of mansplaining. But if you’ve heard some of the horror stories from men who were sent to ten years in prison while their female partner in crime got probation, who are not even allowed to see their own children, who have been laughed at by the police or arrested themselves after having being beaten by a woman, or who were not taken seriously after being the victim of a rape or sexual assault (or even told that it is “impossible” for them to have been raped), then it would be hard to dismiss all men’s rights issues as whining and all MRA’s as whacky right-wing misogynists.

          1. LBK*

            I think my main problem with the idea that somewhere underneath the anti-feminist whining, there’s a legitimate base to the MRA movement with real issues to discuss is that it ignores how deeply important all of those issues are to a LOT of feminists, and how many of the goals of feminism actually involve breaking down the root causes to many of those issues (eg toxic masculinity, which I think is probably at the core of every issue you listed).

            1. Annie Moose*

              Yeah, that’s the particularly annoying thing about the MRA movement. There are actually legitimate issues there! Men shouldn’t be discriminated against either! But it all gets buried by this “but men have it WORSE”, “women USED to have it bad but now they actually have it BETTER than men” (lolwut), “something something FEMINAZI” crap, so obviously nobody with any sense is going to take them seriously. (and the refusal of MRAs to recognize that most feminists are concerned about those exact same issues, because the point is “everybody should be treated equally”, not “only women, all the time”)

              If a self-proclaimed MRA isn’t comfortable being lumped in with those types, then I’d suggest finding a different term to call yourself, because when someone says “I’m an MRA”, that is what their listeners are going to think of.

            2. Retail HR Guy*

              Can’t both be true?

              Saying MRA shouldn’t exist because feminism has gender-based civil rights covered is kind of like saying La Raza shouldn’t exist because the NAACP has racial civil rights covered. More voices from more perspectives should be better. (In theory. The MRA’s we have right now–especially the loudest ones–are severely testing that theory.)

              1. LBK*

                I have yet to see any proof of the existence of a movement genuinely interested in addressing issues that affect men instead of just attacking women other than feminism. I’m not saying we don’t need any other movement, I’m saying that as things are now, if your goal is to achieve gender equality break down the barriers and stereotypes that hurt people based on their gender, you’re a feminist. There’s no need to call yourself anything else because we already have a name for it.

                My main issue is that the MRA movement is presented as a counterargument to feminism, rather than as a more targeted subset of it (as I would consider La Raza to the NAACP). Its premise is that men’s rights activism is needed because feminism doesn’t care about men’s issues, which is utterly false. Take bell hooks, for example, arguably one of the earliest and most prominent faces of the current feminist movement, who’s literally written whole books about how sexism affects men.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                No, saying MRA shouldn’t exist is like saying that (White) Citizens’ Councils shouldn’t exist. The MRA issues that many people find legitimate have to do with gendered beliefs/norms/assumptions regarding societal roles; e.g., women should care for children (or they’re “innately wired” for nurturing), or only men should fight in wars (b/c they’re innately warriors/protectors). Because different strands of feminism (and queer theory) challenge those gender constructions, identifying with feminist causes also benefits men who are trapped within society’s gender stereotypes. This approach (challenging gender norms) was the cornerstone for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s advocacy when she was director of the Women’s Rights Program at the ACLU.

                The underlying issue re: MRA/feminism is patriarchy—one group enjoys a structural, systematic position of power and simultaneously refuses to acknowledge that they have that privilege. It’s analogous to people who complain that there should be a “white history month” or a “men’s history month” while completely ignoring that all of our (U.S.) default social institutions, history, etc., assume that white men are the default/norm and are built to benefit that subgroup.

          2. Katniss*

            At this point I would avoid ever, ever aligning yourself with MRAs in any way. Just pick a new term. Because using the term MRA or anything similar to describe yourself is like calling yourself a white supremacist because you like civil war reenactments.

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              As a some of the time visitor to the men’s rights subreddit, I can attest that a lot of the less extreme posters agree with you. They are very uncomfortable with being associated with the type of MRA’s that get the most media attention. They also don’t like the name, because one of the issues they have with feminism is that they see it as something like a lobbying group for women that merely furthers the interest of women without regard to equality; so they would be hypocritical naming themselves “men’s rights activists”. Shouldn’t they be “egalitarians” or “equal rights activists” or something like that?

              Me personally I don’t care too much who gets called what, mostly because I don’t really see myself as “aligning” with their group or with any group with an overly robust ideology. I just want equal rights and opportunities for everyone. Depending on who I’m talking to, that sometimes makes me a feminist and sometimes an MRA and sometimes neither. (I’m not trying to say I’m above the fray or anything like that, just that different people have different definitions for all these things and I can’t keep track of it anymore.)

              Also, I probably would like civil war reenactments but I live in the Pacific Northwest so that kind of sucks.

          3. Natalie*

            FWIW, there was and to a limited extent still is a feminist men’s movement that focuses on a lot of issues you raised, particularly custody and divorce stuff. My dad has been involved in such an organization for decades. You don’t need to align with the MRAs, who do nothing but whinge online, to work on those issues.

            (One of his many volunteer tasks is answering their general email box, and he gets a loooot of angry emails from people in the MRA arena.)

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              But like I said, I also don’t do anything but whinge online. I’m opinionated, yes, but I’m lazy, too. Though I suspect I would fit right in with your Dad’s group if only I could be coaxed out of my chair.

          4. Student*

            Folks like you really, really need to make a clear and concerted effort to separate 100% from the MRA umbrella. They are crazypants and want to push women out of the clubhouse. You are talking about legitimate issues that ought to be addressed. The problem is, the MRA crazypants brigade gets fired up at the thought of women playing roles in a remake film that were once occupied by men. They don’t get fired up when, for example, a presidential candidate makes an ignorant statement blaming women (victims!) for rape problems in the US military; as most of the US military rape victims are actually male, this should’ve been a prime moment to shine a spotlight on the issue of ignoring male rape victims – but they’re too busy rallying around infantile, crazy reactionary stuff to make a difference on important issues. As long as folks like you are sitting at the same table with the crazies, you won’t be taken seriously and you won’t see any serious resources get devoted to serious problems; the resources go to emotional, reactionary flashpoints, and base-riling.

            I’m a woman. I’m right there with you on these issues. I consider them feminist issues, because feminism is for equal opportunity, not dominance by either gender. A lot of these issues go hand-in-hand with getting women fair treatment, especially the rape-victims-not-taken-seriously problem. Even when they don’t necessarily benefit women directly, like getting equal treatment for crimes, they often benefit women indirectly (taking us as seriously as men in the field of crime would hopefully be a natural consequence of taking us seriously in general, making sure women criminals don’t victimize other women AND men benefits everyone).

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              Absolutely, many of them are crazypants. But I have been to their websites and their subreddits and blogs and I don’t believe that all of them are. So what you’re asking me to do, then, is to ignore sane people making good points just because they fall under the same large, disorganized heading as some other insane people saying stupid crap. If the one group of MRA’s over here are making excellent points about legitimate issues, I don’t want to dismiss them out of hand just because the other group of MRA’s over there are ranting on and on about gamergate (which for the life of me I can’t understand what the controversy was) and mansplaining to women about what mansplaining really means.

              In any group of people larger than a few dozen you will be able to point to dumb people saying stupid crap and doing stupid things in the name of their group. Feminists certainly have their lunatic fringe, too, but that’s no reason to ignore all feminists or all feminist issues.

              I’m not saying we should all buy MRA t-shirts and show up at the next rally. I stand by my initial statement that I consider myself a limited MRA sympathizer at best and not really an MRA. But I do hate the idea that many of the legit issues they bring up may get swept under the rug due to their association with the scummier elements of the movement, and I do think that the movement may be able to accomplish some positive things if they clean up their act (and, no, helping to tank the Ghostbusters remake doesn’t count). Since another poster was legitimately asking what MRA was I felt obligated to present the other side of things as best I could since no one else was.

          5. Yup*

            >> “Child custody and support, disparate treatment of male victims of domestic abuse, circumcision, the draft, huge differences in criminal prosecution and sentencing, rape against males being ignored, men being statistically much more likely to be murdered, killed in war, suffer workplace injury, or commit suicide […].”

            But… you’re lumping together issues under “discrimination” that 1) either aren’t at all the product of societal discrimination or, in fact, 2) are themselves the result of a male-dominated society!
            1) Circumcision – I’m honestly confused as to how this is fits in with “men’s rights” or discrimination. Are you suggesting that women enjoy a preferential treatment on this issue? That men are socially coerced into the practice? How is circumcision about men’s rights, especially when done to newborns? Whether it’s sound or not is one thing – but “discrimination” implies some kind of structural inequity that I don’t see existing.

            2) Men more killed in war.
            Yes – why? Because women were foe decades not considered fit to serve in the military and in combat zones. Why? BECAUSE OF SEXIST CONSTRUCTS about women’s roles in society. They weren’t ‘strong’ enough, or ‘valiant’ enough, or would distract men with their woman-ness, etc etc. That’s not the result of discrimination against men – it’s discrimination against WOMEN.

            You bring up a lot of issues here, and I don’t think it’s useful to go through all of them now, but I’d argue that what you perceive as men’s rights issues are in fact the direct result of disparate treatment of women / have nothing to do with rights per se.

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, the “more men killed in war” thing always gets a huge question mark from me because, uh, duh, obviously it’s going to be harder for them to get killed in war if they’re been barred from combat or even barred from the military completely.

              More workplace deaths is also a confusing argument to me because again, men get put in dangerous jobs where women have either been historically viewed as unfit because they’re too delicate to handle it, or where women have been chased out by the pervasive sexism in the workplace due to the nearly impenetrable “boys’ club” atmosphere and the expectation that enduring your coworkers being gross and rude to you is just part of the job. Some of those jobs have great pay and benefits – I’m sure there’s plenty of un(der)employed women who would love to join those professions (the Parks & Rec episode “Women in Trash” is one of my favorites for tackling this issue).

              1. Yup*

                Right, exactly – it’s interesting to me how the historical context becomes erased from these claims, in a present-ist blindness of “men are oppressed!” — where women’s rights are somehow cast as a zero-sum-game opposition to “men’s rights.” Which, again, misses all the historical nuance and understanding that explains why, say, men are killed at war (though I still struggle to see this as any form of “discrimination”) **as well as** why men continue to earn more than women for the same job.

                WHY? Because in both cases, men have been seen as the primary, normative citizens of society and women as its ancillary members — id est, women’s wages needn’t be as high bc it’s ancillary to the man’s in the family unit (bc men are the traditional head of the family). <– That's not my opinion, that's the historical development, laid down in legal, social, cultural codes, that gets us to where we are today. It's important to understand that. And yet, for all the women who DO try to join traditionally male jobs (to address only that aspect), they remain ostracized and discriminated against, as we hear in letters to this site over and over again.

                Putting claims such as those above into perspective really matters if we're going to have a proper discussion over "men's rights" and supposed discrimination against men. And in all cases — this isn't a men's issue: it's a societal issue about gender, relevant to both men and women.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        That’s hilariously awful. I hope she called him on it.

        (Googled it – Solnit’s friend that was with her called him out on it and it was deliciously awkward).

        1. AVP*

          Her essay about this (“Men Explain Things to Me”) is great, if you didn’t read the whole thing just now. I loved how she talked about how she didn’t want to call him out at first, because she was really wracking her brain to figure out if another major book on her obscure topic had come out and she’d somehow missed it. That insecurity (even though she’s Rebecca effing Solnit) rang sooo true to me.

          1. EddieSherbert*

            I did read through it – that totally stuck out to me too!

            Also this paragraph stood out:

            “One Christmas, [boyfriend’s uncle] was telling–as though it were a light and amusing subject–how a neighbor’s wife… came running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn’t trying to kill her? He explained… her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand….”

            What the what?!

            1. SarahTheEntwife*


              And if his neighbor really was having some sort of psychotic break (which seems less likely absent any other context), how is that an amusing anecdote either?

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        That is tremendous. Since she was responding to someone from the “National Coalition For Men” that reminds me of one of my all-time favorite Parks & Rec quotes: “Where are the ‘Male Men’? You’re ridiculous, and men’s rights is nothing.”

        1. LBK*

          I LOVED that line, and I was glad they got bold enough in the final season to say it so blatantly since I’ve found a lot of those types were attracted to the show by Ron Swanson.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            Agreed. And I am baffled by the red pill types who think Ron is One Of Them – it’s such a simplistic (and I feel misguided) interpretation of a fantastic character.

              1. LBK*

                I think you’d find that a lot of those guys also believe that they love “strong women,” but what they define as a “strong woman” is basically the “cool girl” stereotype (h/t to Gillian Jacobs for her brilliant description of that in Gone Girl) – someone who portrays more stereotypically masculine qualities like not being emotional, being handy, liking sports/video games, etc. They don’t want a “strong woman” who, for example, might call them on their shit if they make a gross sexist joke, but will rather be cool about it because she’s just so strong that it doesn’t bother her if her boyfriend is sexist.

  3. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

    BTW OP – since he’s also the type to make sexist, racist, and classist jokes, he’s probably going to react to you asserting yourself as though you’re the problem. Just a hypersensitive woman who can’t take a joke. Expect some cracks about microaggresions, PC culture, safe spaces and other bullshit.

    I’d start job hunting sooner rather than later.

    1. Sharon*

      Agree. Also, when you try to shut down his buttering-up comments (you’re so beautiful) he will accuse you of not being able to take a compliment and will act all offended. Don’t fall for it!

    2. Elizabeth West*


      I experience despair when I think how incredibly stupid people still are in 2016 about this stuff. Sometimes, it’s enough to make me want to flee to Mars–I’d rather live completely alone there a la Mark Watney and eat potatoes forever than be in the same room with them.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, even though Alison’s advice (as usual) is spot-on and really the only thing you can do / worth a try, I’m not optimistic about it getting good results. I’m sure he’ll just keep doing what he does and reframe it as “you’re overreacting.”

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        And it just becomes one more data point in his worldview that everyone is just too PC/hypersensitve and women just can’t take a joke or compliment. GOD. It’s so hard for him!

    4. Mazzy*

      Woh you’re mixing up a bunch of items there. First off, while sexism and racism are easier to spot, I think “classism” isn’t anywhere near as obvious or easy to root out. Think going to work drinks and getting in a conversation where someone mentions their house/car/vacations, and you have no equivalent to response, and the conversation falls flat. Or certain people not wanting to go to a dinner because they are not comfortable going to a play that is “too fancy.”

      These items usually get thrown in a bucket with the “microaggresions, PC culture, safe spaces and other bullshit” category and probably shouldn’t, because there have been cases in the media where “safe spaces” and the term “microaggressions” were taken too far (i.e. creating a “safe space” where one definitely was not needed).

      They are not all at the same level requiring the same level of seriousness.

        1. Mazzy*

          Sorry I was skimming at work and thought you said “same as” instead of “expect more” so your comment looked like you were saying “safe spaces” were on the same level racism, etc. which I don’t think they are.

          1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

            no worries – I figured you misread. I was saying that type of person who thinks it’s fine to make jokes like this is probably also the type who will respond with outrage about PCness being out to get him.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The OP says that the boss makes jokes about poor people. That’s where the reference to classism comes from.

        I’m not sure I understand the rest of the comment. You seem to be using “PC culture” as a slur, but I assume/hope you don’t think that being more aware of and willing to discuss discrimination against people in marginalized groups is a bad thing.

      2. Anon1*

        “Think going to work drinks and getting in a conversation where someone mentions their house/car/vacations, and you have no equivalent to response, and the conversation falls flat.”

        Please explain to us why failing at making small talk makes you a victim of classism. You don’t have to have an “equivalent response” to get through a conversation. Are you making the claim that it’s a slight against you for someone to talk about things that aren’t part of your life, or that you might have to ask a group to opt for a restaurant more in your price range? I cannot fathom how you intend to make that argument.

        1. anonderella*

          “You don’t have to have an “equivalent response” to get through a conversation.”

          I’m puzzled by your statement, and wonder if it’s just my social awkwardness shining through, as I feel I am *expected* to give equivalent responses to those who start conversation with me; it’s part of how I interpret every social interaction, as a social contract of which I endure the consequences for failing to generate apropos-tia. I make far less than anyone else in my office (front-desk worker), and am from time approached by coworkers who may be trying to make small talk, or bond/relate with me but I’m not able to meet them halfway on their topics because we simply do not operate within the same sphere of financial decisions; something that I think is informed by the social sphere/class to which you identify and strive to achieve success. I don’t go out for drinks with them anymore, either, because I have nothing to talk about with them.

          “Are you making the claim that it’s a slight against you for someone to talk about things that aren’t part of your life, or that you might have to ask a group to opt for a restaurant more in your price range?”

          I also don’t think Mazzy was arguing that that’s how those comments are always going to be intended/received, but that they are common methods to suss out information about someone’s class to be used against them.

          1. aeldest*

            Maybe it’s a regional or work culture thing, but your point of view seems highly unusual to me. I also make far less than anyone else in my office, but we frequently have things to talk about and enjoy going to happy hour sometimes. We complain about work and bad managers, we talk about pets and families, we discuss weekend plans, etc. I have a friend who works reception in a law office who has the same kind of relationship with her coworkers, so I don’t think it’s necessarily about formal vs casual fields either.

            I guess I just can’t even imagine a conversation with someone where I’m “not able to meet them halfway… because we do not operate within the same sphere of financial decisions.” If someone mentions problems with their car, I can talk about problems with my bike, or talk about my friend’s problems with their car. If their house sprang a plumbing leak, hey! So did my rental last year, that’s the one thing I like about renting, the landlord has to cover the expense of fixing it (even the richest person will agree). Even if I was talking to an extremely wealthy person who was, say, about to buy a boat (something I’ll probably never want nor be able to afford)–that almost opens up MORE conversational pathways. “Wow, that’s exciting! What did you look for in a boat, specs-wise?” “What lake/bay are you planning to take it out on first?” “My [uncle, last boss, friend’s dad] had a boat and loved it, though he had a [pontoon, kayak, fishing boat], not a [yacht, sailboat, motorboat].” “If I was going to buy a boat I’d want a pontoon because I’m scared of going too fast in the water!”

            I’ve never had the experience of someone trying to “suss out information about [my] class to be used against [me].” Definitely not trying to invalidate your experiences, but is there any chance your self-professed social awkwardness is making you overly paranoid?

          2. LBK*

            Hmm, this is an interesting perspective. I’m really not sure your expectations for conversation are calibrated right – I go on a lot of vacations (because I love to travel so that’s what I save my money up for) but when I talk about a recent trip, I’m not expecting someone to mimic back my exact topic of conversation by talking about a trip they recently took. That’s not really how small talk works.

            I can understand there might be some kind of frustration if you feel like it’s always being rubbed in your face that they’re doing things you can’t afford, but to feel like you just don’t have anything to contribute to a one-on-one conversation like that seems odd to me. I think you’re expecting too much of yourself! If all you did was watch Netflix all weekend while they were out in the Hamptons, so what? Talk about Netflix! I sure as hell talk about TV a lot at work, no matter what topic the other person has brought up.

            1. anonderella*

              Haha you’re completely right – I don’t think I realized how limited my perspective was until I said it.

              And I am 100% sure that it’s my weirdness, and culture differences between where I live now and where I’m from.

  4. anon.*

    I apparently have a VERY STRONG RBF or even a “f***-off” face when focusing hard on tasks. I used to work at an exposed desk (lowered cube-front, reception-style) and ALL THE TIME everyone would stop by and ask me, “…is everything okay?” every time I was trying to focus. So I had to learn to smile and say, “sure, just concentrating!” and after a while it mostly stopped. I’ve had to repeat in later workplaces.

    That is different than OP’s boss, who is a total jerkface. His comments are gross and he is way out of line and I hope you find a better job soon.

        1. Navy Vet*

          Ha! I was once told to look like I was having fun..

          I told them This IS what I look like when I’m having fun.

          They thought I was being a smart ass (Which does sound like me) and I got in trouble for it. :/

      1. Talvi*

        I am regularly tempted to get a tshirt from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop telling women to smile” project.

      2. LBK*

        There’s a line from Will & Grace where Gregory Hines’ character says “And for the record, this is my happy face” and makes a deadpan, stoic face. I think of it every time someone tells me I look angry.

      3. arjumand*

        You know, if you set up an etsy store and sell those you could make so. much. money.

        I would be first in line.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Yeah, same. The worst for me is actually an older lady who always tells me to “smooth my forehead so I don’t get wrinkles.”


    2. Maxwell Edison*

      My manager at ToxicJob cited my RBF as one reason I was put on a PIP. I started going around with a vague half smile on my face, which manager thought was great. I think she wouldn’t have been so pleased if she’d known I maintained that expression by pretending I’d had a glass of wine.

        1. Maxwell Edison*

          Well, this was the same job where I was “insubordinate” for saying that the Bad Idea being proposed probably wasn’t the best idea. I also got dinged for my posture (apparently when I walked around the hallways, I had my head tilted, which was bad for some reason my manager couldn’t quite explain – along with the vague half smile, I started pretending I was balancing a book on my head).

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            Oh my god, are you me? Did we work at the same company?

            My RBF got me dinged on my yearly evaluation and I was told I needed to walk more daintily instead of “striding with purpose” and almost written up for speaking up at a meeting that our clients most definitely would not like the idea being proposed (they did not like the idea).

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                Striding with purpose + Hot Coffee + floor full of cubicles = bad times. Speaking from personal experience here.

                Otherwise stride away.

                1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                  Well, yes. I also have to remind myself not to Stride With Purpose around blind corners or else I stride right into people.

                2. Jadelyn*

                  The exit and entry approaches to our kitchen/break room door are a blind corner and more than once I’ve had narrow misses with hot coffee getting everywhere. The running joke is we need to install a couple of those convex mirrors you see on blind road corners and stuff.

                3. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                  I am deeply appreciative that the entries to our kitchen/break area are wide open and very hard to miss people coming or going. Unfortunately, the entrances to the restrooms are in this weird blind recess in the hallway and that’s where I’m always getting into trouble.

              2. all aboard the anon train*

                I mean, the one downside is that I take corners too quickly and almost walk into people. But the manager who called me out on it said other people thought it made me intimidating and unapproachable. Which is dumb because that’s how I walk. I’m not going to force myself to learn to walk differently because it makes some people uncomfortable.

                1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                  Yeah, I 100% feel you on the corners problem. But that just means we should keep an eye out when going around corners! Your boss was totally out of line suggesting that a confidant walk makes you intimidating and unapproachable. I mean, GAH!

                2. Collarbone High*

                  As someone who has no leisurely gait (if i’m walking, I either have a destination that I would like to arrive at sooner rather than later, or am exercising and trying to keep my heart rate up), this makes me want to flip over a table in solidarity rage.

              1. Non-Prophet*

                Was she a model for petite clothing? Because otherwise, I can think of no reasonable or acceptable explanation for this.

                1. Maxwell Edison*

                  No, she works for some big corporation. And she isn’t even that tall (and I’m five foot two so everyone seems tall to me). Apparently her height made her too intimidating.

                2. Aurion*

                  WTF? What did those idiots want your friend to do, cut her legs off at the knees?

                  The stupidity is overwhelming.

          2. Trout 'Waver*

            I nominate Maxwell Edison’s boss for worst of the year. Gotta at least be a contender to get a PIP for RBF.

        1. Maxwell Edison*

          There were other reasons. Some were legit (I had been trying to leave the job for over a year and was not all that engaged with things any more) and some, like the smiling and the posture, were just ridiculous. I resigned before they could use the PIP as an excuse to fire me (they had done the same thing with a number of other employees, almost all of them women of a certain age – putting them on PIPs for vague reasons like “insubordination” and then firing them). Now I work as a full-time freelancer, so I can RBF to my heart’s content. :)

          1. Candi*

            they had done the same thing with a number of other employees, almost all of them women of a certain age – putting them on PIPs for vague reasons like “insubordination” and then firing them

            Okay… Older women, less attractive, more assertive, but not yet forty and protected?

            Not I’m suspicious or anything…

    3. The Grammarian*

      I look very serious when I’m focused, so I tell my tutees, “This is just the face I make when I’m reading (listening, writing, etc.). It has nothing to do with you or the quality of your work (ideas, etc.).” This was after a few students were concerned about my expression while reading their work. No one told me to do this; I just wanted them to be comfortable (like the clients in OP’s story).

      Anyway, no one should tell you to “fix your face” at work. It’s so offensive!

    4. MissGirl*

      There’s a movie where Annette Bening is walking through a cosmetic department and all the clerks offer her different things for aging. She’s says, breezily, “This is my face; deal with it.” I advise the LW to adopt the same tone and words for her boss.

    5. motherofdragons*

      I get this sometimes too. My face is frowny when I concentrate. I usually say “I’m good, this is just my work face!”

    6. Jersey's Mom*

      I also have my Dad’s face, and I frown when I’m thinking. A friend called me out on it years ago (I never realized that I had a thundercloud of a frown going when I was working on something). Now if someone says something, I respond “this is my ‘thinking hard’ face. You should see my ‘angry face’.”

      1. anonderella*

        “(I never realized that I had a thundercloud of a frown going when I was working on something).”

        Heh – novice guitar players tend to exhibit ‘Guitar Face’. You think you’re playing really – really- cool, and maybe you are, but your face is determined to mime out something resembling pain and woe, which, coupled with the locked-eye-contact that you don’t even realize you’re doing, definitely detracts from the masterpiece you’re attempting to eke out. It’s like your brain can’t both sustain publicly-apropos features and solve a puzzle at the same time, and thus becomes a conduit for the intellectual/emotional struggle taking place in your brain ‘spheres.
        You are also immune to these effects; your audience is smiling because they like it, right? : )

        I inherited my RBF from my mom, who was also a novice guitarist. Us playing together was like two grumpy cats, ‘singing the songs of our people’.

  5. Venus Supreme*

    This could have been written about my old boss. Also the head of a three-person company, also abundant with the sexist/racist/classist jokes, also made comments about my appearance (more along the lines of “you’ve gained weight”). Except I was the only female working there. And I left.

    OP, speak up! You don’t deserve to be treated this way.

    AAM is right: three-person organizations are rife with boundary violations and unprofessionalism. I would never, ever work for a small organization again.

    1. Chantel Hall*

      Oh my gosh, I want to cry knowing that someone said “you’ve gained weight” to you. I mean, I have always struggled with my body image and self-perception, and if someone said that to me I would lock myself in a bathroom stall and cry for the rest of the day! So glad you left.

      I worked in a pretty small company as well, and even though I never got gross comments about my appearance, there was a president (who has since taken a “forced retirement”) who would always make comments about how tough and aggressive the women in our office were when we did really normal things, like speaking up in meetings or pushing back at our bosses. So glad I left there.

      1. PlainJane*

        I know this is an old thread, but I’m catching up on my AAM reading and couldn’t resist sharing. Years ago, hubby and I visited my MIL. We knocked on her door, she opened it, gave me an up-and-down-look, and said, “You’ve gained weight.” Seriously. No greeting (for me or her son), nope. Just that. Fortunately I’m not very sensitive about body image, so I laughed it off. It’s family lore now and gets trotted out occasionally when we’re reminiscing about my (now-deceased) MIL.

    2. Isabel C.*

      Agreed. First full-time job out of college was for a guy who ran a business from his house with me, a friend of his, and a couple interns. (Also his wife. Who, BTW, was his third wife, and less than half his age.) I ended up staying until eight every single night because dude could not stay on task for five fucking seconds, acting as a babysitter/housekeeper when I’d signed on as an executive assistant, and getting constantly set up with the interns. Also the guy regularly didn’t wear pants.


  6. Nanani*

    When you move on from this job, do not be shy about spreading the word about this ass boss wherever you can – among your personal network, review sites, that sort of thing.

    He is a sexist ass and does not deserve a pass on it.

    1. Sophia in the DMV*

      I don’t agree because often talking bad about your employer – except to those with whom you are close to, just reflects poorly on you, even if it’s deserved

  7. addlady*

    I can see that you might have a hard time seeing how weird this is, if people have been telling you to do this before.
    But the fact remains, it is weird and it is definitely his problem, not yours. You have every right to act weirded out, because he should be embarrassed.

  8. sunny-dee*

    Overall, this boss sounds like a jerk, but something jumps out at me — clients are commenting on her RBF. That is a huge issue if she works in any kind of customer-facing role. My husband is in upper management and is trying to groom one of his GMs for promotion, but she has bad RBF. It’s a major point he’s asked her to work on — if customers walk into a store and it looks like the clerk / manager is glaring at them, it’s bad for business. Like, they get customer service complaints.

    If clients, who see the OP relatively rarely are commenting on her expression, that’s a really bad thing, regardless of how jerky or creepy her boss is. (BTW, this would also be an issue with a man. If it’s something like banking or law, where Super Serious Expressions are expected, then cool. But if it’s something like design work or insurance or real estate, where so much depends on personal friendliness, it’s a problem.)

    1. Observer*

      The OP mentions that she’s rarely dealing with clients, and when she does she generally DOES put her happy face on. In fact, she gets compliments on how warm and friendly she is. This is NOT a customer service problem.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I was meaning the part where she said, “If I lose my look and a client makes a comment….” That seems like it really could be a big deal to me.

        Look, the OP undeniably has a horrible boss. However, people in other working environments have been telling her for a decade that she has RBF, and clients comment on it to her right now. If someone were complaining about a different personal behavior — a distracting mannerism, chewing too loudly, talking on the phone too loudly, whatever — it would at least be worth considering that it’s something real that people are noticing.

        1. hbc*

          There are lots of things that people get repeated comments on that we don’t see as disqualifying for public-facing work. A coworker has Crohn’s and regularly gets comments about his growling stomach or his grimaces if he gets surprised by a pain wave. An ex-coworker had a birthmark on her hand that looked like a bruise and got inquiries about it all the time. Someone with watery-eye allergies probably gets asked if they’re crying.

          Someone sees OP’s smile turn to a frown, says “Oh, is something wrong?”, she says “Nope, I just have a face like Grumpy Cat,” and everyone moves on with a pleasant interaction. Yes, it’s something real that people are noticing, but that doesn’t make it actionable.

          1. Alton*

            I agree. It’s not like she’s actually showing displeasure and failing to moderate it well. This is her face. Sure, she can make a point to smile with clients, but it sounds like she does try to do that.

            I have a mild birth defect that affects my appearance, and I’m well aware that some people might find my appearance less attractive or see me as strange as a result. But even if it might be a barrier for me, I don’t think it’s *unprofessional* for me have a face that some people might find weird.

          2. Serafina*

            And there’s a world of difference between “You okay, Jane? You seem upset,” and “smiiiiile!” The former is expressing concern for the person herself, not her appearance, which is fine (assuming they leave off when Jane responds, no, I’m not upset, just thinking/working/etc). The latter is patronizing, unwarranted commentary on the person’s looks.

          3. Collarbone High*

            (sigh) As a fellow Crohn’s haver, I so wish people wouldn’t comment on the growling stomach. I can’t control it, it’s often painful and no, it’s not a sign I’m hungry. It’s a sign my body is struggling to handle one of the most basic processes of life, and it sucks and I’d really rather not have people constantly pointing it out.

            1. DelinahLoves HouseRabbits*

              I feel for both your physical and emotional suffering. It would be more empathetic to not mention something like a stomach growl, but unfortunately, our society is not very emotionally literate. People are always cruelly joking about hasenpfeffer (rabbit stew) when they learn I have rescued house rabbits as dear family members. Would they ask someone if they were planning to eat their child? Haha. Once in tenth grade, a teacher teased me about having “something on my nose.” It was an unusually large pimple. I was trying to be “good” and not pick at my acne, but he mortified me so much, I gave up on that. Is it so hard to just not comment? Best wishes. ////Bunny kisses for all!

        2. aebhel*

          RBF isn’t a behavior, though. It’s literally how a face looks. I have RBF because I have dark, heavy brows that are low over my eyes, and very thin lips. That’s how my face looks. Short of plastic surgery, there’s nothing I can do about it.

    2. AVP*

      I do wonder, and I mean this in the most genuine way possible, how do you groom someone on this topic? And would you groom a man in the same way as a woman, or does it only come up with women?

      1. sunny-dee*

        It does come up with men, actually, although from what I gather it’s a little different. Like, it’s less RBF, and more “you look scary / angry.” And there are other behavioral feedbacks that people get, too — not talking clearly or loudly enough, not making eye contact, talking too much.

        And the grooming is for a higher management position — so there’s a lot on personal and career development, completely unrelated to appearance. From what I gather, she’s a fantastic employee and he wants her to be able to go far in her career, so he’s working on management training with her. The RBF is just a minor comment for improvement, “you need to look friendly and approachable for customers.”

        In this case, they are in a retail / food setting, so they are interacting with customers all the time. If anyone seems to be in a bad mood, it’s off-putting to customers.

        1. Amber T*

          So what about his comments of “you look beautiful” when he’s trying to get her to do something, or breaking her concentration when she’s focusing on work to tell her to smile (not while engaged with a customer)? He’s certainly grooming her for something, but it’s not management.

          1. sunny-dee*

            No, this is a horrible boss, and I’m not saying anything but that.

            But he is not the only one making comments. There was another commenter on here who made a joke about trying to convince her husband that she isn’t mad at him because of her RBF … but that’s actually a real thing. My husband tends to look mad when he’s distracted, and it definitely affects how I act around him and how I feel (like, “why is he mad at me? what did I do?”). If customers walk into a store and the clerk looks upset, they’re less likely to linger or to ask for help.

            I don’t know how much customer interaction the OP has, but her customers are commenting on it and she then has to make a comment to make them feel better. Other managers and coworkers have commented on it.

            It may be a thing that she evaluates, says “yes this is a thing that exists,” and then decides she doesn’t care or it’s not significant and life goes on. Aces. I’m just saying that it is something to evaluate, because non-creepy people have been bringing it up for a really long time.

        2. Marty Gentillon*

          If he were attempting to grim, he would recommend something that doesn’t require smiling all the time. For instance, when someone walks up to you, look at them for a split second, then let a smile slowly come to your face. The message delivered is: it is so nice to see you that I have this smile especially for you. After this, they probably won’t mind the serious face so much.

        1. Amber T*

          Did we read the same letter? ” I make an effort whenever a client comes in (not often) and I am often praised for how friendly/kind I am to clients. I am a friendly person and customers always love me.”

          Her boss is 100% out of line. This isn’t about her customer service (which wasn’t called into question by her boss). This about her boss thinking a woman should look/act a certain way to please his male mind.

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            Re-read sunny-dee’s original post above. This train of conversation is about her personal anecdote about her husband coaching a direct report for a future promotion, not addressing the letter.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Why isn’t it RBF with the dudes? Why doesn’t he say “quit looking mean and scaring the customers” to women?

          1. sunny-dee*

            Well, RBF is a term and we don’t usually call men bitches? I dunno. I do know that he has counseled men on their interactions with customers for a variety of reasons, some of them for appearing mean or intimidating. (Funny enough, he also had one guy he had to coach for being too timid and not speaking up so customers could hear him.)

            1. neverjaunty*

              I understand that you’re probably feeling like people are unfairly ragging on your husband here, but there’s a problem when counseling about being negative having intimidating mannerisms is characterized as being “mean” in a male employee, but “you look like a bitch” in a female employee.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Um, I am not privy to my husband’s ACTUAL conversations with his subordinates. I am putting things the way he puts them to me, over the dinner table.

                The few conversations I’ve overheard on the phone are things like, “I’ve discussed her demeanor with X, and she understands that she needs to work on appearing friendly and approachable to customers and to work on her tone when dealing with staff.”

                1. sunny-dee*

                  Also, just to point out, my husband has a lot of gay employees. He would never call a female employee a bitch because it’s rude, but calling a male (especially a gay male) employee a bitch is a whole ‘nother problem.

    3. hbc*

      The problem is, the threshold for men seems to be “looking like I might jump across the table and strangle you.” The threshold for women is “dropping the illusion that talking to me was the most scintillating part of her day.”

      If OP has a chance to tell these clients, “Oh, no, not sad” and the overall interaction goes well, it’s not a problem, whether for her current job or the next step up. I don’t know a single CEO who’s never looked a little grumpy from time to time.

        1. The IT Manager*

          Oddly, I don’t think that it ever occurred to me until reading today’s letter that RBF is almost exclusively applied to woman.

            1. Gandalf the Nude*

              I see it directed at a lot of out gay men, which I think is another indication that the motivations are largely based in gender/sexual expectations.

              Although, now that I think about it, it all does seem to run parallel to the “scary black man” phenomenon where a neutral face on a black man is perceived as threatening.

            1. Brogrammer*

              Whoops! I didn’t see your comment and posted the same link. It’s a great article, definitely worth a read.

              1. anonderella*

                I can’t find letters that correspond to the sounds I’m making (it’s wild laughter) at your name. Awesome – I am using this for my techie-SO when he’s being dude-ly.

        2. John*

          Agree completely, which is funny because presentation trainers will often school middle-aged men on how they need to be aware that their neutral expression makes them look dour due to the effects of gravity. So why isn’t RDF an issue?

          1. Morning Glory*

            I think the rules are different for when you are giving a presentation or speech vs. sitting at your desk working.

            The OP talks about how she does train her face to look more friendly when she is with clients.

      1. Anon for this one*

        The problem is, the threshold for men seems to be “looking like I might jump across the table and strangle you.” The threshold for women is “dropping the illusion that talking to me was the most scintillating part of her day.”

        This is so well put.

      2. TheBeetsMotel*

        The “B” in “RBF” isn’t accidental. It’s there because women are expected to look pretty and sweet regardless of mood/what they’re doing, and men are not.

        1. sunny-dee*

          That’s kind of true and kind of not.

          Look, the OP has had numerous people tell her, for years, that she looks angry or upset. Another poster here says that her husband constantly thinks she’s angry at him because of RBF. (And this isn’t only for women — I actually have had the same discussion with my husband because he looks mad when he’s preoccupied.)

          Looking angry all the time takes a toll on relationships, personal and professional. We read more into body language and expression than we do into actual spoken language. It may be that once people get to know the OP, they can read her expression more accurately or that she is in a position where the minor impression of looking upset really doesn’t have an impact. That is a legit calculation to make. But I am just trying to say that if tons of people have brought this up, than it could be something to at least consider.

          And, yes, she has a terrible boss. And yes, women are expected to look pretty and happy and it’s not fair.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The thing is, though, that zillions of women have had people tell them, for years, that they look angry or upset. It happens to men, yes, but it’s far, far rarer. It’s disproportionately women who hear this, and TONS of women have heard it for years. It’s sort of like how women get disproportionately told that they’re pushy or abrasive when they’re just being assertive.

            Because of that context, it’s sort of like saying “well, you’ve heard for years that you’d look nicer if you put some lipstick on, so you may want to consider doing it.” Or dress more femininely / get a nose job / etc.

            When the thing you’ve heard for years is a super common sexist staple and happens to just be about the way your face looks, it doesn’t warrant the same consideration as one that doesn’t come steeped in that baggage.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Alison, ftw! (that’s my way of expressing gratitude for an eloquent and on point response)

          2. aebhel*

            Consider it and do… what, exactly? Get plastic surgery? It looks like she goes out of her way to be friendly and pleasant and provides a quick, pleasant explanation to customers when she accidentally drops the smile. That doesn’t mean she needs to be smiling daffily at her computer screen all day.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah. Men do get this feedback; the difference IME is that the bar for a woman getting it is lower. Like, I have a coworker who had to be told to actively develop a pleasant face at our annual conference, but it wasn’t just that he was not smiling or looking grim or something; he had an outright serial killer glare most of the time (despite being a nice person), and it was kind of scaring off the clients. In my experience, it has to be that bad for a man to get that feedback, and it’s unlikely a man with a poker face or mild frown will be told to look friendlier–a woman is way more likely to get it just for not smiling, even sometimes if her expression is otherwise neutral.

  9. Observer*

    Your boss is terrible. Speak up. Expect your boss to make YOUR fault. It’s not, no matter what.

    And, start looking for a new job.

  10. Katniss*

    Before someone waltzes in to say that telling someone to smile is nice and why would anyone be upset by it:

    Having your neutral facial expression criticized is not “nice”, and having someone basically tell you “what you are doing with your face isn’t pleasing to me, so please correct it” is basically being told “you are furniture to me”. It is not okay. It’s also sexist as it disproportionately happens to women.

    OP, I am so sorry you’re having to put up with this in your workplace. Your boss sounds like a jackwagon and an awful person. I hope you get out of there soon. Or, even better, the guy somehow gets fired.

    1. Allison*

      Gahh I’m so tired of the “I’m just trying to lift people’s spirits, people should appreciate that I want to spread happiness! I suppose such a kind gesture is frowned upon in this cold, isolated society, woooooe is me” garbage.

      1. Kelly L.*

        So much this!

        A fake smile is not going to improve your mood from the inside anyway. Didn’t they just disprove that?

      2. aeldest*

        One time I was waiting a stoplight downtown, with my “don’t mess with me or even make eye contact, extra strength downtown armor” RBF on. A (admittedly kind of sketchy-looking) dude came up to me and said, “why was the cross-eyed teacher fired?” I dubiously asked, “why?” He responded: “because she couldn’t control her pupils!”

        I smiled and chuckled, because I’m a sucker for bad jokes, and he said “everyone deserves a chance to smile!” and walked away.

        I thought that was pretty awesome on his part. A lot of people, when called out on their “smile!” commands, will say they’re just trying to remind people to be happy, but he actually put in a little effort to create happiness, and didn’t expect anything from it.

    2. chocolate lover*

      Agreed! I don’t get it often, but occasionally someone has told me to smile more. It does make me feel like they’re saying I should work on making myself more appealing to them.

      Though the time I got angriest was when a customer told me I should smile more – after she spent a good 5 minutes screaming and insulting me. I wanted to tell her where to stick that smile.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        Luckily, I don’t have people at work telling me to smile, but I do occasionally get it from people I walk by on the street or someone who sees me in, like, the grocery store or Starbucks.

        I honestly see no other way to interpret it in those situations – those people are literally seeing me for a maximum of five minutes and then usually never again, so I can’t buy the “oh, I’m just trying to make people happier” BS. So you thought telling someone you were passing on the sidewalk to smile was going to improve that person’s mood, really?

    3. Hlyssande*

      The last time I was told to smile by a stranger was on the third day of a local convention. I had an unhealed sprain injury that was immensely painful and could barely walk.

      He seemed surprised when I did not smile, and even more surprised when I pretty much growled at him.

    4. Daffydill*

      Yes, if you want to improve someone’s day, compliment them on something like their shoes or their purse. “I love your shoes” (with zero follow-up if the person doesn’t seem interested in talking to you) strikes me as a much more genuine way of brightening someone’s day than telling them to smile. I recently had to leave work and join my husband at the vet to put our cat to sleep. On the train ride there, I was crying and looking sad. If someone had told me to smile, I fear I may have punched them in the face. If they’d told me they loved my purse, I may have actually given them a little smile.

    5. SarcasticFringehead*

      Yeah, it’s essentially saying “you’re insufficiently decorative,” which is demeaning and gross.

    6. Lunch Meat*

      I don’t take public transit anymore, but when I did I got “Smile, it can’t be that bad!” pretty regularly. I’ve always wanted to stop walking and stare intently at them in confusion for several seconds, and then say, “Sorry, do I know you?” Then when they say no, I’d say, “Oh, I was confused about why you thought you know how bad my life was.” Then just stare for a few more seconds and walk away.

  11. many bells down*

    I am also a naturally frowny-face person and it’s *exhausting* to have to force your face into a different expression all day. I’m a museum docent who is supposed to look “approachable” while I’m in the galleries, so I have to do this sort of Mona Lisa face for hours at a time. I have no idea if it’s working or if I just look super weird, honestly.

  12. Chelsea*

    The last comment is so true. A huge bulk of the stories that Allison posts here come from people who work at tiny 3-person companies. I think there’s a real lack of accountability at these places with no HR and no means of reporting your boss to anyone that just brings out the ass in some people.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Aren’t super-small companies also not subject to certain rules with regard to discrimination or sexual harassment? Maybe I’m off on this (not a lawyer).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, at the federal level those laws kick in at 15 employees. Some states have state laws that kick in at smaller numbers (although it’s often five, so the OP would still be unprotected).

      2. MillersSpring*

        No. I’m not a lawyer either, but the size of the company impacts things like family leave. Discrimination and sexual harassment are verboten at organizations of all sizes.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Those companies may not be subject to federal (or in some cases state) regulation, but their size doesn’t make them immune from lawsuits, either.

            1. nona*

              If the company isn’t subject to federal or state regulation, what will be the cause for complaint of the lawsuit (assuming not a nuisance suit). If you don’t have a cause of action under federal or state law, good luck finding a discrimination cause in common law.

    2. RVA Cat*

      Could it also be that jerks self-select for these places? I mean, entrepreneurship and all that, but there are also people who start a business because they just can’t work for anybody else. I am also side-eyeing the fact his only employees are female and that OP is so young.

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        Yup. I think jerks do disproportionately start their own businesses – for several reasons:

        1. Often the people with the money to start a business are spoiled and used to getting everything they want and having people kiss their asses because of that money.

        2. A lot of egotistical jackwagons really want to be entrepreneurs because they wanna be in chaaarge and because they want the attention and accolades.

        3. Entrepreneurial culture glorifies pushiness, macho posturing, jerk behavior, and cutthroat competition.

        4. As you said, plenty of people start businesses because no one else wants them around.

        They’re not all bad, sure, but my experience has been… disheartening.

    3. Roxanne*

      Years ago, I was in a three-person office and I was so unhappy: the district manager (who worked for the landlord of the mall) was an arrogant man who didn’t realize he was a glorified real estate salesman who expected me to take dictation while he paced and then translate it; and there was my manager who help manage the malls (the property manager) who never knew what she was doing. There was no place to hide from these people and it was extremely obvious we were not getting along. I bailed after eight months and I told myself I would never work in such a small office again.

      Years later, I was temping in three-person office…and it was a wonderful experience with hard-working, respectful, dedicated people. No egos, no flying by the seats of their pants.

      It’s not the size of the office that counts: it’s the people in them and how they treat their staff.

    4. Chickaletta*

      Totally agree. I’ve worked in a few small offices and they are almost always worse than large companies. Part of the problem is that the owners see their business as personal income before they see it as a business and they make decisions based on this. For example, if an employee makes a mistake, the first thing they think is “how does this affect my take home pay?” before they think “how can I help my employee do better?”. Right or wrong, small business owners are always looking out for themselves first.

      I’m also amazed at how many of them don’t know how to run a business. Think about it: you don’t need a resume or a college degree to become CEO of your own company, all you need is start up capital and the motivation to start it. It’s one of the few jobs where you can have zero qualifications to be in charge.

      1. Isabel C.*

        Agreed. Also, people who start a business often do so because they totally love doing that thing and want to devote basically their entire life to it…and just kind of assume employees will be thrilled to do the same.

    5. Candi*

      The family-owned dollar store only had the owner/manager, me, and one other worker (which position was refilled four times in the 3 1/2 years I was there.

      The owner was the sweetest, kindest, most gentle person ever, and understood cash flow very well -but she did NOT know how to manage the rest of the business when I started, and still had trouble managing people two locations later. I could have gotten away with soooo much if I didn’t have this picky picky conscience. (/humorous)

      She finally learned with the daycare she opened a year later, especially how to put her foot down with clients.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m with you on this 100%.  To make matters worse, when I’m concentrating or mulling over a thought, my brow wrinkles.  I had an ex-boss, who was a lot more hostile than yours, constantly commenting on it.

    AAM is right in that you shouldn’t contort your face to make other people feel better.  You’re not responsible for your boss’s reactions to your face in its natural state.  This is also the case for your height, weight, hair color, skin color, ethnicity, etc.  When you’re “instructed” to smile, that’s what people are really saying, i.e., “take on the responsibility to make me feel better.”  (Men aren’t socialized to worry such emotional labor so that’s why they don’t get that suggestion.)

    Or you could do what the Broad City ladies do:  (Kidding.  Sort of.)

    In my case, my boss wasn’t someone you could take a direct approach with so I’d usually respond with, “That’s how my face is.”  Didn’t change anything though.

    Now if anyone could help convince my husband that I’m not mad when he insists that I am because of my facial expression, I’d be eternally grateful.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Haha, I just commented above -I do the wrinkle brow too. And one helpful older coworker loves to tell me to “smooth my brow so I don’t get wrinkles.”

    2. Vicki*

      My thought, which may not be helpful, would be to answer “I wasn’t angry, but I am now,” wait for him to ask why/what about, and tell him that you are angry because he keeps accusing you of lying about your feelings.

      “Are you angry?” or “is something wrong?” might have been a reasonable question, but after umpteen rounds of “I’m not angry, this is just my face,” you’d be justified in pointing out that you’re tired of being told that he knows what you think and he doesn’t.

      1. AMPG*

        “You don’t get to tell someone else how they’re feeling” is a sentence I say to my oldest kid with some regularity. I expect a kindergartener to take some time mastering this concept, but an adult should have figured it out already.

  14. rozin*

    That really sucks and I’m sorry you have to deal with that. Though I can’t help but wonder if after a request to “smile” someone gave the jerk the “Overly Attached Girlfriend” stalker/serial killer smile that they might back off. At least seeing their face of horror would be funny.

    1. Elizabeth*

      That mental image just made me crack up, thank you!

      I’m reminded of my older sister, who has a somewhat deep voice for a female. In junior high some dudebro on the school bus asked her why she talked so deep. She made her voice as high, fluting and sugary as possible and said “Because when I talk like this, I sound stupid!” That was the end of his comments.

    2. person, a*

      I have done something similar to this to strangers on the street when they tell me to smile. I kind of mechanically turn my head kind of sideways, like a doll with a broken neck and let the creepiest, dead-eyed smile I can muster creep across my face, and then ask “Is that better?” ….they usually leave me alone after that.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        I LOVE THIS. Tucking it away to use next time! (As a young woman, I KNOW there will be a next time…)

    3. Lemon Zinger*

      I have enormous eyes that sit a bit close together. When I’m faking a smile, you’ll know it. I look EXACTLY like the Overly Attached Girlfriend.

  15. always and forever anonymous*

    This is why I ignore “compliments” from men most of the time. Because they’re rarely genuinely and usually come before asking me to do something, asking me out, or just telling me how pleasing it is when I do X or wear Y or act like Z. Not to mention, giving these types of compliments can really mess with women’s heads in a lot of different ways or for a lot of different reasons.

    As for the smiling, if I’m in a professional setting, I always comment back, “Why don’t you smile?” or “That’s not polite to say” or “you’re making me uncomfortable, so please stop”.

    1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

      I was a day late to yesterday’s post, but I mentioned the Instrgram “Bye Felipe” – it’s really worth checking out. You’re right – those compliments are loaded. And if you flat out reject one, you can expect a barrage of disgusting, nasty responses.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I like Miss Manners’ approach.

      Guy: Smile!
      You: Why? Did something amusing happen?

      A stranger ordered her to smile when she was on a plane…coming back from a funeral!!!!!!

    3. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Street compliments are an enormous source of anxiety for me, because there’s just no good way to respond. I’ve found that a smile, inaudibly mumbled response, and continued rapid walk away is the best way to avoid follow-up, but then I feel like a loser for not shutting them down.

      1. sam*

        Even if you’re good at shutting that stuff down, and I’m generally happy to give a hearty “F*** off” to someone, that can also get exhausting.

        I wear giant over-the-ear headphones just about everywhere when I’m by myself. Even if I don’t turn them on, they’re like armor – I can, at minimum, ignore/pretend that I haven’t even heard what is said.

        If I’m actually listening to something, I usually ACTUALLY can’t hear most of what’s being said. Then I can also get indignant when some idiot tries to start talking to me in earnest – that’s usually the people asking for directions and such when I’m trying to catch a train.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          It really is exhausting and I’ve never been good at confrontation. I rely on headphones a lot, too. Of course, then there was that article floating around recently about “How to talk to women wearing headphones” and I just about cried. I’ve mostly convinced myself it was just an ill-conceived parody.

      2. Rana*

        Don’t! This shit is draining, and, sometimes, the best thing you can do is save your energy and not waste any more of it dealing with jerks than you have to. That exhaustion, I suspect, is a feature, not a bug, of how the patriarchy works, but, dang, just surviving it to kick butt another day is valuable. Berating yourself because you aren’t superhuman is what they want you to do.

    4. MeridaAnn*

      I’ve thought a lot about how to react to this stuff in the future, having been totally lost regarding how to respond when I’ve encountered it in the past. I’ve decided to make “Cool story, Bro!” my default response. Thankfully, I haven’t had a need to use it yet, but I feel better knowing that I have something at least vaguely witty prepared if I need it. It feels like the right combination of dismissiveness and sarcasm for what I want.

    5. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      The last time someone told me to smile, my response was “You know, when I woke up this morning, I thought to myself ‘I should smile all day to make sure the stranger I meet later finds me pleasing to look at.’ Then I remembered that I don’t give a fuck what you think and you should keep your unsolicited opinions to your fucking self. Now fuck off.”

      Now, that wasn’t in a work setting, because I very fortunately have not had this experience at work

    6. Isabel C.*

      Yep! I’ve had women (rarely, we don’t talk to strangers in my part of the world, and I am fine with that) compliment my dress/purse/choice of reading material. I’m always pleased and often glad to start a conversation–because I know it’s not the leadup to “wanna go out sometime?” and also that, should I not want to talk, the woman is way more likely to take a polite thank you with no further engagement as a hint.

  16. Serious Lady*

    I’m going to get myself a lapel pin that says “SERIOUS LADY”.

    I find that certain kinds of men find SERIOUS LADIES like me intimidating. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since I would be mostly unaware of it if I hadn’t been told by some of my male coworkers, who I am now quite friendly with. It’s just the face and sometimes, for me, the manner. I am not actually even remotely physically intimidating but I do tend to project “NOT TO BE MESSED WITH” and “TAKES NO CRAP”. Being a SERIOUS LADY can be an asset it played well.

    1. Tiny_Tiger*

      I will definitely agree that it can be a huge asset! I don’t really have RBF (my mouth actually turns up at the corners so I can look like I have a cheeky smile >.<) but I can definitely project the "Not to be messed with" vibe when out in public even though I'm only 5'2. It spares me so much unwanted attention.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      I think many of my coworkers see me as a SERIOUS LADY. I work in a fairly casual, friendly environment. Most staff are around my age (very young, relatively fresh out of college, etc.). I make an effort to project a serious demeanor at work, because I’m not interested in workplace friendships, after-work drinks, or dates.

      It’s honestly necessary for me to have this image. I’m serious about my career and I can’t let my baby face or young age hold me back. It’s exhausting.

  17. amanda2*

    I have the same issue, but not with a boss. People always feel free to come up to me and tell me to either a) smile more or b) talk more. Sometimes they will make very rude comments such as “You should talk more. Do you ever talk?” Ugh, I hate it.

      1. Nicole*


        Thank you! Why is it people think it’s ok to comment on someone who is quiet but not on the loud people who never stop yakking? And also, how come those same people aren’t aware of how much they are boring us with their non-stop chatter? I want to have a conversation with someone which includes back and forth dialog. I don’t enjoy being talked AT and will try to run away as quickly as possible once I realize that’s what is happening.

    1. SarcasticFringehead*

      In retrospect, I’m very proud of this interaction, which took place at my first job between 16-year-old me and my early-20s male coworker:

      coworker: “you don’t talk much, do you?”
      me, cheerfully: “nope!”
      [end of conversation]

    2. Marty Gentillon*

      Reply, in slight boring monotone: “You know that is an interesting subject, after all how much is the right amount to talk? Some philosophers say silence is golden…” after you drone on in in that fashion for a few minutes, nobody will make that mistake again.

    1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

      I’ve been amazed at how many men don’t know this is an issue. We were talking about it at work once, and all the guys were surprised to hear that it happens to women as often as it does. I told them to go home and ask their wives/girlfriends, and every one of them came back and affirmed what the rest of us had been saying.

      1. One anonymous user*

        Im a guy, and this just doesn’t click with me. What train of thought leads to the belief “Women should always smile”. You know yourself, right, and you’re not always happy, so why should they be? Having that second X chromosome doesn’t induce permanent happiness.

        1. ThatGirl*

          It’s the pervasive, deeply ingrained societal notion that it’s a woman’s purpose to bring joy, or peace, or do the Hard Emotional Labor of Keeping Men Happy, and that we exist to please others.

          Even as feminism makes gains, we still have to fight back against the idea that managing male emotions is a woman’s job.

          1. One anonymous user*

            Mhm. Must be a different circle then. None of my friends are like this. IIRC, women are just people with a different chromosome. There really isn’t a need to treat them significantly differently then men in the workplace or in private. I like to have the freedom to not smile when I dont feel like it, so why shouldn’t they too? I’ve never heard someone argue against this outside of maybe the owner of my company who is like 75 and even more old in his thinking…

            1. Tomato Frog*

              Eh, it’s not necessarily a conscious thing. It often manifests as interpreting a woman’s actions slightly differently than you would a man’s without realizing it. God knows I’ve done it, and continue to catch myself doing it, and I’m female and feminist. Thinking “I can’t possibly be doing that because I believe men and women are equal!” is one of the ways we propagate the effects of unconscious bias.

              1. KG, Ph.D.*

                Agreed! I’m also female and staunchly feminist, and I constantly find myself making assumptions about women that I would not make about men. During grad school, I got to know another female student, one who I’d assumed was stuck up or unfriendly. It turns out she is incredibly kind and friendly, she just has One Of Those Faces that makes her look like she’s in a bad mood. When I sat back to think about it, I realized I know LOTS of guys who have perpetually neutral or even grumpy faces, but I rarely make the same assumption based on that. The notion that women should be perpetually upbeat is incredibly pervasive, despite it not being explicitly stated.

            2. Gandalf the Nude*

              I don’t want to derail, but you seem like a thoughtful person who might want it pointed out to you that some women do, in fact, have Y chromosomes, and we should avoid inadvertently excluding them from these conversations.

              1. One anonymous user*

                I wasn’t trying to deliberately exclude anyone from the conversation, I just usually use this as a poinient literary alteration (like a figure of speech to not make me repeat “woman” 10 times in a paragraph) and had no idea that it was exclusionary in nature. Sorry about that :)

            3. ThatGirl*

              You are lucky if you really have no friends with deeply ingrained, subconscious sexist notions.

              My husband is an avowed feminist but even he catches himself and his friends sometimes in erroneous lines of thinking.

              If possible you should watch Master of None’s episode “Ladies and Gentlemen”.

              1. One anonymous user*

                If someone is continously sexist (conscious or not) then they probably won’t fit into my circle well. Several of my friends are feminists, and they usually make a point of telling people in a friendly way when their bias is showing, and it doesn’t seem to alienate other men in that context, rather, it helps understand when its happening.

                Sometimes it happens to me (and I couldn’t possibly know without someone pointing it out) so having someone spell it out is always a nice gesture.

            4. Sunshine*

              Of course they’re not going to “argue against it”. It’s so ingrained that most don’t realize that it’s sexist. It’s not a conscious thought of “She’s not smiling and it makes me uncomfortable so I must ask her to smile.” I think it’s more like “She doesn’t look happy, so she must not be happy. I will tell her to smile so she feels better, and then I won’t be uncomfortable.”

              I’m not saying it well, but hope it makes some kind of sense. But then, I have that extra chromosome so I probably shouldn’t try to explain how men work.

            5. TootsNYC*

              remember this: Your circle reflects your circle, and not the wider world.

              Also–the men in your circle don’t run around doing this.

              But the men who DO think that way, and who DO make those comments? They do it a LOT, all day long, every day of the week.

              And that’s why #everywoman. Because you don’t need “all men”; you just need a determined and vocal subset to make it something that happens a lot. Because they’re doing it over and over, to woman after woman. (And, of course, there are lots of women who think that way too.)

              In fact, our comfort at being around men who think like you is actually behind our growing impatience with guys like Ass Boss. We know it can be done–you guys are proving it.
              And now we want guys like Ass Boss to get with the program.

              1. One anonymous user*

                Honestly I would have no issues if more women started putting people like him in his place. When men try to fight bias its often dismissed as “You’re just being a white knight and trying to score some lay”. Its really difficult to break through to people that view everything through the gender duality lense.

                Because having sex is all they can envision doing with a woman, they think that everybody who is trying to break that stereotype is trying to score some lay or a wuss. The amount of times I got to hear “You just want to sleep with her” when objecting to men who are like 40 years older shamelessly catcalling some of my friends is mind boggling.

            6. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think most of us here are talking about implicit, unconscious bias, which most/all of us have, no matter how kind and well-intentioned we are. It doesn’t look always like sexism or racism in days of yore; it’s often more subtle. And it’s instilled in us by the culture and it’s the most difficult kind to fight, because so many people get defensive at the idea that they’re unconsciously biased, which of course then precludes them from taking the actions that would actually help things.

              It’s actually a huge problem when people deny they have any bias in them, even subconsciously, because that means that they’re not going to do the work to try to counteract that bias. We live in a society that socializes people to have bias; good people need to acknowledge that and learn about how they can counter it.

              The Harvard Implicit Bias Test is a pretty interesting thing for anyone who wants to explore this in themselves:

              1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

                I took the Harvard implicit bias test and was really distressed to find out that despite all my good liberal sensibilities, I have some serious racial biases.

                1. Annie Moose*

                  Yesssss, same, it really disturbed me when I took it a couple years ago. I’ve worked hard since then to be conscious of my biases, but it’s not like you just flip the “don’t be racist” switch and suddenly you’re perfect!

              2. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

                I took this once and was really dismayed to find out that despite my good liberal sensibilities I have a lot of racial bias. But I’d rather know about it than pretend I’m truly colorblind.

              3. One anonymous user*

                Its a more then a little shocking actually. I always thought of myself as really non biased when it comes to race, because the thought of that being a thing never entered my mind. Yet that test is presumably made by scientists who know what they’re doing.

                So how do I adress that? I don’t want to be the racist person…

                1. sam*

                  I think the most important thing is being aware. Once you’re aware of these biases, you can more consciously work against them.

                2. animaniactoo*

                  You can fight really hard against bias, but in the end, you’re always going to have some – it’s cultural conditioning.

                  The best thing you can do is be *aware* of your bias so that you are consistently doublechecking yourself in making sure that you are negating it in your actions.

                  Also, consistently picking apart the thing that leads you to that bias. This is a lot subtler, and it’s about thinking about what stereotypes exist and why. You really gotta dig in to the basis for the stereotypes you see bandied about, rather than just rolling your eyes and dismissing them when you hear one. Even a seemingly neutral one.

                  i.e. Group [x] all like watermelon. You see someone of Group X eating watermelon, and it almost automatically reinforces the unconscious bias that you have. Even though if you heard someone say “Group X people like watermelon”, you’d dismiss it out of hand as a racist thing to say.

                  Critical thinking path(s) – Okay, is it really true that all X like watermelon? Well, probably not *all*, almost no all of one group likes something. Is it limited to just Group X? Well, actually, no. Just about everyone I know likes watermelon. So why is it attributed so strongly to Group X? Does Group X actually eat more than most? If so, why might that be? Tradition passed down? Initial or current availability? What? Are there other groups known for what they eat? Well if I think about it, Italians are known for being really into pasta, but they’re celebrated for it, not looked down on. Why is this different?

                  If you pick apart the stereotype, you start to get to a point where you realize that the watermelon thing comes from a commonly bandied about image of watermelon and fried chicken and – ready for it? *laziness*. Shortcuts. Unhealthiness. Fried chicken = grease. But I’m pretty sure KFC is not limited solely to neighborhoods with high Group X populations. So it’s not really just Group X who likes these things. But by emphasizing those 2, which are, yes, popular, the implication of the negatives is passed along with it. Despite the fact that there is actually no specific correlation of those things negatives among either the general population or Group X. And in fact, making good fried chicken takes quite a bit of work thank you. Oh, and watermelon for dessert is actually a ton healthier than most things people have for dessert. But the stereotype is pervasive because A) You see Group X eating Watermelon! (gee, what a shock now that you think about it), and B) it’s hard to see what it’s serving until you really dig into it.

                  The more stereotypes you can run down and destroy the underpinnings of in your own mind, the less you are likely to be influenced by them going forward.

                3. Tomato Frog*

                  There’s probably literature on this, but things that have helped me:

                  * Asking myself Would I react the same if this person was white/male/American/etc.? I don’t always answer the question, because I’m not always sure of the answer. But I find just asking myself will often pull me out of my assumptions.

                  * Being specific about what I’m reacting to. So not just saying “Oh, she’s so mean” or “She’s really unprofessional” or even “She’s so poised.” What actions of theirs lead me to that conclusion? For example, I read a lot of Yelp reviews and I’ve noticed that often people say the service is terrible but when you pore over the review you realize that the only thing that they’re reacting to is that the black woman behind the counter didn’t smile at them. If you force yourself to enunciate what you’re actually reacting to, you can avoid falling into that trap.

                  Of course, it’s hard when you’re in a situation where you have to react/speak immediately. It’s all a work in progress.

                4. Turtle Candle*

                  In addition to what others have said about awareness–

                  I believe that one of the tentative findings of the study was that, while gritting your teeth and Trying Really Hard to not be racist didn’t have a ton of impact on the results, one thing that did work was people exposing themselves to positive portrayals of (say) black men beforehand. Like, reading bios of Martin Luther King or Langston Hughes or watching amazing black actors or athletes or etc. I have no idea whether that result bore up under further testing, but ever since I’ve made it a point to seek out reading material about amazing/interesting/etc. people who aren’t white. (Even if it doesn’t “work” to reduce implicit bias, hey, at the very worst I’ve diversified my reading, which isn’t a bad thing.)

                5. Candi*

                  I find two things useful in trying to keep bias at bay, even if I haven’t managed to shred it into itty pieces yet.

                  Everyone gets a base line of respect. Every individual person. Whether they gain more or lose it is on their individual actions. For me, this keeps the focus on the person and not their bloodline or other uncontrollable factors.

                  Everyone is a person and deserved to be treated with basic decency. If I treat or think of an individual otherwise, it will be because of what they did, not because of where they are from.

                  The exposure to positive portrayals would explain a few things about how I think. My first exposures to all kinds of not-white-middle-class stuff was through books. Including biographies. Helen Keller (and Anne Sullivan), Mahatma Ghandi, Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, Dr. Vivian Thomas, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, and a host of others. Strong, capable, intelligent people who stood up and faced down opposition and trials, and accomplished great things.

                  I am also firmly convinced that prejudice and bigotry hold back the human race, not just socially, but in hard advancements that are ignored or never developed because of the body holding the fantastic mind.

              4. aeldest*

                The Harvard Implicit Bias Test was a little saddening and very enlightening. It has definitely made me more aware of how I unconsciously react around people of other races.

                On a slightly related note, I always feel extremely awkward when walking past black men because I never make eye contact with them and I feel like I’m making them think I’m racist when it’s really just social anxiety and in reality I don’t make eye contact with ANYONE I walk past.

              5. ThursdaysGeek*

                I’ve taken that a couple of times and was surprised that it didn’t show me as having any racial bias. Because I assume that, even with trying hard, there is some bias I don’t know about.

            7. CEMgr*

              “…women are just people with a different chromosome…”

              Or, think of saying it as, “…women are people with chromosomes…”.

              Because, when you say “different”, you have perhaps unthinkingly posited male chromosomes as the norm, female as those with 1 difference.

          2. animaniactoo*

            I’d like to push back on this some, because I DO believe that women are socialized differently then men and it’s a soapbox issue for me on a regular basis – but I don’t think it’s fair to attribute it to “for men”.

            It’s not “for men” – it’s for children, for old people, and for other women too. Women are socialized to be the social grease that makes life run better for all of these people, regardless of gender. To be pleasant and make life smoother, by being responsible for, oh, 90% of the Hard Emotional Labor. It’s why service positions have categorically been female-oriented, and a primary reason why men take flack (less lately) for wanting to be nurses, flight attendants, receptionists, kindergarten teachers, and so on. Because the patience and sensitivity required for such positions are things that have been assigned to women to learn and deal with, while there is an expectation that men don’t do those things as well (or want to) and if they do they are somehow less than a Prime Speciman of Manhood™

            1. TootsNYC*

              I agree with you!

              And that explains why some women do the “smile!”

              I think there’s also the idea that, for anyone, if someone is frowning, it’s some how your problem. If people could see that it’s respectful, actually, to let people deal with their own moods, it would be a good thing.

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        My husband managed to make it to his early 30s before learning that yes, randos (mostly male) will approach strange women on the street and tell them to smile.

        1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

          I think it’s because they’d never do it when you’re with another guy. So most men never see it happen.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            Oh, for sure. Weirdly, the two of us got yelled at a few nights ago when we didn’t acknowledge a greeting from some random dude walking on the other side of the street. I can’t remember anything like that happening when I was walking with a man other than one of my college boyfriends who had long hair so people would yell homophobic stuff at us sometimes.

          2. Jax*

            My boyfriend was shocked when I told him I had just got catcalled on the way to meeting him. He said “That NEVER happens when I’m around.” And I gave him a “are you serious” look and said “well, it wouldn’t, would it.” I know he knows that catcalling is a thing, but I think he honestly doesn’t think it happens often because he doesn’t witness it.

    2. Maxwell Edison*

      I’ve actually gotten the “you need to smile more” from women rather than from men (I’m female despite the male user name).

  18. Allison*

    In my first job, we had monthly “goals meetings” instead of annual performance reviews, and in one of mine my manager said I needed to greet people with “good morning” instead of just “morning.” Same guy who told me I needed to sneeze more quietly.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Anyone telling me that would forever-after get to deal with my “answer the company phone, it might be a client” voice.

      Which is so incredibly perky it’s painful. I mean, to the point that when a project manager called me one morning with a question and heard that, she said it was too early for me to sound that cheerful. (My reply, in a normal tone of voice, was along the lines of, “Oh, (name), it’s you. Good, I’m not sure how long I could have kept that tone up.” We had a good laugh.)

      1. Jennifer*

        Hahahahah, I have one of those too. I get complaints about my voice no matter how I speak at this point, but I’d rather get “that’s too much perky” than “you sound rude and like you don’t want to help me.”

    2. sam Conklin*

      I too have a RBF. My problem is one of my employees continues to remark on it, even though I have told her not to. I can’t stand the “smile” comment.

      The last straw was the other Friday, when I had major headache, so I’m sure I looked ever more bitchy. I answered the “smile” comment with “follow me.” We walked into the closest huddle room (about the size of the broom closet, with a table and three chairs) and repeated my response of “I have repeatedly requested that you not tell me (or anyone else) that. What will it take to remind you not to? I’m thinking of a written warning. ” She paled and said she was not aware that it was that bad. I just stared at her (remember, headache). She apoligized and we closed the meeting. No more comments though. I think I finally got through to her.

  19. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    RBF works better in some fields than others. I have it, but I’m a lawyer, so being serous and formal is actually a good thing.

  20. AshK123*

    Is this really a three person company though? The OP just says that there are only two employees under her boss. I took that to read that she was in a three person department – not a three person company – and overall her company was pretty small.

  21. One anonymous user*

    My Boss is like this,

    I’m a guy, so I don’t get to feel this, but my company’s owner only hires good looking women (for men looks are irrelevant). According to his standards, he only hires women he would also have an affair with.

    They have to put up with him being flirty all the time, and responding negatively to it will get them fired.

    Needless to say, I don’t like my boss that much.

    1. NotASalesperson*

      Wow. I hope multiple people file lawsuits due to retaliation against addressing sexual harassment concerns.

      1. One anonymous user*

        Would probably be well founded. He’s been known to go in for unconsensual feels on the younger female employees often. Most people here hope he’ll retire soon, since he has some seriously vile opinions on refugees and people of color, too.

            1. Purest Green*

              I’m having a difficult time not being angry that nobody is reporting this crap. I feel deeply sorry for these women.

        1. Student*

          When you see a crime like this occur, you have standing to report that crime to the police, even if the victim doesn’t report it herself. Having one guy say they saw a man assault a woman is, unfortunately, worth the testimony of about three women saying they’ve been assaulted – so you have the ability to make a difference to these women in a way they don’t have power to do by themselves.

          1. Candi*

            Check your laws. City, county/parish (LA), and state. Look at what the ordinances and such have to say.

            The council of the county I’m in got ticked off at the state penalty for managers and employers who refused to allow employees to file personal police reports for crimes that happened on company property/time. Particularly violent crimes. State was “obstruction of justice”, slap on the wrist, rarely prosecuted.

            The council passed an ordinance. In this county, preventing an employee from making a report -including by threatening their job- is punishable by 90 days in jail and/or $5,000 fine. (Might be $10,000 now, if that passed.)

            Retaliation is covered under state laws.

            It’s not perfect, but it does give (primarily young women) assault victims something to lean on.

            A rather interesting effect was two managers at different convenience stores that lost their jobs; apparently the conviction meant they were ineligible to work for the company. (Both were local news.)

      1. One anonymous user*

        That isn’t the only reason I don’t like him, but it seriously rubs me the wrong way. One of the other reasons would be that overtime doesn’t count here (despite that being technically illegal) and his “Its only strict time if its in the company’s favor” position. So if you arrive 8.01, thats a demerit and 30 min unpaid mandatory overtime, but if you work like an hour late, sorry that time is donated to the company.

        1. Temperance*

          You know that’s super illegal, and something you can report and potentially get compensated for, right? DOL would be interested.

          1. One anonymous user*

            In theory we could sue (this isn’t in the US), in practice you mention Unions or Employment law in his earshot, and you get “terminated for cause for performance problems” a week later, and a super-turbo-shit reference to boot. Its not worth it.

    2. Aurion*

      …what, is good looking enough to have an affair with part of the job description?!?!

      Gross, gross, gross. Ugh. I am making such a face at my monitor right now.

      1. One anonymous user*

        No, he’s just old and really really macho-type to an extent where he likes to delude himself into thinking that he could get all these women on a whim if he wanted to. He also has an intense dislike for non-attractive women (not men) for some reason. Anyways, he’s close to retirement so hopefully that won’t be an issue for much longer, the rest of my coworkers are actually decent people.

    3. neverjaunty*

      You absolutely get to feel this. And you may want to take those feelings to a lawyer. Even if your boss isn’t hitting on you, you’re working in a harassing environment, and possibly one where your own career is negatively affected by the fact that your boss doesn’t want to sleep with you.

    4. oranges & lemons*

      Oh, I had this boss too. As a bonus: his wife was the co-owner of the company and she was the one who had to vet the women for attractiveness. He also made me do his ironing for him and shine his shoes (this had absolutely nothing to do with my job).

    1. justsomeone*

      That doesn’t mean I should be told to smile! I might be in a fine mood, but if I’m working I’m not necessarily going to be smiling. A neutral face is just a neutral face, even if it is perceived to be angry. Telling me to smile isn’t going to improve my mood, even if I do smile.

    2. Marisol*

      Yes, possibly (there is debate about whether that notion is actually true, research cited above notwithstanding) but whether or not someone wants to feel happier from smiling is their own business, not for someone else to decide. Someone who tells someone to smile is effectively dictating that person’s behavior and emotions, which is not appropriate.

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        Exactly. A stranger/boss/coworker isn’t my therapist and doesn’t get to help me with my feelings.

    3. Manders*

      I think you’re confusing an expression with how people’s faces naturally rest when their muscles are slack. Some people’s lips turn up slightly at the corners when they’re not flexing any muscles, but it’s not the same physiologically as a smile.

      Most people have a neutral expression when they work. OP’s neutral expression just happens to be one that her boss is misreading as a frown.

    4. Allison*

      So? Even if this is true, it doesn’t justify telling people to smile. There’s a difference between coaching someone’s overall professional attitude, and nitpicking their facial expressions while they’re at work.

    5. TootsNYC*

      yes, but I don’t want to be happier when I’m concentrating on the TPS report!

      I want to see a study of whether frowning or furrowing your brows, pursing your lips, etc., makes you better able to do a task that requires concentration.
      Or whether smiling while you’re doing a detail-oriented, complicated task makes you mess up more.

    6. sam*

      I’m sure they do.

      I mean, my own emotions start trending towards “homicidal” when some asshole insists that I smile.

          1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

            God, calm down. :D

            (I had to explain to my husband that telling me to calm down when I’m spun up is like trying to smother a fire with liquid oxygen)

  22. Milla*

    My favorite response to give to being commanded “Smile!” is, without changing my face and in a pancake-flat tone, saying: “Smiling is a reciprocal activity” and continuing on.

    If I am super pissed, “activity” is replaced with “social interaction.” And if I hate them, something about “ritualized anthropological greeting exchanges, wherein you have not offered the correct initiating gesture” gets crammed in, but I’ve only ever gone that far once.

    The statement tends to baffle people into shutting up.

    Later, after they’ve parsed it out, they usually figure out that I was not smiling because they were not smiling, and correct themselves to offer smiles in greeting first from then on. Or else they leave me alone because I might say something they can’t understand again, which is also good.

  23. DeskBird*

    There is a bit in the movie A Million Ways to Die in the West where they are laughing about a guy they had heard of that was smiling in a photo – and how crazy he must have been. They point out that it takes about five minutes to take a photo back then – five minutes where you can’t move at all. In order to smile in a photo you would have to hold it for a super long time – so he would have to be crazy. It’s a good way of pointing out why everyone looks so very serious in old photos. It is also a good way of illustrating that if you just sit there smiling all day you look like a loon. I’m tempted to recommend a passive aggressive route of just doing your hugest Joker on batman type smile every time you see your boss – but that would probably only work if you were on very jokey terms with him. If you want to go softer I might try something like “When you tell me to smile – it makes me feel like you don’t like the look of my face and it makes me feel worse” in a somewhat worried-a-little-hurt tone. It probably won’t teach him that he is wrong to do it – but hopefully will make him uncomfortable enough to stop.

    1. Retail HR Guy*

      Actually, the long exposure explanation is a bit of a myth. The long exposure times were only for extremely early cameras and the not smiling persisted well beyond the adoption of better cameras with quicker exposures. The real reason is that people back then thought that smiling in a photo made you look silly or undignified. They wanted their photo to look like a painted portrait.

      So it’s a cultural difference between us and our great-great-grandparents. (In fact, there are some parts of the world in modern times in which smiling for the camera is rare.)

      1. Liz W.*

        Came here to say this and even early portraits only required a max of 30 seconds on a bad day. The 5-15 second exposure time just feels like forever.

        Proud owner of a super frowny RBF and a great collection of 19th Century photos with smiles: they were just a little quieter about it.

      2. Elsajeni*

        I’ve also heard the explanation that most people wouldn’t get to have a LOT of photos taken of themselves, so of course they’d treat it more like a special, formal occasion — it really would be a bit like a painted portrait, at least in terms of how often you’re likely to get to have one made.

        1. Kelly L.*

          And that’s also why they’d pose dead people in the pics too. Cousin Anne died? Welp, better prop her up in the pic anyway, we never got one of her when she was alive.

  24. girlonfire*

    Just commenting to add my personal experience. When I was in high school working in a store, my (male) boss would always make “jokes” like “Stop looking so happy to be here!” if I was just making an at-rest face. Finally, one day I just responded, “Dude, that’s just how my face looks.” He never said it again.

    We had a pretty friendly rapport, and I don’t think he said those things with any malice or anything, just joking with me. So I was able to say that to him in a lighter tone and in a friendly way, but he still got the picture.

    Not everyone would get the message, I guess, but wanted to throw out a possible way to address it that’s in the moment and can feel more low-key than addressing it as Alison suggested. And if it doesn’t work, you can still ramp up to the script she used! Good luck!

    1. aeldest*

      “that’s just how my face looks.”

      My mom had to say this once. For a good 6 weeks in a row, every time my mom took my brother to his gymnastics class, the teacher would ask “are you okay? You look so tired!” Finally my mom snapped and said “You’ve asked me that for almost two months now, I guess that’s just what my face looks like.”

  25. Tiny_Tiger*

    Ew, ew, ew, and more EW! Creeper red flags are waving around this guy like crazy. It might just be because I’m allowed to be a slightly toned-down version of my cynical and sarcastic self at work, but my first response to this if my boss said it would be, “But that would indicate I’m actually happy about something. Currently I’m not, I’m working.” As far as the buttering-you-up compliments before asking you something, I’d just automatically revert to “What do you want me to do this time?” in a highly annoyed tone the instant he brings it up.

    Serious note though, is there no one above him that you can go to? That would be my first stop as I also work in a small office where there is no HR readily available.

  26. Amy*

    I (female) have had my (female) boss tell me to smile more. Our department was going through a somewhat difficult time, and she commented that I looked too serious during our annual company meetings. I don’t know if I have RBF, but I definitely don’t smile unless I am truly jubilant. It doesn’t mean I’m UNhappy if I’m not smiling – I’m generally neutral. I’m in a management role, so I’m not sure how to feel about it.

    1. espeon*

      My female manager once told me to use more emojis in my written communications so that my tone appeared warmer… even though I write the same way as my male counterparts.

      1. JennyFair*

        Oh, I had that from SOOOO many people, including one trainer who said that smile emojis were like condoms for conversation, ‘you use them just in case’. And so I did it, but it didn’t dispel the impression I gave of being, well, a woman with more opinions than women should have.

  27. Grey*

    Men just don’t seem to tell other men to smile.

    No, but I hear it from women all the time, usually ones in service positions like cashiers or waitresses. My eyebrows naturally slant downward which, apparently, gives me a sad-looking natural expression. Call it “resting sad face”.

    I only hear it from women: “What’s wrong?” or “Smile!” or “Your day can’t be that bad!” It’s pretty annoying to hear that when I’m actually in a pleasant mood.

    1. Marisol*

      This is very interesting, as I have never heard of men getting this treatment. Although, I am sorry you have to deal with it too.

    2. Rana*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the effect of the caretaker expectations we have for female service staff. The waitress who says things like that (to men) tends to get better tips because she comes across as more caring than those who don’t.

  28. Fire*

    As someone who had RBF emotionally beaten out of me as a child and compusively smiles at all times, don’t give in OP!!! I don’t really know how to respond to anything facially except to smile and it’s weird and causes a lot of problems. Smiling in response to any and all emotions is not great.

    Like, granted, this is from a combination of autism and less than stellar parents and being Raised In The Church so you probably won’t quite as bad as me, but still.

  29. Catabodua*

    It’s not for everyone, but I have trained myself to respond to “Smile!” comments with a command back at them. So, when you get told Smile! I reply “Sit!”

    When the person looks confused I just say “It’s annoying to get ordered to do something by a stranger, isn’t it?”

    Just a warning for you to be prepared if you go that route – the vast majority of the time I’m then insulted about my looks or weight.

    1. animaniactoo*

      “Well I don’t think you’ve got much ground to stand on there, but at least I was polite enough to keep it to myself and not assume it was my job to tell you to do something about it.”

    2. Nicole*

      Isn’t that typical? They’re the ones being rude but once you put them in their place instead of apologizing they get even more rude. SMH

      For what it’s worth I am impressed with your moxie. The older I get the closer I creep toward responding what I’m really thinking instead of keeping my mouth shut just to avoid an argument.

      1. Marty Gentillon*

        The real problem with that is: 1) once the argument starts, most people can’t hear you, and 2) many of these people enjoy an argument. A better reply is to make them incredibly bored in an unexpected manner. Figure out what their statement assumes, and compute about it in a monotone. In this case, something like, “it is interesting how society determines how much you should smile based on you autonomy, after all, what is it about…” make sure you don’t let them interrupt, if they try it, ignore their attempt. After 30 seconds of this, they will rue the day they challenged you to a bore fight.

      1. my two cents*

        I usually only have the reaction time to let my face squish up into disappointment and let out a tired-but-full-volume “stop” or “just stop”.

    3. Natalie*

      This is great. And I’ve been carrying around a clicker since my dog and I are training, so if they did sit they’d get a click and a dried beef liver treat!

      1. Hlyssande*


        Since they’re asking you to perform for them, they ought to do the polite thing and reciprocate, amirite?

        1. OldAdmin*

          I have actually had male colleagues treat me like a dog at my company!
          As in when the various dogs lolling around at our daily (standing) check in meeting did not react to the toy waved at them, said colleagues turned to me, waved the dog toy “Hey, OldAdmin, fetch! That’s a good girl!”

          I always gave a cold, flat stare.
          “Haha, don’t have a lotta humor, huh?” (this still in the full meeting)
          Me: “Nope!” *keeps staring*
          This went away after a couple of tries, but man, what a hateful feeling.

  30. animaniactoo*

    A variety of tactics available – I tend to find it’s good to mix them up if I don’t want to be *too* pointed about the fact that I think the other person is generally a jerk.

    I don’t have RBF, but if I did, these would likely be among my replies to “Smile!”

    Initial assertion:
    “It’s hard for me to smile and focus at the same time, so I prioritize focusing unless I’m talking to someone.”

    Followups when instruction is repeated:
    “I’m smiling on the inside. You can’t see it.”
    “I was waiting to see how long it was going to take you to say that to me.” – completely deadpan, not smiling at all.
    [confused look] “Huh? I was focused on [__] project. Did you need something?
    “Frown!” – and in fact I would go for this if the smile instruction is repeated so that it becomes a ridiculous game – you’re not getting me to do something with my face unless you’re willing to do what I want you to do with your face. “If you frown, I’ll smile. Or we could just move on now… what’s up?” – but I would literally actually follow through on smiling if he frowns.

    For the jokes: I like confusion as a tactic.
    [inappropriate joke]
    [confused look] “I’m sorry, I don’t get it.”
    [confused look] “No, I understood the point of the joke, I just don’t get why that’s supposed to be funny.”
    [more confusion] “Wait, it’s supposed to be funny because women are all [___]? Do you really think that?”
    *If it gets this far – usually people will back way off when they have to support and expressly spell out the sexist/racist/etc. underpinnings of a joke.

    And then there’s the “moving on” callout.
    [inappropriate joke]
    [dry as dust, raised eyebrow] “Really? You’re going there?”

    Because you will be told you’re too sensitive/don’t have a sense of humor/etc. – Own the hell out of “not having a sense of humor”. Shrug and “I do, I just don’t find those jokes funny.” Or “Nope, not really. Is it okay if we move along now?” Too sensitive? “Maybe, but I would prefer that you don’t make those kinds of jokes around me.”

    On mansplaining, my favorite is “Pardon me (or “I’m curious”), why do you think I don’t know this?” “blah blah blah reasons” “Actually, I happen to have done a 2 year course in teapot thermodynamics. I check the Teapot Science website every few months to see if there are any new discoveries.”

    1. animaniactoo*

      Oh! And the compliments:

      [calm, completely neutral] “Thanks, what’s up?”. Treat it as a normal compliment, accept it, don’t act happy over it or annoyed over it, just – don’t give him any room to play with it either way.

      Gradually move over to “Uh oh. You only say that when you need something big. What is it?” – and tack on some “afraid of incoming” side eye if you can.

      1. Marisol*

        I like the deadpan “thanks, what’s up” line. It suggests you’re totally unfazed by what was said and that the speaker has no “power” over you.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I don’t even say “thanks.”
        I just say, “What’s up?” or “What can I help you with?”
        Exactly as if they’d walked up and said, “Excuse me”–except no, not exactly. I’m significantly less friendly and welcoming, while still being pleasant and businesslike.

  31. Photoshop Til I Drop*

    OP, I would put on a crazed Joker smile for a day or two, just to see what your boss does.

    I tend to scrunch my forehead when I’m deep in thought. When a manager commented multiple times that I should smile, my response was “I scowl when I’m thinking. If you want me to stop thinking at work, I’m going to need that in writing.” He stopped.

  32. E.R*

    I had a colleague who liked to tell me to smile in the morning when he came into work (instead of “hello”, I guess?) I tried a bunch of responses, and the most effective was “no”. Day after day, he would tell me to smile, and i would say “no” and continue on with whatever I was doing, and he eventually gave up (after ironically moping for a long time… Smile, co-worker!). I wanted to sit him down and explain how sexist his behaviour was, I kind of wish i did, but I had important work to do. But he quit (for unrelated reasons of course), and I’m happier.

    I could go on about the frustration of a lifetime of being told to smile by the face police, but I’ll just say – feeling you, OP.

  33. AcidMeFlux*

    Take advantage of Halloween candy season and get yourself a nice big set of wax teeth for a smile he’ll never forget.

  34. JustAnotherHRPro*

    Can we please stop with the “resting bitch face” moniker? its soo condescending. (not a commentary on the OP. just a general social observation)

    1. Manders*

      Eh, I think it’s fine when people choose to use it to describe themselves. I wish there were a similar term for the opposite problem–when you have a face that looks open and friendly even when you *want* to look angry or unapproachable. I’ve had a hard time coming up with an equally succinct way of describing that.

        1. Manders*

          I like that!

          My partner calls it “drug smuggler face” because I look so innocent that I’ve gotten away with things like accidentally wandering through a TSA checkpoint without being scanned. My mom calls it “directions face” because strangers on the street will always ask the least threatening looking person for directions.

          1. Rana*

            Yeah, my mother has an “interested” face, that leads all kinds of random people to unload their life histories, medical details, etc. on her when she’s standing in lines and such.

            1. Meri*

              Same here. Why, yes, complete stranger, please tell me all about your problems with your daughter/mother/ex/doctor! I’m certainly not trying to enjoy this book I have right here or anything!

      1. Collarbone High*

        I call it my “tourism bureau face,” because apparently I look like I know where things are, and no matter where I am in the world, people ask me for directions.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I apparently have “bus schedule face.” I’ll be waiting for a bus, minding my own business, and randos will be like “Do you know when the bus comes?” Argh! There is no “the bus.” There are like six different buses that stop here, and I only know the schedule for the one I use. I ask which one they’re waiting for, and they don’t even know. They’ll tell me where they live, in really granular detail. Because I totally know which bus will get them closest to a neighborhood I’ve never heard of in a town I don’t live in. I recommend they ask the next bus driver who arrives, and they scoff.

    2. Allison*

      There’s no male equivalent, and that bothers me. When a man’s neutral facial expression looks grumpy, no one says he has resting jerk face.

      1. Manders*

        I think in men, it’s more likely to be interpreted as angry or threatening rather than sad or peeved, and so people are less likely to comment on it. My partner does complain sometimes that people act like he’s angry or trying to intimidate them when he has a neutral expression, but I’ve never seen anyone order him to smile.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Also because being angry or threatening aren’t “emotions” in men. Women are emotional because they have all those other feelings.

      2. LBK*

        As a man, I totally use “resting bitch face” to describe my own naturally scowly expression, but I think being gay I’m more prone to using traditionally female/feminine descriptors for myself anyway (and I obviously don’t mean to say that there is an inherent link between being gay and feminine, but rather I feel that once you’ve already found yourself outside of stereotypical gender roles by not being attracted to the opposite sex, you’re more flexible about what words you’re comfortable describing yourself with).

      3. aebhel*

        That’s kinda the point, though. Men aren’t expected to look friendly and warm all the time, so it’s not nearly as socially punished when they don’t. It’s a gendered term to describe a gendered phenomenon.

    3. Rat in the Sugar*

      I always just said “I have a frowny face” before RBF was a thing (the corners of my mouth naturally turn down, so my neutral expression actually is a frown.)

      Of course, that sounds a bit kiddish…I’m with you, i wish we had a better phrase that did not involve the word “bitch”.

    4. neverjaunty*

      The best alternative I have heard is Resting Murder Face. Not only is it nonsexist, it has that nice element of “maybe you don’t want to make snotty comments about how my face naturally looks”.

      1. Camellia*

        This is awesome! I vote that for this site, everyone try to use RMF – Resting Murder Face, for exactly the reasons that neverjaunty states. Plus it makes me think of the reply I just posted for the ‘talk about what inspires you’ post – I’m inspired by a lovely walk through a forest; the fact that I’m dragging a body should be totally irrelevant.

    5. Emilia Bedelia*

      I agree! I was just coming to post a similar sentiment. I’m not a bitch just because my face doesn’t look happy. I’m a nice woman whose face doesn’t make a pleasant expression when I’m concentrating. Women who aren’t happy all the time aren’t bitches- this term just reinforces the idea that women are supposed to be happy all the time.
      It also makes a really, really normal thing into a pathology- I don’t suffer from some incurable disease that makes my face look neutral, it’s the way that many (most?) other people’s faces look.
      I also think the term has been somewhat co-opted by men who like to interrupt women in public- “I want to talk to this woman on the subway and she looks really serious and not interested, but she probably just has resting bitch face, and therefore I will just ignore that and talk to her!” I think RBF just reinforces the ideas that it’s trying to correct.

    6. Lissa*

      Hmm, I love “resting bitch face”, but I would only use it on myself — “bitch” is one of those terms that I would never call another person but don’t like it when someone else tells me I can’t use it for me, you know?

    7. Amy*

      I use “serious” or “formal” resting face because I don’t like using the word bitch in professional settings, I think the grammatical contruct of “resting bitch face” is awkward anyway (why isn’t it “bitchy resting face?”) and using “serious” or “formal” makes me sound less apologetic when I’m telling someone I can tend to look serious when I’m concentrating and they needn’t be concerned. I’m not going to put myself down and call myself a bitch because of the way my face is made. There are 29 other reasons to call me a bitch; leave my face out of it.

  35. AJ*

    If your boss weren’t such an ass, I’d say bring in a picture of your father as a visual aid when telling him to stop commenting about how you look. I’m 4’9” and children always ask me why I’m so short. I usually say “Because my mom’s short and my dad’s short”. This always blows their mind/makes them understand and they don’t have any more questions. Unfortunately your boss is a child AND an ass, so maybe showing him a picture would only give him more fodder for dumb comments.

  36. Manders*

    Urgh, I once had a client who would always complement my looks or tell me I was his “favorite” when he wanted something. The compliments were always, always a signal that he was about to ask for something unreasonable (and were often followed by a threat to not pay or take his business elsewhere).

    He was always last on my list whenever I did have something truly above and beyond to offer. His assistants turned over like crazy too.

  37. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I’ve got an interview in two hours and have been told twice by the headhunter to “smile” during it.

    I mean, sure, I’ll be professional and give a good interview, but smiling for the hour straight is impossible and hurts my face! Because I am a woman with deep-set eyes and my mouth is shaped a certain way, I have irredeemable RBF.

  38. Still Not Smiling*

    As a man, I had a boss (also a man) whose executive assistant would always tell me to ‘smile’ for similar reasons. She would then report to her boss that I didn’t look ‘happy’. She wouldn’t accept that everything was fine and that all was well. I had to take it to her boss to get her to stop. She was pretty hurt, and cold for awhile after that. I guess she thought it was her duty to make sure that everyone was happy and that they looked the part.

  39. meg.*

    I’ve had the same issue my entire life — being told to “smile” or that I’m unhappy or, my favorite, I’m moody because I’m not smiling. I’ve heard it from male bosses and female bosses, and it irritates me to no end that I’ve been evaluated by my resting face. I always respond that because I’m not smiling, it doesn’t mean that I am unhappy or not in a good mood… I finally confronted my last female boss about it when she brought it up during a performance evaluation. She told me that I don’t always smile when I walk down the hall. I asked her if men always smile when they walk down the hall . She changed the subject.

    1. Case Manager Monkey*

      Or for a less professional response, you could do what the women on Broad City do…use your middle fingers to push the corners of your mouth up into a smile :)

  40. Minion*

    I suffer from RBF. All my life I’ve heard some version of “You need to smile more.” That has always baffled me because when I look around at people who are simply going about their business, they’re not generally smiling. And no one assumes they’re unhappy, right?
    In fact, I’ll wager, that if I suddenly planted a big grin on my face and just walked around like that all day long I’d probably get some strange looks. I’m seriously considering doing just that and seeing what happens.

    So sorry for your boss’s assitude.
    Makes me think of a scene in a movie I watched once. I can’t remember the movie or the name of the actress but she was a middle-aged woman walking through a department store when a salesperson approached her wanting her to try some type of face cream. She didn’t even slow down and said, “This is my face. Deal with it.” I loved that so much that I’ve always wanted to just reply with that, all deadpan and just keep doing what I’m doing. Maybe you could try that. ;)

    1. Michelle*

      I try to have RBF as much as possible because I have been told I have a very “expressive” face, especially in meetings. I can only assume that means my facial expressions match my inner thoughts.

      I hate it when people say “why aren’t you smiling?” or assume I’m having a bad day because I’m not running around grinning like a loon all day.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        This is me – I’m either totally serious, or you can basically read my mind off of my face. My strategy is to smile when first approached by a coworker, then keep a complete still and serious face the rest of the time.

  41. Lemon Zinger*

    I’ve been told to smile since I was in GRADE SCHOOL. While I do look a bit melancholy if I’m not smiling, it’s still totally inappropriate to tell women to smile.

    My first job was as a lifeguard at a local pool. Sometimes some smart-ass dads would say “Hey, why don’t you smile?” My amazing (female) boss coached us to respond “Oh, smiling isn’t in my job description. I’m actually here to prevent kids from drowning.” It worked like a charm every time!

  42. DatSci*

    I get the demand to smile on command from others ALL. THE. TIME.

    I get this from female bosses, male bosses, peer-level coworkers of both genders. I get this from strangers on the street. Luckily clients/customers office visitors have never commented on my appearance.

    I shut this down immediately with the same deadpan response over and over, “This is just how my face looks, you’re going to have to deal with it.”

    That pretty much shuts them up and makes them realize their comment is a reflection on THEM, not YOU.

    However you do need to have the sort of relationships at work that will ensure no one misunderstands this and perceives it as your having an “attitude problem”.

  43. Rachael*

    Unfortunately, OP, you are employed with a boss who doesn’t think whatever you feel is important. If you did not have a RMF and were actually upset he would act the same way. He doesn’t care and people like that (men AND women) will never change. People like that only think about how OTHERS make them feel and become defensive if you try and make them feel that they did something wrong. You may just have to get a new job if all avenues have failed.

    BTW: I have a RSF (resting sad face) so I always get people trying to comfort me when I am concentrating. However, in my experience, women tend to try and comfort me while it’s only the men who tell me to “smile” or say “it can’t be all that bad”. It may just be me, but even though I’m actually not sad, it irritates me that men just don’t feel that they need to waste their time on something as unimportant as a woman’s feelings.

  44. AF*

    Just came here to second what Alison said about small companies – not all of them are run by incompetent jerks, but the two I’ve worked for certainly have been. (and plenty of large ones are too!)

    OP – I’m really glad you’re looking to deal with this early in your career. Best of luck and please update us if you can!

    Resting Bitch Face women of the world, unite!

    1. M-C*

      I love working in the (right) small companies – nobody ever complains about you stepping in and doing what you’re not overtly qualified to do :-). But I think they inevitably amplify the owner’s personality, good and bad. If they’re someone you like, it’s all good. If not, you really need to get yourself out of there asap.

      OP, this one sounds like a real loser. It might be inconvenient to launch a job search now, you may end up with something less good on some levels. But it’s always a good thing to get away from people with stupid prejudices against your kind of people. There will be a (genuine) smile on your face again when you’re free of this jerk.

  45. Case Manager Monkey*

    This is infuriating. I just had a similar thing happen to me yesterday. A (female) colleague who works in a different department was talking to me about some work gossip and she stated that she didn’t know much about me so she started asking me questions. The first question was how long have you been here, the second question was are you married. I just thought…if I was a man would you ask me that? Especially as your second “getting to know me” question? Ugh.

  46. Rin*

    As a girl, my mom and other adult women told me I was prettier when I smiled. My mom would also bug me to stand up straight and suck my stomach in, even when it was just us or us and my friends. I always thought, “Why should I care about looking pretty 24/7? I’d rather be comfortable, or just feel whatever emotion I was feeling at the time.” Do you think guys doing this kind of thing make other women feel justified to do it too?

    1. animaniactoo*

      I am so stealing this to use on my brainiac sister who does things like overrule my mother the earth science teacher on subjects of earth science. It was on a family vacation and my mom asked me afterwards what I thought about the subject, and my understanding matches her understanding and my sister is just confused and wrong. But first we’d have to really hammer that home on her. Mom just dropped it and walked away and let my sister be wrong.


  47. Jane Eyre*

    +1,000,000! This has been happening to me almost literally all of my life! I have a very serious expression on my face most of the day and it doesn’t mean that I’m angry or that my day has been difficult. And, just for the record, it is always a man who tells me to smile. I am not a trained monkey. Do not command me to perform! I am feeling p.o.’d just typing this!!! From now on, I’ll be making saying; “but I AM smiling!”

  48. David*

    I’m a guy and this sort of thing happened to me regularly. I was the internal IT support officer and regularly wandered the office fixing things. I would generally have no expression on my face or a very focused look. I was happy. I just didnt smile whilst I was working because I was … WORKING and at work and would rather have been home relaxing and enjoying life.

    Anyway: I would regularly get a ONE on my annual review KPI for office fit (or one of those other metrics) because I didn’t smile. It meant I missed out on every bonus the company distributed. If you moved that KPI score to a neutral or positive value I would get my Bonus. I would get feedback that I needed to smile around the office. My response would be “But I’m happy and this is who I am and why does it matter if I don’t smile when I’m doing my work” But they didn’t buy that.

    1. Pari*

      So which path do you take?

      Play the game by hating your boss but putting on the fake smile?

      Or continue with the RBF, call people out on their biases, and see your lower raises and career affected by the stereotyped perceptions of customers, co-workers, and bosses?

  49. Anon 12*

    This is a revelation. I know understand why I react so negatively to hubby’s lecturing on all topics imaginable and general inserting of irrelevant information into any conversation. I know deep in my heart it’s about him, not me and he generally means well but it’s mansplaining regardless of intent and the failure is the lack of self-awareness into how people are reacting.

  50. OP 1*

    OP Here!

    I feel very supported with this response – I was actually thinking that Alison was going to tell me that my boss wasn’t doing anything wrong! I’ve tried to read through all of the comments when I could sneak a chance at work today – it is shocking how many people are subjected to the same thing!

    I realized last week at a family dinner how inappropriate he is towards me – there was actual anger around the dinner table as I went into detail about his antics. My in-laws told me that a lot of what he is doing is sexual harassment, they’ve encouraged me to quit as soon as possible and spread the word to other young women in my field. My husband was just speechless when he found out what has been going on at work – he knew that my boss annoyed me but he didn’t realize what was really going on. I’ve never really been exposed to this kind of thing and didn’t realize how serious this could be.

    I know my look can cause issues with customer service, but it has never been an issue for me. The comments people make seem to be out of concern because they notice I look serious suddenly and they wonder if I’ve found something wrong in their paperwork. Thinking of this brings me back to elementary school humiliation – we were rehearsing our gr.8 grad song and the teacher ranted at me that if I couldn’t look proud to be graduating that I didn’t deserve to. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel pride, it was because I was focusing on my singing.

    I know that I can even have the same thoughts at times. If a serious man is helping me I think he is respected but if it is a woman my first thought might be miserable – even more so for a younger woman.

    But these comments he makes are certainly the LEAST of my worries with him. I’ve noticed lately that there truly is a lot of sexual harassment going on. I’ve caught him staring at my chest, leaning up against me when looking at my screen, coming across the room to ‘pick a piece of fluff’ off of my bare forearm, rubbing his crotch while sitting feet away from me… just really creepy stuff.

    It literally is just 3 of us in the company with him being the owner. From what I’ve been told, he’s only ever hired women to work underneath him. I know that the last one to quit (worked for him for several years) told his colleagues that the office was very uncomfortable when he was around. The workplace is truly horrific because there is no boundaries and no structure. I came here from a 20 person company and miss the comfort I had during the day, there was several people I could go to if I was being treated inappropriately.

    I am currently in hell because my coworker is on vacation – so it is just me and him in a small office for 8 hours a day. He is so much worse when she isn’t there and I have to consciously discourage him from coming around my desk. Yet he is always hovering around me.

    I love many of the suggestions for things to say to him but a lot of them make me uncomfortable… the reason I switched to a 3 person company was because I am a severely shy person and I can be very open in a small workplace. But I don’t feel open enough to be able to speak up against my boss and tell him that he is making me feel uncomfortable.

    I have been thinking of more subtle cues to let him know I am not enjoying his antics. I pointedly refuse to smile when he makes the dreaded comment or calls me beautiful (I’ll raise my eyebrows and silently look away until he just gets on with what he wants), I’ll scoot my chair away from him when he comes too close, if standing and talking I walk away whenever he steps closer, and I have stopped politely smiling at his offensive jokes.

    I realize that the best course of action would be to start looking for a job with a larger organization, but I don’t really have enough of a work history to change jobs yet again. I’ve only worked here for 9 months (the plan was 2-5 years), my prior job was only a 1.5 year stint because this opportunity came up, and before that it is very short customer service stints during my studies and a 4 months internship after my graduation. I’m hoping that if I keep my head down that I’ll be able to make it through to at least the 2 year mark and then leave.

    1. LBK*

      Run! Run for your life! Ugh, this guy sounds 100 times grosser than he already sounded from your letter.

      I know you’re concerned about your job history, but honestly I think you’re okay. It could take you another 3 months to find a job, which might suck to suffer through with this asshat, but it also means you’ll hit the 1 year mark for your resume. It sounds like this is your first non-internship job out of school, and I think you are perfectly fine to have that job only last a year; a ton of people nowadays are taking whatever they can get right after graduation to pay the bills, so I don’t think it’s going to look as bad as you think. I’d just be super sure that the next job is one you can stay at (but honestly, if you make it through a year with this Mad Men wannabe without stabbing him in the eye, I’m pretty sure you can get through anything).

      As for wanting to continue working for small companies, I would encourage you to try to find a small department within a big company, maybe doing work that’s a little more behind-the-scenes. I find that in operations or support departments, you’re less likely to be surrounded by more extroverted, non-shy (I’m totally blanking on a word for that) personalities as opposed to, say, if you worked in sales. That’s my setup now, working in a 10-person operations team in a huge multinational corporation. We are a group of shy people who draw each other out with our shared nerdiness and passion. I don’t think you have to resign yourself to always working for small companies that might lack safety nets for bad situations like this – you just need to find your people :)

    2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Holy junk, that sounds terrible! Regarding the job hopping concern, Allison has written really well about that issue and you seem like you’re in a place where the real issue isn’t necessarily that you won’t get a new job, but that it’ll be extra important for you to stay in THAT job for a while to build up your resume. I would really encourage you to think about working somewhere else because HOLY BUCKETS SEXUAL HARASSMENT. Ahem. I’m wishing you lots of anonymous internet good luck here, for sure.

    3. Patty*

      Your update makes so many things more clear.

      I think you need to figure out a way to politely explain that the environment in your office was not tenable… That will make your short time there a reasonable thing.

      As for dealing with him between now and your co-worker’s return, maybe fake a cold and tell him you’re contagious?

      I think it”/ perfectly professional to say ‘that makes me uncomfortable, please don’t do it again’….. Over and over again if necessary.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP, I am so sorry you are going through this experience. Your boss sounds horrible and predatory, and he’s clearly trying to figure out how far he can push your boundaries. I know you’re nervous about your work history—and Alison/others may disagree with me—but I strongly encourage you to start job searching, now. This guy is already so far over the line that I shudder to think of what the next transgression will be.

      When I graduated, I accepted a “dream job” at an organization I admired with a mission I believed in. Within 3 months, I knew it was just a super dysfunctional workplace, but I tried to hold on for 2 years. In addition to all the negative health effects of working in an abusive and toxic job (weight gain, insomnia, depression, acne), it also really messed up my sense of self-worth and understanding of professional norms. It took me 1.3 years to leave, and it was only when I sought advice from an outside mentor that I realized how bad it had become. It took me years to build back my emotional health, as well as months to relearn my pre-toxic-workplace understanding of professionalism. Frankly, I wish I’d left sooner.

      This is all to say, please consider leaving sooner than later. In addition to the solid suggestions folks have offered, here are some not-as-professional responses, from least to most confrontational:

      – *blank look* I’m sorry, did you say something?
      – *puzzled look* What a strange thing to say.
      – (bubbly): Dance! . . . Oh, I thought we were playing Simon Says.
      – (deadpan, channeling Jon Stewart): I am not your monkey.
      – (dry): Wow! That’s inappropriate.

      Good luck, please be safe and take care of yourself, and let us know what you ultimately decide to do!

    5. Jubilance*

      I know you don’t want to be a job hopper, but if you can afford it, you should really quit immediately. I’m really worried for your safety being around this guy alone for 8 hours a day – you said he rubs his crotch while staring at you from across the room! Please please please be safe and get out as soon as you can.

    6. Elle the new Fed*

      Holy smokes OP, run! This is unbelievably and utterably disgusting. please save yourself and get far away as soon as you can.

    7. Dot Warner*

      Joining the chorus of people asking you to run! This guy is dangerous, and no future employer will blame you for quitting when your boss is RUBBING HIS FREAKING CROTCH at you!

    8. animaniactoo*

      OP, I’m going to encourage you to do something very very different.

      Please look into assertiveness training. Whether through therapy or a course available, etc. Look into self-defense training.

      Here’s why I say that – subtle cues aren’t working. At all. In fact, as far as I can tell from what you’re saying here, he is escalating. That is extremely dangerous. Because you don’t know what day he may decide is the day that he’ll escalate all the way to a point of physical harm.

      Your shyness is getting in the way of your ability to defend yourself. I suspect that it’s not just shyness, that there’s also a large element of a self-worth issue in there which gets worse the longer this goes on.

      So we can all sit here and give you things that you can say – but the straight truth is that you’re playing with fire. Nothing is going to work except direct blunt statements, and if you can’t bring yourself to say them that’s something you have to fix for your ability to draw boundaries and defend yourself from being taken advantage of in exactly the way you’re being taken advantage of. And when I say you’re being taken advantage of? I mean this:


      Because he recognizes that he is in a position of power and you don’t feel comfortable doing anything more than the “subtle” hints and cues.

      Frankly, if you can manage it, I would encourage you to quit tomorrow and find some assertiveness and self-defense training to work on while you jobhunt. If you can’t, jobhunt now, and the assertiveness and self-defense as fast as you can fit them in.

      1. Phoebe*

        Yes, this is exactly what I came here to say. Subtle isn’t going to work with this guy, he’s getting off on making you uncomfortable and pushing your boundaries to see how much you’ll let him get away with.

    9. motherofdragons*

      Oh OP, please start applying! Quit if you can! You should not have to be subjected to this incredibly terrible behavior a moment longer. You deserve far better!

      This is from Alison’s post on staying in a terrible job when you have a series of short-term jobs on your resume (emphasis mine):

      “Other cases where it could make sense to leave now even if it will add to an already job-hopperish resume are if the job is making you truly miserable for a sustained period of time ***or endangering your health or safety.***”

      Make no mistake – this job IS endangering your health and safety. You are being sexually harassed. That is NOT OK!

      Here is the rest of the post if you want to check it out:

    10. Observer*

      Start looking. Please. Yes, you have a short work history, but what you are describing is bad enough that you need to really think about exiting.

      Realize this – you are likely to find yourself at a point where you need to walk out. Give yourself a chance to walk out on YOUR terms – to a new job, rather than having to explain why you left a job without something lined up.

      Also, you NEED to skip the subtle and start being very clear and very explicit. Develop a couple of VERY short responses, and role play with someone you trust. Stick to your lines like a broken record. Do NOT allow him to draw you into an argument or discussion about this.

      So, he “pick up a piece of lint” (baloney!) You: “please don’t touch me” He: “I was just picking up a piece of lint” You “Don’t touch me”. He: “blah, blah” You: “Don’t touch me.” etc. (Skip the please after the first time you say it.)

      If you really, really can’t do this, please see a therapist who will help you get to the point where you can. This is about your ability to take basic care of yourself.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Yeah, if he’s concerned about that piece of lint or fluff on your arm, he can point it out to you and you can take care of it yourself.

  51. Patty*

    If CH’s advice doesn’t work, get a clown mask with a big, fake smile and next time he says it, either hold it up to your face and say ‘is this better?’ Or hand it to him and say ‘I’d prefer this to your natural face’… When he acts surprised, tell him that every time he tells you to smile, that is the message you hear.

    He IS an ass.. it might end up being that you have to ignore the comment like you never heard it, and look for a new job. When you have a new job tell him that it’s sexist of him to tell you to smile, that it sends the message that you aren’t valued for your work, but that your only value is aesthetic — and that you are tired of being degraded by his comments,

  52. Candi*

    There is a book called Games Criminals Play, by Bud Allen and Diana Bosta. That, along with The Gift of Fear, are excellent books to explain how this type of mindset nudges and pushes and cajoles, so you slip deeper and deeper into their control, where truly normal behavior is just an obscure dream.

    Get out. And check local laws on harassment in general, not just workplace harassment.

  53. Mazie*

    OP, you’re not alone!!! I got told, as a SIX YEAR OLD child that I needed to smile more by a neighbor (male too), repeatedly.

  54. Anon 12*

    I agree with all of these responses about this being far more serious than the smile comments. Next time he leans against you or picks lint you have got to say “I’m terribly sorry but it makes me uncomfortable to be touched in the workplace. Please allow me my personal space”. He will act all offended but so what. Sometimes these creepers recognize the “charged” words and back off. Consider getting some counseling to help you be assertive in this manner, he has no right to run you out of the workplace because he is a creep.

  55. Michelle*

    I don’t just have RBF. Certain medications I have taken have caused my muscles to unconsciously tense up whenever I’m not paying attention, to the point that my face gets sore and I have to actively focus on relaxing. My jaw clenches (making my teeth hurt), and for some reason I also clench some of my leg muscles. I look VERY upset when this happens, but usually I’m just reading or thinking. On the flip side, I have social anxiety disorder (and it’s medications for this that caused the muscle issues), and I reflexively smile whenever someone I don’t know well looks at me. So, ironically, if we aren’t close and I’m smiling at you, that’s actually how you can tell that I’m freaking out internally. But at least it means people never tell me to smile, because they almost never see my “thinking” face.

    This whole thing makes me glad that my son is a boy. His facial muscles are palsied, and he can’t smile. At least not to the degree that most people expect. It used to be a problem when he was little and someone wanted to take his picture, but now that he’s 17 no one bothers him about it. They either know about the issue, or just assume he’s a moody teenager. :P But I heard about a woman with the same issue, and it’s apparently awful for her. Constant comments that are painful reminders of her medical problem.

  56. Senator Meathooks*

    “Sorry, this is my seriousface. Do you not want me to be serious about work?”

    I hate that shit too. I also look like my father and I got more important things to remember than to smile mindlessly at a computer screen.

  57. No_Name_Nick*

    I am a man and have had plenty of women tell me I always look so serious and they would love to see me smile more.

  58. Linda Russo*

    I used to say “Do you have a charge number for that?” (Referring to being asked to smile). I worked for an aerospace Corp. and we were required to get a charge number for all requests!!

  59. NewOneHere*

    I know this is an old post but I went trough this same BS with an old boss. I used to say to him: I’m not a horse to show my teeth. It was solved, eventually…. ;)

  60. Igg*

    I find a quick ‘eew gross!’ response to every compliment given by a creeper is great! It lets them know in a soft but definite way that you do not think of them the way they think of you and that you find them repulsive. I also find that when appropriate, fake anecdotes about ‘my old boss was sooo gross he kept complimenting my looks and…’ ugh it was sooo… insert emotions here. Tgat won’t work on everyone but ‘eww gross’ is universal. It’s also not confrontational and can be repeated while beating a hasty retreat, if he objects. Keep being grossed and refuse to understand any objection

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