my coworker interrupts my work to ask why I look so serious

A reader writes:

There’s a man in our office, let’s call him Jeffrey. Jeffrey works for our company but does not work for my department. We on occasion will work together, but physically he resides in our same seating space. For years, I’ve heard of and sometimes witnessed things he’s done and said that have bothered me, but they’ve been directed at others so I’ve not taken action. Examples include rubbing female coworkers’ shoulders, sticking fingers in ears as he’s passing by, and just generally too much personal conversation that is wasting company time.

Recently he has began walking by my office, doing a double take and circling back just to comment “why so serious?” with a big grin on his face. This bothers me because 1) I’m working so I’m focused on that, and don’t typically smile at my computer for no reason, and 2) I can’t imagine he would ever say this to a male colleague so I find this comment somewhat sexist.

It’s happened twice this week and imagine it’ll happen more. The last time I barely acknowledged him, only looking up and replying “yep.” Am I taking this too personally? Is there something I could say next time to shut this down completely?

Ugh, no, you’re not taking it too personally — that’s legitimately annoying. He’s interrupting your work in order to say that he’d like you look more cheerful because … he’d find that more pleasing? Because you’re a woman, so god forbid you be serious as it might hurt your delicate brain?

And yeah, I’m sure he doesn’t do it to men because men almost never tell other men to smile, and yet women get told it by dudes all the f’ing time. (Men who aren’t aware of this: This is A Thing. A really common, really infuriating thing. If you’re walking around telling women to smile, stop it.)

Anyway, feel free to do any of the following:
* Ignore him.
* Look annoyed and don’t respond.
* Say, “Dude, I’m working. Why would you interrupt me to say that?”
* Say, “What a weird comment to make when I’m working.”
* Say, “Do you know there’s a huge movement against men telling women to change their facial expressions? It makes me curious — do you ever say that to men here?”

Jeffrey may not like you very much after this, but that doesn’t sound like a terrible loss.

Also, the next time you see him rubbing someone’s shoulders, feel free to ask her afterwards, “Does it bother you when Jeffrey does that? I’d be glad to call him out on it the next time I see him do it, or back you up if you want to tell him to stop touching you.” Or even just say right in the moment, “Are you rubbing her shoulders?” with an expression of disbelief on your face.

Jeffrey needs to be bluntly called out, because right now he’s relying on everyone being too polite to do it.

{ 904 comments… read them below }

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Because obviously we are only here for their pleasure and enjoyment and if we’re not smiling, they can’t enjoy us.

    2. Huh*

      Because clearly when we’re in a man’s presence we must smile so they are aware of how much our life is better when there is a man around

    3. High Score*

      It’s not just men. I’ve seen women paw men in the office too. The behavior is boorish regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.

        1. High Score*

          That particular phrase IS. Absolutely. My point was that there are women who do and say boorish things as well. Unfortunately jerks come in all shapes, sizes and genders. Hopefully nice people outnumber them.

          1. Close Bracket*

            While that is true, here, in the middle of a discussion about a gendered behavior that *men* do to *women*, is not the place for A discussion on non-gendered boorish behaviors. You derail the discussion with those comments.

            1. LCL*

              No, it is a reasonable part of this kind of discussion to bring up side points in a respectful way, if they add to the discussion and the point. This isn’t a blog space about feminist theory. It’s a blog space about practical applications, specifically how to deal with jerks in the workplace and other workplace issues.

              Point-women do this too, and jerks come in all flavors. Counterpoint-statistically, or at least my experiences bear out, men do this more. These type of exchanges make this a great blog. Accusations of derailing when someone posts something directly related to the subject is performative wokeness, which is just annoying.

              1. Luna*

                How exactly did the comment of “but sometimes women do it too!” add to the discussion?

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                “I hate it when restaurants overcook spaghetti and it’s all limp.”

                “Yes, but you need to understand that restaurants aren’t the only ones overcooking pasta. Home cooks do this as well. So this isn’t a restaurant problem.”

                Nope, I don’t understand how that adds to this particular conversation.

                1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                  It depends, if you want to have the conversation about gendered aspect of the phenomenon, you are right it doesn’t add it to it.

                  On the flip side if you’re trying to solve the limpy pasta problem from all bad cooks, then it does.

                  Not to get too philosophical here, but personally I don’t care who is doing this kind of thing, man, woman, or any other group. I want this kind of thing to stop. It really does me no good if I get one group to stop doing it and another group gets it into their head that they don’t belong to that group so it’s just fine and dandy if they do it. Because then you have all these groups thinking they are exempt.

                  Seriously go back to the gross fridge comments. There is more than one comment saying “I’m not a hoarder, I just forgot that one time (for 6 months) that rule shouldn’t apply to me, my stuff shouldn’t be thrown out.”

                2. Wintermute*

                  The beautiful thing about threaded online conversations is that, unlike a real life dialogue, adding something to a discussion doesn’t stop the original discussion in any way. They can add in “Home cooks do this as well” and start a side-conversation about how to solve that problem at home while the other thread goes merrily along discussing the same problem from the perspective of a commercial kitchen.

                  So there really is no such thing as “derailing” with a single comment, if someone is being tenacious and responding to EVERYONE in a thread or trying to shout people down by burying the topic in blather that’s different, of course.

                3. Anonymouse*

                  Wintermute: As someone who has had a lot of experience with derailing in online blogs/forums/etc, I’m going to have to push back on a few of your assertions. I’m not trying to pick on you in particular, but your comment stood out to me because what you’re saying is, on the surface, super logical and so I feel like a lot of people probably think the same way.

                  1. Adding to a thread can’t stop the original discussion
                  So, the problem here is that you’re taking a true premise (“because of the written and threaded nature of blog posts, a side conversation can be carried on without disrupting the original conversation”) and extrapolating it to mean that side discussions, therefore, won’t or can’t disrupt the original conversation. The problem, is, of course, that this thread is a prime example of why that’s simply not true.

                  The problem is that a side discussion can, in fact, monopolize even a threaded conversation and cause people to use their commenting energy on discussing that when otherwise they would be spending it on the original topic. In the case of a derail, the primary conversation on the thread becomes about the derail itself instead of the discussion topic.

                  In this particular case, I’ll pull what I said below:

                  And, finally, I’d just like to point out that another reason the way in which High Score chose to bring up the topic they wanted to discuss is absolutely a derail is that now SoCalHR’s thread is full of people debating about the derail instead of discussing EITHER topic (gendered implications or general inappropriate behavior). All of which could have been avoided if High Score had left an actually respectful comment in an appropriate place.

                  And highlight what Mad Baggins added:

                  Now instead of discussing “why is this a gendered thing” we are discussing “is this [well documented, commonly acknowledged to be gendered] thing gendered?” Not the same discussion and not helpful.

                  2. How you introduce a side-topic matters
                  So there seems to be a bit of a misconception here that jumping onto a thread with a “XX do this too!” type of comment is just a normal segue into a side conversation. It’s not. Even when well meaning people do it and it doesn’t cause a derail, that phrasing is, in itself, disruptive to the conversation because it attempts to reframe it rather than add to it. By saying some form of “XX do this too” the commenter is pointing out that the discussion is too narrow and should be expanded to include XX, instead of encouraging people to begin a new discussion about XX.

                  In the case of the pasta problem, Rusty’s choice to phrase their hypothetical as “Yes, but you need to understand that restaurants aren’t the only ones overcooking pasta. Home cooks do this as well. So this isn’t a restaurant problem.” was deliberate. The person in that scenario isn’t trying to, as you suggest, “start a side-conversation about how to solve that problem at home while the other thread goes merrily along discussing the same problem from the perspective of a commercial kitchen” but is rather explicitly dismissing the validity of the problem (“restaurants aren’t the only ones” and “this isn’t a restaurant problem”) while simultaneously demanding that the scope of the discussion be opened up to include home cooks (“you need to understand”, “home cooks do this as well”, “this isn’t a restaurant problem”).

                  In the case of High Score, their comment attempted to shift the conversation from discussing why men asking women to smile is a thing (a deliberately gendered topic) to the inappropriateness of the behavior the OP commented on “regardless of the gender of the perpetrator”. The discussion is appropriate for a reply to the OP (which, while explicitly discussing the gendered implications of Jeffery’s actions doesn’t preclude a greater discussion of inappropriate touching and whatnot in the workplace) but wildly inappropriate as a direct response to someone who was trying to have a conversation about a specific part of the OP. Which is why it led to the massive derail that we are participating in (and which I, at least, hope leads to a better understanding about derails, why they’re bad, and how to avoid them while still being able to talk about what you want to talk about).

                  3. A derail has to be sustained by the person who started it
                  While a single person can, indeed, deliberately derail a discussion by aggressively posting about the derailing topic and/or arguing with anyone who disagrees specifically to keep the derail going, that’s absolutely not the only way for it to occur.

                  Other ways a derail can happen include (but are not limited to):
                  – Person A posts a single comment they know will incense the community and pull the focus of discussion away from the original topic and to their comment and/or behavior
                  – A group of people troll a community and post just enough comments to derail the conversation to their comments and/or behavior
                  – Something someone said as an aside sparks a fierce debate that overshadows the original topic

                  Or, as happened in this case with High Score’s comment, someone (unknowingly or knowingly) posts a comment that is a widely used derail for the subject trying to be discussed (responding to a gendered dynamic with “but not just men!” is a well-worn derail tactic older than the internet), which causes a huge debate over whether the derailing comment was actually derailing and whether or not the original assertion (that a gendered dynamic is at play) is even valid.

                  So, yes, in this case one comment really did have the power to derail everything and it did it quite spectacularly. And that’s why most well-meaning commenters learn to be very, very careful about where and how they start up conversations even in a threaded online conversation because, at best, you come across as rude for being the one who started the derail and at worst you are viewed as a troll and could be banned from sites for that kind of behavior.

                  Anyway, I’m going to try to step away from commenting on this thread because the line between “helpful discussion on derailing” and “just making the derail worse” is super thin, especially since I’m literally just contributing to the meta discussion about derailing. I just hope that what I’ve said here is at least somewhat helpful to someone.

                4. Nikiforos*

                  I’m interrupting the above soliloquy (would that Anonymouse remember”brevity is the soul of wit”) to say that agree with Wintermute. No one can singlehandledly derail a conversation. If the conversation meanders from the original topic, that’s because several people see merit in how the conversation is evolving. If you don’t like the fact a conversation meanders, scroll down.

                  When I see someone whining about “derailing” a conversation, my reaction is that the person complaining disagrees with how the conversation is going, but realizes his/her own arguments are weak.

              3. Anonymoose*

                Actually, this blog (and this forum) discuss the disparity between gendered expectations in the work place All. The. Time.

                Are you new? If so, welcome. If not….uh, whut?

                1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  LCL isn’t new. They’ve been around making antagonistic comments for a while.

                2. Tomalak*

                  Anonymouse, I found your comment at 1.51am above really well thought out and persuasive. But I would just suggest this. Until a few hours ago, all the examples I’d ever heard of of people asking women to smile were men asking it of women, and I see that as good evidence that it’s because that is far, far more common than the other way around. But then I see one person post an example of it happening the other way around and getting an enormous amount of criticism. Now I find myself wondering if the reason I only hear it one way around is that the online abuse if you offer examples of women doing it to men is too much for a lot of people to endure so they keep quiet. I kind of doubt it – Internet comments threads aren’t that important and some people are robust enough to carry on regardless. But it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in anyone who likes to make decisions with all the evidence in front of them. I definitely agree that it’s a good thing to have a discussion premised on the idea that men are constantly doing this to women rather than just debating the premise. But if the more it’s suggested this premise be taken as Gospel without any debate, the more dubious it looks.

                3. Anonymouse*

                  Tomalak: Uh, so, the comment you actually replied to was Anonymoose… Since, uh, I am posting as Anonymouse (since it’s my go-to semi-anonymous handle when I delurk on sites I read) I can see the confusion. My two comments (a reply to LCL and Wintermute) were specifically on derailing (well, with a little bit of salt thrown in wrt some of LCL’s word choices), so I’m not sure if the parts that specifically relate to the smiling issue are from my comments or Anonymoose’s. My apologies for not choosing a better handle for this particular discussion.

                  Regarding the pushback on discussing the issue of women being inappropriate (asking men or other women to smile, rubbing the shoulders of their coworkers, etc)/people of all genders being inappropriate, the truth is that it’s an extremely complex subject that involves history much longer than the internet. As such I can’t really do the discussion justice (especially in a derailed thread I’m trying not to get too invested in), but I can try to elaborate on how the nature of the way the subject gets used as a derailing tactic can feed into the toxic dynamic that you observed.

                  Firstly, just so we’re on the same page, the position I was trying to take in my comments is that the discussion itself (inappropriate workplace behavior regardless of gender) is absolutely on topic for this post and would be, in my opinion, a good discussion to have on AAM in general. What makes High Score’s comment a derail in my opinion is 1) where they tried to have the discussion; and 2) how they tried to have it.

                  In regards to the where, I will tell you right now that a large part of how much criticism the comment received is because of where it was posted. I have said in both comments that posting it in a sub-discussion that was trying to discuss a well-studied and generally accepted gendered phenomenon comes off as trying to reframe the discussion so that it’s no longer about gender. It’s rude, dismissive, and derailing… which makes a lot of people who would otherwise be happy to discuss the side topic instead need to try and educate the derailer on why their comment was inappropriate. And, given the long history of people deliberately trying to derail conversations about gendered issues by refusing to discuss gender at all, that education usually involves trying to show the commenter why gendered issue is gendered and therefore similar dynamics enacted by someone who doesn’t have institutionalized privilege informing their actions is not actually the same dynamic, even though the action itself is the same. And since the average commenter is going to be blunt and not spend 500 words trying to phrase things so as to try and avoid as much misinterpretation as possible, a lot of times it can come off as being dismissive of the subject itself rather than the place that the person was trying to have that conversation.

                  As for the how, I did go over that pretty thoroughly in my first two comments so I’ll try to avoid rehashing too much. The long and the short of it is that (for reasons I explained elsewhere in this discussion) the phrasing itself rubs people the wrong way because it comes across as trying to control the conversation and divert it from the original subject. This, as with the where conversation, leads to people trying to educate the commenter on why it’s inappropriate and why trying to divert a conversation specifically talking about a power dynamic and erasing that dynamic from the conversation is, to put it mildly, problematic.

                  So not only to we have a situation where the criticism can come across as dismissing the validity of conversation itself regardless of discussion venue and wording, but add to it that the derailing comment typically has a long history of being used in a deliberate attempt to derail and shut down people’s ability to have a discussion on the gendered dynamic which many of the critics would have had to deal with multiple times in their lives to the point where it’s hard to tell when the commenter is acting in good faith. And, even when it’s clear that they are acting in good faith, sometimes it’s hard not to have a bad reaction to something that comes across to you as negative even when you know the person is coming from a good place. I get annoyed when someone tells me “you speak [language of the country I live in] so well!” because, despite them obviously trying to compliment me, I’ve heard the same exact phrase since I got here (and couldn’t speak the language) through to now (when I’ve been here for over a decade, have naturalized, and speak in a way that is often indistinguishable from a native speaker). Honestly, you get… tired… of dealing with the same issues over and over again.

                  Which, really, is why I was trying to hard to educate about how to avoid using what amounts to conversational red flags when it comes to these kinds of issues. If, instead of barging into a extant discussion, people like High Score stopped and thought to themselves “Is this the right place to have this discussion?” and, if yes, “Is this the right way to have this discussion?” then the problems you’re observing would become less of an issue because there would be a space for people to engage in that conversation and it would be mostly positive, which would clearly convey the message to people that “yes, what you’re dealing with is important and valid” without derailing other important and valid conversations.

                  Anyway, now that I’ve written yet another ridiculously long comment I’m going to sign off and go home and try to stay away from this thread. I hope what I said made sense and, though it only scratched the surface of the issue you describe, offered a possible way for people to be more respectful of the kinds of conversations people want to have.

              4. tusky*

                LCL, here’s the thing: if you want to have a practical conversation about how to deal with people who tell other people to smile in the workplace, regardless of gender, then there really is no need for you to bring up gender at all. (Unless you really just can’t handle that somebody said something slightly less than glowing about men.) Also, what actually is “performative wokeness”? Is that a new way of saying “virtue signaling”?

                1. else*

                  Not exactly. It’s a phrase generally used by the sorts of folks who say “SJW” to describe anyone who says that people of any particular identity not held by many US conservatives might have some kind of disadvantage in society in order to dismiss their words. To make a very convoluted sentence.

              5. Anonymouse*

                On top of what everyone else has said, I think it’s important to talk about this:

                No, it is a reasonable part of this kind of discussion to bring up side points in a respectful way

                The way that High Score chose to bring up the topic wasn’t respectful. SoCalHR, the originator of this particular thread, started a discussion specifically about trying to understand the gendered aspect of this specific problem. Writing a comment that is literally “but the general behavior not always gendered” is not only off-topic for SoCalHR’s sub-discussion, but it also has the consequence of calling into question the very validity of discussing the impact of gender at all. That is rude, dismissive, and derailing. If High Score is/was genuinely interested in discussing the general implications of the OP’s problem (ie. boorish behavior and/or inappropriate touching in the workplace) then they should have replied directly to the OP (not SoCalHR’s thread) and started a discussion on it.

                And, while we’re on the subject of rude, dismissive, and derailing… “This isn’t a blog space about feminist theory.” and “performative wokeness”? Really?

                1. Not derailing a thread on a particular subject–even if that subject relates to gender–is common courtesy, not something that should be limited to “a blog space about feminist theory.” (And, just an FYI, blogs don’t need to be about feminist theory in order for commenters to engage in discussions that involve topics that include feminist theory in them without said threads being immediately derailed by “but we could NOT talk about gender” or similar silencing arguments.)

                2. Dollars to donuts if someone is saying “please don’t do that, it’s derailing/silencing/hurtful/whatever” they are actually affected by said thing. For you to arbitrarily decide that it’s “performative” simply because it’s easier to dismiss people who you don’t believe are sincere displays an incredible lack of compassion and empathy for other human beings. If respect is such a big issue to you, then perhaps it would be a good idea to exercise it and spend some time trying to understand why a large swath of people find the “but happens in ” argument to be a derail instead of dismissing them out of hand because they’re “annoying”.

                And, finally, I’d just like to point out that another reason the way in which High Score chose to bring up the topic they wanted to discuss is absolutely a derail is that now SoCalHR’s thread is full of people debating about the derail instead of discussing EITHER topic (gendered implications or general inappropriate behavior). All of which could have been avoided if High Score had left an actually respectful comment in an appropriate place.

                1. Anonymouse*

                  Whoops, I just had a formatting fail. I wish previewing would actually become a standard thing for blog comments…

                  By ‘the “but happens in ” argument’ I meant:

                  the “but [specific thing] happens in [general sense unrelated to current topic]” argument

                2. Mad Baggins*

                  +1 to your last paragraph especially. Now instead of discussing “why is this a gendered thing” we are discussing “is this [well documented, commonly acknowledged to be gendered] thing gendered?” Not the same discussion and not helpful.

            2. Noah*

              Person 1: Hey, that guy just said something racist!
              Person 2: Yeah! And lions are really dangerous!
              Person 1: …

            3. Tomalak*

              Personally I tend to agree with Alison that this kind of lame “smile!” behaviour is (far) more common among men than women. But the only way I can have any confidence about statements like this is if people also feel able to chip in with examples of women doing it to men. That’s not derailing the discussion – it’s contributing relevant evidence to it. If the only evidence permitted once a claim has been made is supportive evidence, the obviously you can’t take a discussion very seriously.

              1. Artemesia*

                I am in my 8th decade. I was in graduate school and the workplace for nearly 50 years. I have never in all that time heard a woman tell a man in the workplace to smile; not once. I have heard men say it to women more times than I care to count and heard it directed to me at least a few times a year for decades. This is simply one of the more common ways in which women are put in their places by men. To pretend it has nothing to do with gender is disingenuous.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  “I have never in all that time heard a woman tell a man in the workplace to smile; not once.”

                  3rd decade. I’ve only heard it in customer service, specifically at call centers. My point is that smiling while talking to callers was considered part of the job there, like saying “please” and “thank you.” I’ve never seen a woman tell a man in the workplace to smile when it wasn’t in any way relevant to the job, and I’ve seen the reverse probably hundreds of times.

                2. Tomalak*

                  Did you read my post or just assume what was in it? Your response suggests you didn’t read even the first sentence?

                3. Tomalak*

                  Or to be more specific, I don’t understand how you can reply to a post that says – in the first sentence! – that I think men do it (far) more than women by accusing me of disingenuously pretending it has nothing to do with gender? Everything else you wrote made a lot of sense as a response to what I wrote.

                4. Josh*

                  I’m a man and I’ve had women tell me to smile, or asked what was wrong when I was just concentrating on something, a lot. It may be because I’m a shorter, less burly man.

                  But I’ve seen more men tell women to smile for no reason than I’ve ever been told.

                  Yes women do it too, mainly to less “masculine” men. But men still do it many many times more often as a rule.

                5. Tomalak*

                  Josh, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve never actually been told to smile but I have had lots of occasions when people thought they could read a lot about my mood into a blank expression, and said so. It is boorish – especially when you explicitly tell them their guess is incorrect and they still never stop to doubt their mind reading abilities.

                6. Oilpress*

                  I am a man. Women do this to me at work every so often at the elevator, the printer, or even just in the hallway:

                  “Smile, it’s not so bad!”
                  “Why so serious?”
                  “Why aren’t you smiling today?”

                  Some people just don’t have any social intelligence, and this is the best they can offer (other than a comment on the weather) in small talk situations. Also, my smile really disarms me and turns me from threatening to approachable. Maybe it’s just about that.

              2. Scarlet*

                I’ve discussed this topic with tons of other women over my many years of existence. I’ve had to deal with it countless times, mostly when I was younger, and so have all my female friends. I have NEVER heard of a woman doing it to a man (or a woman doing it to another woman, for that matter).
                Is there one woman, some day, somewhere, who told one man to smile? Possibly. But it’s not *a thing*. Men telling women to smile is *a thing*. Actually it happens so often that there have been countless conversations about it all over the Internet. I really don’t see what “well I know this one woman who told a man to smile once” brings to the discussion. An isolated anecdote is irrelevant to the discussion of a widespread phenomenon.

                1. Josh*

                  I can say it like this: I have had lots of women tell me to smile. It is *a thing* for me to have women tell me to smile. It is not *a thing* for most men. I have seen women do it to other women, though very rarely and mainly in customer service applications.

                  Men telling women to smile is *a thing* for almost all women at some point.

                  Stating an anecdote while in no way saying it’s a major thing for all men to have been told to smile by a women, or (what was actually said) that women sometimes touch men somewhat inappropriately is not derailing the thread. Pages and pages of comments complaining about this one person derailing the thread does far more work of derailing the thread. Almost this whole thread is people complaining about one person derailing when, if people said something and then let it be, it would have just died a natural death. Now it’s a zombie that won’t die.

                2. Tomalak*

                  “Stating an anecdote while in no way saying it’s a major thing for all men to have been told to smile by a women, or (what was actually said) that women sometimes touch men somewhat inappropriately is not derailing the thread. Pages and pages of comments complaining about this one person derailing the thread does far more work of derailing the thread. Almost this whole thread is people complaining about one person derailing when, if people said something and then let it be, it would have just died a natural death. Now it’s a zombie that won’t die.”

                  Comment of the month!

                3. Round and realistic*

                  How on earth are your personal experiences with a boorish behaviour regardable as a truth, while others experiences aren’t? You can’t try to steamroll a discussion because you and your friends think one thing, and therefore everyone in the world must have the exact same experiences.

                  If you, as a woman, know what women suffer from, clearly a man must know what men suffer from. If you as a woman can disregard what a man states, then men can disregard what you as a woman state. Its a slippery slope.

              3. Joielle*

                The only way you can believe women about women’s experiences is if we also talk about men? Uhhhh ok. We’re not talking about “evidence” because we’re not debating whether this is a thing, we’re talking about WHY it’s a thing. If you want to talk about something else, start your own thread, don’t derail this one.

              4. Kate 2*

                Agree with Artemesia. I have never, in my 3 decades, seen or even heard of a woman telling a man to smile. I can’t recall even one instance of a woman telling another woman to smile.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            “Let’s talk about how there are rude people in the world with all sorts of different varieties of behavior and gender” is not a helpful response when we are talking to person experiencing a specific, very gendered, very sexist behavior from a male co-worker.

            That sometimes other people are generally rude in entirely different ways and contexts doesn’t do much to address her issue.

            1. Anonymoose*

              Exactly. It also compounds the problem by trying to shift the blame to ‘boorish’ women.

              Really, we should have expected this argument. I feel silly.

          3. stitchinthyme*

            “Whataboutism (also known as whataboutery) is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument” (from Wikipedia)

            1. LCL*

              The term whataboutism is also thrown at people as an attempt to control dialogue and drag it back to a usually very narrow or limited point someone is trying to make.

              1. MerciMe*

                Which is often appropriate, especially when giving advice on a specific, narrowly-focused topic. Not everything has to be all-inclusive to be meaningful and relevant to it’s intended audience.

                1. Wintermute*

                  this is an online thread, you don’t have to engage a discussion you can just let it go by without a sub-thread of its own… so it’s not like there’s a need to “bring it back” to a given point because it’s not a conversation in person that can only have one person talking at a time.

                2. Ego Chamber*

                  @Wintermute re: “so it’s not like there’s a need to “bring it back” to a given point”

                  Except that AAM does generally ask everyone to stay on-topic? It’s literally in larger, bold type right above the comment box every time anyone attempts to post anywhere on any thread on this blog (you don’t even have to click the commenting rules to see it: it’s right there, in bold).

              2. Parenthetically*

                You mean like the point of the letter? Yes, god forbid we “drag it back” to the point of the letter.

              3. Close Bracket*

                Accusations of attempting to control dialogue are just a form of performative wokeness.

          4. RUKiddingMe*

            An occasional woman doing *thing* is not the same as something that gets done by men all.the.time. It’s like comparing apples to carburetors. Not even in the same universe.

        2. AmazinglyGuileless*

          It is, but I’ve actually been told to smile by a woman once–in HR, during my performance review. “It wouldn’t hurt if you could smile more.” This was a desk job with zero customer/vendor interaction.

          I made a particular point that whenever I encountered the HR woman, I did not smile. They fired me a few months later.

          1. SignalLost*

            Oh good, I can never wait in these conversations for men to arrive. My very favorite was the man who interrupted three women having a private, intense conversation among ourselves to tell us that the time he had his ass grabbed on the street was just as bad as what we were talking about, which was that all three of us had been raped. I mean, sorry, yes, being told to smile by someone who clearly retaliated and fired you for it is terrible. Do you find it happens often? I’ve been told by yhreee men to smile this month.

              1. Anonymoose*

                Unfortunately I agree.

                And SignalLost – that guy was a jackhole. I hope you’re doing well/better!

                1. STG*

                  Pointing out that your comment is an assumption is a problem. You can choose to stay ignorant to it of course.

            1. This Daydreamer*

              What the hell?! How can anyone be that clueless and still manage to have a job?

          2. smoke tree*

            I think there is a variant of this where women (usually in some position of power) will tell especially young women to smile more, which is also infuriating. However the drive-by “smile!” is something I’ve only witnessed from men.

            1. smoke tree*

              I should say that I do think this is also gendered, and sexist, when women do it. I’ve never, ever heard of a man being told to smile more.

              1. Julia*

                This. It’s internalized and fed to the next generation. Possibly even as “kind” tips on how to be perceived as nicer.

                1. mrs__peel*

                  That’s exactly what it is.

                  I don’t like it, but (if women do it) at least it’s usually coming from a place of “This is what I personally had to do to succeed in the workplace”. That’s more understandable and forgivable to me than (e.g.) coming from some random man on the bus, who just thinks I was put on this earth to amuse him.

                2. RUKiddingMe*

                  @ mrs__peel
                  Not sure what happens with nesting, so I have to reply under my own comment..

                  Yes I think that when it comes from women it is basically that they are offering advice based on their own experiences of what they have had to do/what (sees to have) worked for them, etc.

                  Internalized misogyny is such a bad, bad, bad thing. Basically the patriarchy has turned us into self-hating women because you know … “woman”=”evil” (see: Eve and the apple, Delilah, Lilith…etc.), irrational, over sensitive (my favorite), and so forth.

                  I’ve heard women say “I would never vote for a woman” offering some of the above reasons as to why women aren’t able to run things, and literally felt sick to my stomach that they’d been indoctrinated to believe that they and their kind (our kind) are somehow so much less than all of the males who have systematically ruined pretty much everything everywhere.

                  Yes let’s totally ignore all of the actual work women do (per usual) running families … CEO/COO/CFO level type of stuff… (normally all three at the same time BTW) while at the same time usually working a full time ‘for wages’ type job. Generally without becoming aggressive, violent, or kicking puppies for sport.

                  I mean by pretty much every metric women are a massive improvement over males, yet males are still held up as the ideal, default human to which we should aspire and their desires pertaining to how women should dress, act, and even the expressions on our faces are paramount. Ugh!

            2. Just J*

              I’m a woman and very senior in my industry. If someone told me to smile, I’d flip them off.

              1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

                Since I went out on my own, I am unleashed. The freedom to not have to take it – any it – is the best thing EVER.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yup. There are always women who will play Aunt Lydia to uphold the patriarchy. Check out the NYT’s article on “tradwives” for a contemporary example.

              1. Mad Baggins*

                Wow, that article was enlightening and frightening. Frightlightening? Thanks for sharing.

              2. General Ginger*

                PCBH, is it the one from June 1? Google shows me more than one NYT result for “tradwives”

          3. LCH*

            i was told this by women HR as well, but i think they were given the message from the partners in the firm (all dudes). i was not client facing, only other employee facing.

          4. What's with today, today?*

            I’m a mid-30s woman, and I’m told to smile by older women WAY more than men. At least 2:1.

        3. Tired of my old name*

          I’ve had more women than men tell me to smile in the office, if anecdotal experience means anything.

          1. Just Employed Here*

            I’m wondering if this thing (men telling women to smile more) is a North American thing.

            I (a woman) have lived in several Northern European countries, and have never had it happen to me or heard about it being a thing (until I’ve read about it here and elsewhere on the internet, mentioned by — I think — Americans).

            1. Anonymoose*

              My family is from Finland (I’ve never been) and they’re known for not being unnecessarily expressive. I would love to see how my kick ass great-grandmother would have dealt with this BS in her time. I’m sure it was something scathing; she was pretty badass.

              1. Specialk9*

                The Atlantic had a great article about how a culture increases smiling based on how much immigration it has traditionally had. So Canada and United States top the list, and Scandinavian countries are very low.

                I know I smile a lot more when muddling through in a foreign language, or talking to someone with a limited vocabulary. So it makes sense to me.

                I think the end result is that in North America, “smile!” is a thing, whereas in smile-scarce cultures that would be weird.

                1. Mad Baggins*

                  I have a lot of questions about that article because it seems like it’s confusing correlation and causation, and conflating many cultural notions like nonverbal communication and diversity. Usually nonverbal communication is associated with high-context cultures, not low-context, so not so much “smiling to please your diverse neighbors” and more “reading body language to see if they are actually pleased or just saying so.” And it doesn’t make sense to compare actual happiness to smiling in photos, since it’s not customary to smile in official photos in Japan and probably not in China, Korea, and other Asian countries (even in old American photos people don’t smile)–and also I’m not sure why those would correlate in the first place, since I think Americans would smile for a photo even if they were depressed because that’s the sociocultural custom for photos. I think that Atlantic article and the research it draws on are making somewhat tautological arguments based on American assumptions on the value and place of a single social cue.

                  Anyway that doesn’t stop men in less smiley countries from making comments to women to the effect of, “Please arrange your appearance to be more pleasing to me” or “Your primary value is derived from your pleasing appearance because you are a woman,” even if they don’t specifically mention smiling.

              2. Finnanon*

                As a female Finn of my forties I have to comment that sadly I have gotten a couple of comments to smile from men. I’m pretty sure it happens less in Nordic countries since statistically so does other types of harrasements as well, and especially Finnish culture is very forgiving of stoisicm. But it sadly seems an universal thing, men feeling entitled to woman looking approacable, pleasant and ready to please.

            2. mrs__peel*

              I think that Mandatory Smiling is definitely more of an American phenomenon. It’s not an expected part of (e.g.) customer service positions in most countries to nearly the same extent. There’s a cultural emphasis on friendliness with strangers and a whole “power of positive thinking” thing that are very American.

              (Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Bright Sided” goes into that a lot, e.g., with cancer patients being expected to be relentlessly positive– it’s very interesting).

              1. General Ginger*

                It’s definitely never happened to me in Eastern Europe; Mandatory Smiling is very much not our thing. But it has happened and keeps happening to me regularly here in the US, both when I was constantly female presenting, and now, when I’m not trying to pass (I’m a trans man). The more I pass, the less it happens. It’s almost as if there is some sort of correlation between not being perceived as a woman and being behavior policed less.

                1. bolistoli*

                  This is fascinating. And a true testament to the overall idea in this thread that it is gendered the vast majority of the time. Thanks for sharing your experience.

              2. Allison*

                And while I’m against mandatory smiling and friendliness on principle, I’m so used to it that when I encounter a European person in a customer service position, I always feel like I’ve done something wrong and ruined that poor barista or cashier’s day and I feel anxious and ashamed of myself. I have to remind myself that their demeanor is a cultural thing, not a reflection on me.

                1. General Ginger*

                  When I visited the Old Country after living in the US for about a decade, my family members constantly kept telling me to stop smiling at strangers, and just overall smile less when we were out and about.

            3. Ginger ale for all*

              NPR has been running stories yesterday and today about how Russians are having training sessions in how to smile for tourists. Apparently, their culture doesn’t smile just because.

              1. Specialk9*

                That’s not really it. Like all things Russian, it’s way more nuanced than that. You don’t smile in PUBLIC, or with strangers. You may well smile like a loon in private, with family and friends, especially if vodka is present.

              2. Strawmeatloaf*

                That would be nice.

                I really don’t like being told to smile. My lips don’t naturally close together, so when I “do” smile I either have to dry my teeth out or continually force my bottom lip to meet with my top and it gets tiring. Even regular smiles for people who have naturally closing mouths would be tiring all the time!

                1. sap*

                  My lips are big and I have the opposite problem–I always look more like I’m grimacing when I smile since it’s just pulling my lips thinner, or I have to, like, try HARD to expose my teeth and I look like a dog that’s snarling. (I do the latter when random men on the street tell me to smile, because I want to snarl at them;)

            4. Thlayli*

              I think it must be an American thing. It’s definitely not a common thing in Europe. Absolutely shocked that someone commented that 3 men have told her to smile in a week. I have been told to smile less than that in my entire life (I think it might have happened to me twice, 20 years or more ago when I was a teenager – and I’m pretty sure those guys Were using it as a chat up line, not just a random drive-by “smile”).

              The strange thing is, when you read the internet you get the impression that America is this dystopian nightmare where a lot of men are just constantly and randomly harassing women with impunity. But I’ve actualy been to America quite a few times and it really doesn’t seem as bad as the internet makes it out to be. Ive been in America way longer than a week and never been told to smile by a random guy, so I’m guessing that level of frequency (3 times a week) is unusual.

              1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

                I’m the 3 a week lady. It’s the same guy – the security guy running the metal detector. The guy that I have to walk by to get to work, the one who has the authority to not let me in the building, or at the very least, make me late to court. I’ve never heard him say it to a male lawyer. I’d love to know why.

                It may be an American thing, this expectation of smiling. I live in the south (if only y’all could hear my accent, you’d know how Deep South) and it’s a different world down here. I don’t know where you’ve been in America, but I betting it’s no where near where I live. I’m also sure that female attorneys in New York or LA experience things very differently than I do. But, I’ll tell you this: every single female attorney I personally know has been told to smile. I know this because we talk about it – so much since October 2017.

                1. Lynn*

                  I have to deal with the same security person. After he told me to smile a few times, I stopped, turned around, and asked him when the last time he’d told a man to smile was. I then said I was on my way to Court and my brain was focused on what I was about to do. He no longer tells me to smile. And I found out others had complained about behavior of his that went farther.

              2. sap*

                I have to say, depending on where you are in America, it kindof *is* a dystopian nightmare with men harassing women constantly on the street. There are some neighborhoods–I’ve lived in 3 (and don’t anymore, thank God) where literally every block there is at least one group of dudes that will be hanging out that will harass you when you walk by at least 1/3 of the time, so prettymuch when you walk more than 2 blocks you approach a 100% chance of being harassed. See also why I was willing to circle looking for parking for 1/2 an hour when I lived in those places.

              3. Niki*

                I’m in the UK and it happens plenty – maybe not 3 times a week but variation of ‘Cheer up love, it might never happen’ from men is really common – I get it all the time from the man in the ticket office at the train station on my commute.

              4. mrs__peel*

                “you get the impression that America is this dystopian nightmare”

                Welllllllll….. not WHOLLY inaccurate…..

              1. Aquae Sulis*

                I’m also in the UK, and have been told to ‘smile love’ so many times, by both male colleagues and random men on the street. A woman has never said it to me. The last work colleague to try it certainly won’t be doing it again!

                1. MsSolo*

                  It’s always with a pet name as well, over here. “Cheer up, pet.” “Oi, smile, luv.” “Give us a smile, m’luvver.” I mean, if I woke up in a strange part of the country and for some reason couldn’t figure it out from any of the normal methods, walking around looking solemn would give me the answer in minutes.

                2. Lara*

                  Yeah happened a lot when I was younger and waiting for the bus… I’d force an awkward smile because I didn’t want this older, bigger bloke to get mad at me, he’d stalk off looking self satisfied, I’d hate myself for not telling him what I thought of him. It’s nothing but a seedy little power play.

            5. CaliUKExpat*

              I moved California to the UK, been here four years, and I still get it. Sometimes think I get it more, but I think that’s more due to using public transport instead of driving.

            6. aa*

              It is a USA thing, I think. I am Spanish – which, interestingly, I think is in many respects a much less male chauvinistic culture than that of English-speaking countries – and I have never ever heard that in my life. Said to me or to anyone else.

              I have never heard it in any other European country, either.

            7. Scarlet*

              I’ve lived in Europe all my life and it is definitely a thing here. (Although it’s thankfully pretty much disappeared now that I’m in my 40s, but it used to happen to me all. the. time.)

              Northern Europe tends to be more “enlightened”/progressive/feminist than the rest of Europe.

            8. Anon.*

              I’m Irish and it definitely happens here. Other commenters have said that it happens in the UK as well. I’ve lived in several other European countries and America as well – in my experience it didn’t happen in Germany or France but it did happen in California.

                1. Anon.*

                  My comments don’t seem to be threading properly but to Scarlet: I don’t doubt your experience! I experienced a *lot* of street harassment in France but wasn’t told to smile specifically.

            9. Media Monkey*

              i’m from the UK and i can tell you it happens a lot here. from builders shouting “smile it might never happen” as you walk past, randoms on public transport, and parents/ grandparents saying “you look so pretty when you smile”. i am quite a smiley person but nothing gets them an evil look quicker (i also have a wide selection of evil looks).

              1. JustaTech*

                Because I’m like this: What “might never happen”? Like, that’s such a random statement, even for street harassment.

        4. Triple Anon*

          I think it might also be regional. I got more of it on the east coast than on the west coast.

          1. teclatrans*

            I can’t compare frequency (though ky guess it has more to do with how many passing men you will see in a day), but can confirm to that we get this on the West Coast. I got it the day a good friend died, when some random guy on the street thought I was “too pretty to wear such a serious expression.” Usually I ignore or shrug it off, but that man got an earful.

        5. DeveloperDodo*

          I also wonder if there’s a cultural aspect to it as well. As a male I don’t get told to “smile” by other males, but I routinely get it from my female colleagues (I’m not too fond of it either).

          1. Lara*

            Do randos on the street ever do it to you? I’ve never had a colleague say it, but so. many. random. men.

        6. Clever Name*

          Gendered especially in that it is women being TOLD to smile, regardless of whether the tell-er is male or female. No one tells men they’re more handsome when they smile.

      1. Renata Ricotta*

        First, I’m pretty sure SoCalHR was referring to the “why don’t you smile” thing. Second, I am fairly tired of people responding to societal trends in which men are overwhelmingly the boorish perpetrators and women overwhelmingly the victims (both smiling comments and personal space invasion apply here) by suggesting that because they are personally aware of counter-examples, there is no gender component to it. Yes, women who do this exist, and are also boorish. But, on a large scale it is almost always men, and it is important to acknowledge that.

        1. High Score*

          Having witnessed an equal amount jerk behaviors from all genders, I don’t like to let your assumption go unchallenged. The smile thing is a mostly man thing. The best way to handle jerks is to call out the bad behavior as it happens rather than attempt to pinpoint their motivations (misogynist jerk).

          1. Katniss*

            I think we can let others decide how they’d like to handle jerks. I call out sexism when I see it because men need to know when they’re being sexist.

            1. LCL*

              It is for High Score, or anyone, to tell what they think works best for a solution to a particular problem. In the context of this type of blog, where people offer suggestions. Just as it is for you, or anyone, to tell High Score that it ain’t that simple.

              1. Mookie*

                It’s for me to say, real friendly-like with a big smile on my face, piss off with this. :DDDDDDD

              1. Anonymoose*

                Ahem, I actually did some quick research and Zazzle will make it for $18 with a coupon code. Heh.

            1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

              Thank you, Mike C!! I read these comments a lot, hardly ever post, and I’m always impressed with what you have to say. Don’t think I’ve ever seen you make a “not all men” kind of comment. I’m a criminal defense lawyer in solo practice. I go to court at least 3 out of 5 days every week. Every time, and I mean every time, I go to court I get the “smile” shit. I’m 40 now and take very little nonsense from anyone not in a black robe. Up to and including (and I’m quoting here) telling the guy who called me out for not laughing at his lame joke (at 8:30 a.m.) that “it’s not my job to laugh at your shitty joke.” I’m lucky in that I work for myself so I can come out swinging. But, I do remember the red curtain of rage that used to descend when it was the man signing my check who’d say such.

              1. Anonymoose*

                I LOLed at your response to the shitty joke. Thank you for doing your part against idiots!

                1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

                  It feels SO GOOD!! Something that feels better, handing it to them in court. That’s heaven dipped in chocolate.

          2. This Daydreamer*

            The vast majority of posts in AAM are about jerks of one kind or another. When it’s the type of jerk thing that a bad boss does, there’s never an argument that some non-bosses do the same thing. Same with issues that usually come up with interns, or applicants, or HR, or whatever. It’s only when it’s an issue that comes up because of sexism, and it happens every. Single. Time. There is a conversation about sexism in every place I go on the internet. I’m sick of it.

            1. Parenthetically*

              “When it’s the type of jerk thing that a bad boss does, there’s never an argument that some non-bosses do the same thing.”


            2. Mad Baggins*

              Thank you! If you’re going to #notallmen #devilsadvocate this, there are plenty of other jerks who could use your defense, please give this issue a break.

            3. Round and realistic*

              That’s because no one says “its almost always a boss that eats your leftovers, tackles you into oncoming traffic, brings their noisy children in to work” etc. They say its a terrible boss, singular. Generalisations that certain types of people are evil by default wont ever help solve the issue, we fight the battle against evildoers one evildoer at a time, and hope people learn by example.

          3. tusky*

            High Score: Renata R’s “assumption” here is that such behavior is more often (but not exclusively) done by men than by women, so I’m not sure how pointing out that sometimes women do it too “challenges” that assumption? Similarly, while your attempt to advise on handling such behavior is certainly admirable, it doesn’t strike me as particularly well-informed or helpful. (Note: misogyny isn’t only (or even necessarily) a motivation; it is also an observable impact or outcome of behavior.)

          4. Mookie*

            The best way to handle jerks is to call out the bad behavior as it happens rather than attempt to pinpoint their motivations (misogynist jerk).

            I can do both, and I’m very glad to. I couldn’t give less of a toss if a man doesn’t like being labeled a misogynist. It’s (a) accurate and (b) makes me, the person who matters as the receiving end of his dumb garbage, feel good and heard.

            Bloop to not naming the poison I’m being offered.
            Bloop to the ~real sexism is the kind that calls something sexist.
            Bloop to “divisive.” And “misandry.”
            Bloop to KoolAid Guy #notallmen derails.

        2. pleaset*

          ” I am fairly tired of people responding to societal trends in which men are overwhelmingly the boorish perpetrators and women overwhelmingly the victims (both smiling comments and personal space invasion apply here) by suggesting that because they are personally aware of counter-examples, there is no gender component to it”


          1. pleaset*

            And I’m a guy, and have been told to smile (by men and women when I was younger). But that’s a tiny tiny fraction of the time it happens relative to it happening to women, esp younger women, and doesn’t removed the generally gendered aspect.

        3. BeautifulVoid*

          As soon as Alison wrote her message to the unaware men, I knew it was only a matter of time before the first “well, actually” or #notallmen. One of the saddest Bingo cards out there, yet one of the most frequently used.

        4. Only here for the teapots*

          +1000 with a -1000 for doubling down on the #notallmensplaining in the replies.

          1. LCL*

            In this case, labeling opinions that are less than the majority is dismissive of others. Is there a word for that? Patronizing?

              1. Mookie*

                Voice of Tired Vulcanning, more like. All these people can offer is concern for tone with a side of sea-lioning, and feigned ‘objectivity’ barely concealing their obvious skin in the game.

            1. Specialk9*

              Do you honestly believe that nothing should be dismissed or called out? It’s funny how you’re accusing everyone of silencing you, when literally the point of whataboutism is to silence women and people of color from truths unpopular with those who have held power for millennia.

        5. Tired of my old name*

          How do we know this? Have studies been performed? Seriously, it may be more noticed when men do it because it is more annoying to some. I don’t like it when anybody doesn’t ike my face the way it is.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            If only there were a website where one could pose a question like this and find answers…

          2. Finnanon*

            Yes, there are actually studies out there, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher for example has studies the phenomenon. And you can just Google “men telling women to smile” and you’ll encounter several articles and countless personal stories.

            Then try it the other way around.

      2. SoCalHR*

        Yes, the touching thing can go both ways, but I was specifically referring to the “smiling thing” since its almost exclusively one-sided.

      3. EmKay*

        Do you waltz into cancer wards to inform eveyone that heart disease is also a problem?

      4. blondein_tokyo*

        I’m sure this has already been said, but counter accusing women of bad behavior isn’t the way to respond here. The fact that some women behave badly doesn’t excuse Jerry’s behavior or help the OP solve her problem. In fact it’s irrelevant, and the only reason I can for bringing this up is to try to minimise the problem of male sexist behavior in the office. And I’d really like to know why you would want to do that.

    4. chocolate lover*

      Unfortunately it’s not just men. I previously had a female colleague who several times asked me if I was “OK” because I looked so serious when she walked by my office. After the 2nd or 3 rd time, I asked her to stop because it made me feel on the spot. Once she realized that, she didn’t do it again.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I’ve definitely asked people if they were okay if they looked super serious and it wasn’t typical. But it was out of concern rather than “you need to smile more”.

        1. chocolate lover*

          Except for me, it WAS typical. Especially since I was by myself, concentrating on a task. I do believe she was concerned, but she also didn’t know me that well. We were such different personalities when it comes to being visibly enthusiastic, it stressed me out that she automatically assumed something was wrong.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Sure, but there’s a difference between Hey, person I’m friendly with, I notice you look more serious than normal, and I’m wondering if everything is okay and Hey, person I just happen to work with, I notice you’re not smiling and I would prefer that you do, or maybe I don’t even care but it just gives me an excuse to say something “witty” and make you look at me and respond.

          1. Engineer Woman*

            So true! If it’s a close colleague and out of concern – you know her normal facial expressions and she seems more serious than typical – then asking if everything is okay is reasonable.
            However, for people for whom you don’t know their usual expressions: please mind your own business.

          2. Round and realistic*

            chocolate lover wasn’t close with the person however, so both are intrusive and shouldn’t happen.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            In OP’s case it sounds like Jerry wants attention. It sounds like he has a pattern of interrupting and getting attention by being “helpful”, like rubbing people’s shoulders, etc. So when OP is concentrating that gives him an excuse to demand attention by being “helpful”.
            It seems like all my life, there have always been people putting their needs on me. Beginning with my parents, who trained me to ignore my needs and serve the needs of everyone else. I’ve run away, pushed away, yelled and scared away, countless people who were wanting my attention, just to get enough space to realize my needs are important too and no, there is no requirement that I or OP has to give attention to any man who demands it! Unless it would get her in trouble at work. I hope not!

      2. MattKnifeNinja*

        My friend with Asperger’s gets this why DON’T you smile stuff all.the. time.

        His face boarders on almost expressionless. He tells me he has no clue what the hell his face is doing. His anxiety goes off the charts because both men and women have asked him what is wrong. Why are you not smiling

        He told me he wishes he could learn the, “I’m fine, please leave me alone.”

      3. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

        So, isn’t the operative point that the offender stopped when asked to?

      4. Clever Name*

        It’s not just men, but it IS generally only directed AT women.

        Some women have just internalized the expectation of women being pleasant, and have the same approach as men – that a woman not smiling is wrong, somehow.

      5. Girl friday*

        Haha! I do that, it’s like a tic. But it’s my job to monitor the well-being of people that pass through my area. Otherwise, I could get in trouble or even written up. So it extends into non-work time. I love my job.

    5. Tara R.*

      In high school, a guy told me “Smile! You’re too pretty to look like your dog just died!”

      My dog had, in fact, died the day before. I burst into tears. The kid was mortified and I’m pretty sure he never tried to police random women’s facial expressions ever again, so I consider the whole experience somewhat worth it.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        One day when I was walking near my house a guy yelled “SMILE!” at me from down the block. I was in the middle of a really rough time mental-health-wise and was basically walking around wishing I could sink into the earth and disappear. Being told to smile pissed me right off so I yelled back “MY DOG JUST DIED,” because it was the first thing that popped into my head.

        My dog was and remains alive and well but the guy looked mortified. I hope that at least made him think carefully before he tried that again.

        1. Rainy*

          For the six months or so after my first husband died, when a man told me to smile I’d say “my husband just died and I DON’T FEEL LIKE SMILING”.

          There weren’t many bright spots to that time but that was definitely one of them. :)

          1. Julia*

            “Oh, so you’re not taken?” Did anyone ever respond like that?

            I’m very sorry for your loss.

              1. Workerbee*

                I am sorry for your loss and for the boorish commentary. The narrative/entitlement cartoon running in the heads of such people must be too loud for them to take in what’s being said or conveyed to them in REAL LIFE. Ugh.

              2. This Daydreamer*

                Wow. I think I would have just started screaming incoherently at the guy. What a complete asshole. I am so sorry you had to deal with any of that.

                1. Wendy Darling*

                  Legit when things like that happen to me sometimes I’m not even upset because I’m too busy being amazed that someone with the unmitigated gall is still walking around the earth, and without a black eye even, that I don’t have the bandwidth for upset.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Good for you for “punching” back. You should be proud of that. It’s not easy in times of grief. At all.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            A few days after my son died I was in the grocery store. Some rando dude said “smile, it can’t be all that bad.” Wanna take a guess at how I responded?

            1. Rainy*

              AW YEAH

              It’s never as satisfying in the moment as it should be, because, well…grief.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                If only I could have summoned the fortitude to have done that in the moment. No court would convict me. I actually broke down (some of it may have been for dramatic effect because fuck that guy) and started explaining how I’d only just taken him off of life support. I said how it was a decision I had to make alone since I’d lost his day five years earlier (true), etc.

                Then he tried to “comfort” me (yeah physically) as I started crying and I was like “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME … THIS GUY JUST SIAD HE WAS HAPPY MY CHILD JUST DIED!!!” Yes, I was yelling. Then I walked away.

            2. Rachael*

              I got that in the elevator at work while I was going through a divorce so I said “Last weekend my husband left me so i DON’T FEEL like smiling and I’m not going to because it will make YOU feel better”.

              It was an awkward and silent 30 seconds up to his floor.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Good for you. That guy deserved allllll the awkward. All those guys who think it’s ok to say stuff deserve the awkward … at the very least.

            3. CBE*

              I have had a similar experience the day after my brother died. But hey, it was CHRISTMAS so I should have been jolly!

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Don’t you know that no woman ever is supposed to not be in a good mood (or at least fake it) around any male ever? C’mon what’s wrong with you that you didn’t realize that that guy wanted to have a happy, happy, happy Christmas and you being sad was bringing him down? You owed it to him to pretend that everything was just all sunshine and rainbows. Silly girl…

              2. Daydreamer*

                My dream interaction would go something like:
                Rando guy: “why aren’t you smiling?”
                Me: “because there are people out there like you who feel the need to tell me what to do with my face.”
                Oh to have the balls to pull it off…

        2. Alex the Alchemist*

          Did something similar when a guy who worked at my undergrad constantly asked me, “Why don’t you smile more?” I got fed up with it and finally yelled, “BECAUSE I HAVE CLINICAL F*CKING DEPRESSION.” Never had any trouble after that.

        3. sap*

          I got really sick at burning man once (unrelated to substance abuse or some such), and my husband and best friend were being my shoulder-supports to the medic, and a random guy with a megaphone was sitting in his tent on the route and shouted at me to cheer up. My husband stopped to yell at him, and I puked in front of his tent. You’re supposed to clean that stuff up for leave no trace, but we left it for the dudebrah.

      2. Erika*

        A friend and I had this happen at the Mall when we were sitting taking quietly. Some jerk came over and told us to Smiiile. We were there to buy clothes to attend my mother’s funeral and were discussing her father’s funeral. I wish either of us had had the presence of mind to tell him so. That was over 20 years ago and the violation of it still bothers both of us.

      3. Lynn Whitehat*

        I had someone do that to me when I was on the plane flying to my grandmother’s funeral. “Smile! It can’t be that bad!” I told him I was going to my grandmother’s funeral. He shut up. #worthit

        1. JustaTech*

          I had the woman sitting next to me on a flight get all huffy at me because I was crying. “What, did your boyfriend break up with you?”
          “My *husband* is sitting right there. My grandmother just died.”

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        The last time a man told me to smile, I was literally on the way to a close relative’s funeral.

      5. clara*

        My face is naturally expressionless. I have no idea why but my natural resting expression is completely blank, especially if I am concentrating. And people always think they can comment on it.

        My maths teacher, a man in his forties always commented on it despite my repeatedly assuring him it was just my face (way to make an 11 year old girl self conscious, constantly commenting on her face). He also said “smile its not like anyone has died” the day after my Dad was diagnosed with cancer (he is fine luckily but at the time we didn’t know if he was dying or not). Of course I burst into tears and ran out of the room. When teachers found me, three hours later (private school in the country we had massive grounds so hiding was easy) they had called my grandma because they couldn’t find me and they couldn’t get through to my mum (who was at hospital with my dad) she arrived with her mother, my great grandma (I can’t remember why). The teachers started telling me off for running away, I told them why I ran off crying and maths teacher says “well how was I supposed to know”. My great grandma who must have been about 95 at the time, she was frail little old lady in a wheelchair and had been politely chatting to the headmaster and drinking tea up until this point suddenly starts laying into the teacher in question telling him how he should learn to think before he speaks as he doesn’t know what’s going on in people’s personal lives and he has no right to police my expressions and hasn’t he learned yet not to comment on others appearance? Surely when he was a child he was taught how rude that was? Did it hurt his feelings if every single pupil in his class wasn’t grinning like his lessons were the best thing ever? Surely he should understand by now the world didn’t revolve around him. As if he was a naughty child. It was brilliant because the teachers were clearly trying to make it my fault and ignore what the maths teacher did but in the end I didn’t get any punishment because she made everyone (including the headmaster) feel like naughty children. I miss her.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I hope that the spirit of your great grandmother inhabits every one of us the next time some arsehole tells us or someone in our general vicinity to smile.

        2. tusky*

          I also have always had a relatively expressionless resting face. As a child I found it endlessly perplexing that this read as “angry” or “worried.” I could not understand why anyone would expect me to be constantly smiling or looking happy, since I thought of smiling/happiness as a reaction (like laughter) to specific experiences of pleasure.

          Also, your great grandma sounds truly brilliant.

      6. teclatrans*

        I posted this above, but this seems an appropriate place to share that I took got this right after a death that had rocked me, and I hope my vehement response made some sort of dent in that man’s entitled practice. Sadly, this happens so often that I suspect that there is a pretty high probability that there are many, many of us out there who got told to smile while in deep pain.

      7. Artemesia*

        I have told this before, but I got this on an airplane from the guy who was seated next to me. ‘Smile you look like someone just died’. I turned to him and said ‘my father, this morning; I am flying to be with my mother.’ The only good thing that miserable day.

        1. General Ginger*

          I know there’s not much reasonable or logical thinking (or any thinking, really) that even goes into the process of “tell this woman to smile”, but just statistically speaking, “you look like someone just died” has so much likelihood of being accurate! Why. Why would anyone ever say that.

          1. Snarkastic*

            True story: my friend showed up dressed in all black and sunglasses (at night) to some sort of party for the students in our department. Thinking she was goofing with the glasses, I go, “Who died?” Her aunt. Her aunt had died. I have never felt like such garbage.

        2. AKchic*

          As someone with RBF, my go-to whenever someone tells me to smile because “its not like somebody died” is “you will if you tell me to smile again” and a long stare down (I don’t need to blink for a long time – it’s unnerving, or so I’ve heard).

    6. gecko*

      My theory is that there’s a range of benevolently sexist reasons. For instance maybe men think that the automatic smile a woman might produce when asked “why so serious” is actually her cheering up. The less benign men think it’s harmless flirty chit-chat that makes both people feel good. The even less benign men may just want attention from a pretty lady.

      All of those levels are rooted in a few sexist fallacies: that the woman of course cares what the man thinks; that the man is entitled to attention; that the woman isn’t doing anything important or uninterruptible; that the sexual-lite overtone belongs in the office.

      Fwiw I’m a woman so I could be way off-base on the trends of the straight male psyche.

      1. Luna*

        I think Jeffrey is definitely using this line as a lame attempt at flirting. Not that he necessarily wants to get the LW on a date or anything, but there are those men who for some reason think saying stuff like this makes them funny or charming, and they enjoy going around the office flirting with “the ladies” for their own amusement.

        1. Tuna*

          Absolutely! And in reality they are not funny or charming, simply bizarre and unwelcome.

        2. teclatrans*

          Yeah, I honestly think that most of my “Smile!” exhortations were men who wanted the hit of a flirtatious moment with a woman, and that these men don’t realize they aren’t that far down the spectrum from the guys who whistle or yell “Great ass!”

      2. Hills to Die on*

        I always thought it was a stupid way to try and flirt. Regardless of intent, I’m happy to see this getting the negative attention it deserves. My 13-yo daughter has a t-shirt that reads, ‘no, YOU smile.’ I love it.

        1. Midge*

          Thinking about your daughter wearing that shirt is, in fact, making me smile. Internet high fives to her.

      3. sfigato*

        straight dude (who doesn’t tell women to smile), and I think your answers are pretty spot on. it’s a combination of thinking that women should look nice to please them, that they are doing a nice one by helping a woman snap out of her grumpiness, and that it isn’t ok for women to not smile. I think it’s sometimes done with good intentions and often done with not so great intentions (none of which affects how irritating it is). we also are generally more focused on how women look than on how men look. women are expected to look pleasant to the eyes, men not so much.

        This guy sounds like he thinks he’s helping a sister out by helping to cheer her up. shut him down, and shut him down hard.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Also: She isn’t doing anything uninterruptible. I mean she’s a woman, how important can whatever work she’s doing, (just for pin money really), be anyway?

        2. Kate 2*

          I like your point about how focused we are on how women look. I noticed recently, watching movies from the 50’s and 60’s, that most of the women I know still look super put together, but the men don’t. Like, most men I see out and about don’t even wear clothes that are clean, non-holey, and fit. I wondered about it, but your comment puts it in perspective for me. Women are expected to look attractive, and there’s a strong pressure, a prevalent idea that your beauty is your worth, and beautiful women are worth more. Meanwhile a man’s worth is in his head, they can be dirty and disheveled if they want to. The one exception I have noticed is more conservative fields like finance, or sales.

      4. Gabriela*

        I think this is a really good summary and a more generous read than most people (including me) would give it.

      5. Turquoisecow*

        I don’t think it’s what’s happening here, but I think a lot of time when people tell women/girls to smile it’s because they (the speaker) somehow feel responsible for their (the woman’s) happiness, because they’re in some sort of power over them. I used to get it from my grandfather, from customers when I was a cashier, and from a few other random older men.

        Sometimes, i think it’s a kind of acknowledgement that the woman/girl is unhappy or is not happy (maybe she’s just thinking), and the speaker wants to correct that. Rather than making an effort to emotionally connect – perhaps because he’s a stranger, or a mostly-stranger, like a customer or coworker – they think they can solve things by saying “smile!” Or this is a sort of awkward attempt to help without having the emotional intelligence to actually know how to do it.

        Regardless of the reasons, it’s still wrong.

        I used to respond to well-meaning people with a huge and obviously fake smile. In a workplace (not speaking to a customer) is reply with “why?” (And occasionally recite a litany of all the things going wrong with my day). Usually that drove them away.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I was proud of my friend. He found a cashier who was NOT smiling. He knew the look, it was the look people sometimes have when they lost someone . He asked if she was okay or if she needed something. Since there was a lull in business, they chatted for a few minutes. She explained briefly. He indicated he would remember her and her family in his prayers. Her eyes got damp and she thanked him.

          That conversation did more than saying “smile!” could ever hope to accomplish. A bigger and stronger human connection is made when people get real.

      6. fieldpoppy*

        A related theme is the BBC announcer I heard yesterday saying that Theresa May and Angela Merkel had “lectured Trump like school marms” at the G7. Um, maybe they were giving their opinions as effing heads of state?


        1. Mookie*

          The only women they know as (very little)authority figures are nagging moms and schoolteachers. Fuck that announcer.

        2. London Calling*

          maybe they were giving their opinions as effing heads of state?

          Er, really not trying to derail but May isn’t a head of state. In the UK it’s the Queen

          1. whingedrinking*

            Yes, but in a constitutional monarchy, the prime minister, as head of government, has more power in practice than the sovereign does. The Queen isn’t allowed to talk about politics. So in this case it’s a distinction without a difference.

            1. London Calling*

              No, it isn’t. However much power she does or doesn’t have, the queen is head of state

              A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona that officially represents the national unity and legitimacy of a sovereign state (wiki definition).

            2. babblemouth*

              The way we talked about it in my Political Science classes was always “heads of state or government” this way you can include all the important people at once. A bit of a mouthful, but it’s always correct!

          2. Hornswoggler*

            Technically, neither is Merkel. Germany has a President – currently Frank-Walter Steinmeier (I had to google him).

      7. Scarlet*

        It’s honestly always been so puzzling to me. In retrospect, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to stop one of those guys and ask “WHY??? WHY DO YOU DO THIS??”

    7. ArchivesGremlin*

      I had an adult male tell me that I’d be more liked if I smiled more… when I was 7.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        I had an adult male tell me to smile more, I’d be prettier, at about the same age. As I was walking into swim lessons. Just random pool maintenance worker, telling 6 or 7 year old me to arrange my face differently to please the men around me.

        It has happened since, as an adult, but that 6 year old one is burned into my brain.

      2. LizW*

        Grandfather told me this repeatedly as a child.
        Dude, I look like you! It’s YOUR RBF!

        1. bolistoli*

          I’m sure you didn’t say this, but I would love to have seen his face if you did. :)

        2. Julia*

          My parents would use this on me all the time they made me angry and my face showed it, saying it was no wonder people at school didn’t like me with that ugly face.

          1. Kristin in Germany*

            That actually made me gasp. How absolutely horrid of them. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Julia!

      3. boo bot*

        When I was a toddlerbot I was a subject in a behavioral science study of some kind, where they put me in a room with some tricky new educational toys and observed what I did with them.

        My mother recalls that I played around trying to figure out how these items worked, and the two researchers commented that something seemed to be wrong.

        “What do you mean?” asked Mamabot.
        “She’s not smiling,” said researcher #1.
        “She’s not having fun,” agreed researcher #2.
        “She’s concentrating!” said exasperated Mamabot, and the researchers seemed unconvinced.

        I was like two.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          OMG how could they be behavioral scientists and not be aware of the frown of concentration?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            There have been quite a few times I have read studies and almost fell out of my chair laughing as the researchers so missed a similar type of point.

            I’d like to encourage folks to read studies more often. It’s amazing what is in them and it is amazing what is NOT in them.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Also: She isn’t doing anything uninterruptible. I mean she’s a woman, how important can whatever work she’s doing, (just for pin money really), be anyway?

            1. Specialk9*

              How many pins did women use to need? Hat pins, obviously, and sewing pins, and maybe some brooches. After that I’m at a loss.

              1. Blueberry*

                IIRC a lot of pins went into adjusting clothing while being worn, as well as during sewing. But I don’t want to send us off on a pin-tangent.

                1. MsSolo*

                  To entirely take this off on a pin tangent, in the ‘olden days’ most clothing consisted of several separate parts, to make it easier to clean and maintain. Your sleeves weren’t attached to your jackets, your collar to your blouse, your pinafore to your skirt… You didn’t have zips or velcro, buttons were expensive (and almost exclusively male – the pockets of their day!), and lacing is a massive fiddle if you’re using it on every single seam. So you pinned everything together instead. You’d be wearing dozens each day, and of course there’s a lot of wear and tear on pins, so you’d need a lot of pin money in order to retain the ability to wear clothes.

                  Also a proper late Victorian hat pin is a thing to behold – six+ inches of solid steel. You could kill a man with one. Especially a man who told you to smile. #bringbackhatpins

                2. AKchic*

                  Ah yes… the Victorian hat pin. Once attempted to be outlawed because of the “Hat Pin Peril” (or Menace).
                  A little bit of poison on the tip for any would-be assaulter of the female person and all of the sudden, we ladies are a menace with our hatpins, not the males who would assault us. Tsk tsk.
                  Yes, #bringbackhatpins (and yes, I do have a few, due to costuming requirements) indeed. Almost as good as a rapier, but much easier to conceal.

                3. RUKiddingMe*

                  I could totally go off on a pin tangent A fourteen inch hat pin tucked securely into my sleeve type tangent…

              2. Ellex*

                Hair pins, a/k/a bobby pins. A must when you have long hair and are expected to put it up all the time.

              3. JLCBL*

                Not sure anyone is reading at this point but “pin money” meant money that you attach to your clothes via pin. Since women didn’t have pockets, it was their way to carry cash.

          3. Len*

            I have the Frown of Concentration (+1 wis, -1 cha) as well. It’s actually helped me to be cognisant of it, because people often mistakenly think I’m angry when I’m actually just thinking hard. It doesn’t help that A: I often think hard, and B: I looked in a mirror, and my “thinking” face actually does look identical to my “angry” face. Making a conscious effort to raise my eyebrows (at least back to “neutral”) has had a positive impact on talking to other people.

            (nb: I’m male).

        2. TootsNYC*

          I remember that when my kid was age 2!!!

          I came to nursery school to “host” her birthday party. The kids decorated a big sheet of paper, wore hats, sang, ate cupcakes, we read a book…

          They were intent. Serious-faced. I thought I was bombing as a hostess.

          I asked them, “Are you having fun?” They all nodded VERY vigorously, immediately, emphatically.

          It was a big lesson to me. And I saw it again and again. Just a month or two later, my daughter was a flower-girl in a wedding. She took her duties very seriously and was enjoying herself, but we could NOT get her to smile for the photo! I asked, again, “are you having a good time.” YES!! she nodded emphatically.

          1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

            I have a 19 month old. Kids this age are very. serious. when they’re doing something. Everything is super crucial and requires intense concentration. It’s hard when your arms and hands don’t always work the way you want them too.

        3. only acting normal*

          One of my favourite photos of my nephew when he was about 1yr old was him glaring at the camera because the photo interrupted a very intense game of stacking cups.
          A tot concentrating *soooo* intently is wonderful to watch.

          1. Artemesia*

            One of my favorite photos of my son is a zoom in with a telephoto just of his toddler face – he was about 18 mos old — as he is stacking something very high. I love that intense thing babies do as they master their coordination.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I have a picture of my son at about 18 months being interrupted (by me of course…needed the picture) while he was concentrating on sweeping the kitchen to help Mommy. He looks soooo serious.

        4. Michaela Westen*

          This is why I don’t trust “experts”. I’ve been seeing this kind of cluelessness all my life. I do my own research and thinking.

      4. NextStop*

        When I was, like, 7, my parents tried to get me to smile as my default expression. It never stuck.

        But then, once my dad made fun of how my smile looked, said it made me look angry. I haven’t smiled with my teeth since then. I’m not actually sure how to without closing my eyes – the corners of my mouth push on my cheeks.

        1. Thursday Next*

          The damage parents can do with a single comment is immense. I’m sorry your father said that to you.

      5. General Ginger*

        “You’d look much prettier if you smiled!” — when I was 14, from a man about quadruple that.

    8. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

      We have a guy that does this too. I usually say something like, “because I’m working. Why are you looking at my face that closely?”

    9. Serin*

      It means “Please pay attention to me.” All the other resonances and sub-meanings and connections go right over these guys’ heads; they have no clue that they’re essentially saying, “Pretty up, little lady, a man’s lookin’ at ya!” — they just want this woman to pay attention to them.

      Have you noticed that every time we manage to communicate with them that a particular way of demanding female attention is obnoxious and we don’t like it, another way pops up like a vile game of whack-a-mole? Make them stop with the ass-patting and the shoulder-rubbing starts up. Make them stop with the shoulder-rubbing and the leering compliments start. Make them stop with the leering compliments and we get comments on our facial expressions. Make them stop *that* and the next thing you get is super-exaggerated chivalry (really, Connor, the person closest to the elevator door can just walk out instead of bowing and gesturing at the woman in the back corner).

      And all because there is this obnoxious subset of the male gender that cannot imagine that a woman in the workplace could possibly have anything to do that means more, in the grand scheme of things, than paying attention to him.

      1. Amber T*

        “oMg YoU’rE aGaInSt ChIvAlRy?!?!”

        Yes. There’s a huge difference between being a decent, polite person to everyone, regardless of gender, and ‘chivalry,’ we’re 9/10 you’re making a woman feel uncomfortable/unsafe just so you can feel good about yourself.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Particularly since chivalry, in its original sense, was a code of behavior reserved for noblewomen only. Ladies were to be honored and cherished. Peasant women, of course, were about a step above farm animals and could be treated however.

            1. Specialk9*

              But also, those “cherished” women could be raped and beaten by their husbands, had no say in their lives except what they could convince men to allow, and would be killed as a witch if they grew too learned or independent. So… yeah, chivalry is creepy for pretty much any woman who looks at it closely.

              1. whingedrinking*

                It was basically an agreement among a bunch of powerful dudes that they wouldn’t rape or mistreat *each other’s* wives and daughters, in the same way that you wouldn’t steal your buddy’s horse or whatever.

        1. Amber T*

          “where 9/10 you’re…”

          Brain went in a different direction, but hopefully the point was made (my kingdom for an edit button…)

        2. Teapot librarian*

          Oh yeah. The “I absolutely insist that you go through the door before me” so you can–what? protect me from the marauders behind us? stare at my butt?–really makes me mad. “But my Mama taught me…” Be a chivalrous pig in your social life. Treat me like a person, not a female.

          1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

            Yeah. Refusing to go through a door until someone else does isn’t polite or kind — it’s just needlessly inefficient. Getting out of people’s way so they can go about their business? Now that’s polite.

            1. PhyllisB*

              I hear you!! My husband, Bless His Heart, will NOT walk through a door I hold open for him. Even if his hands are full and he’s blocking the door he will still insist on me going first while he attempts to hold it with his elbow. After 42 years I’ve given up on telling him he’s making things worse, and just go through the door already.

              1. Properlike*

                OMG yes. If I get to the door first, I hold it open. He wants to reach over and hold it for me so I can go through first. This is an enlightened, modern man! The inefficiency of it drives me bananas.

          2. SusanIvanova*

            There’s a recent post over on one of the notalwaysright (dot com) pages where the LW snapped after having that happen too many times in one day and told the guy to “just go through the f’ing door already!”

          3. Anonymous Engineer*

            I stopped at a gas station, opened the door to enter, and motioned a guy (with his hands full) to come on out.

            He hesitated, I waved him through more clearly, and then he walked through, saying, “That’s not how we do things here in Alabama, ma’am.”

            Resisted the urge to say back, “I live in Alabama too, you jack@$$.”

            1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

              My favorite is when they stand in the door way so that you have to brush past them. A runner at my first law firm did this and would get so mad when you didn’t want to walk thru a door way he was taking up half of. I wish I was who I am now back then cause I would have said “I don’t want to have rub up against your penis, I’ll take the other door.” Same guy would also make sure to brush by every women he walked past no matter how much room there was. A little context – I got fired from that job because I complained that a former partner had sexually assaulted me. They put me on unpaid leave for a month and told me that I’d need to come back with a doctor’s note saying that I was mentally fit to work. In 2011, folks, 2011.

              1. Windchime*

                Oh jeez, I hate this so bad. I have refused to go through a door when a man stands in the doorway and pushes/holds the door open. I am not going to squeeze up against you just to be polite, dude. Go on through. If you want to pull it open and then stand aside? That’s great; I’m all about being polite and I will hold the door open for you someday, too. But don’t stand in the way, push the door open and expect me to squeeze past you ‘cuz it ain’t gonna happen.

                1. NextStop*

                  It’s fun when guys do this with double doors, cause then I can ignore him entirely and open the other door myself.

              2. Blueberry*

                That is so horrifying. I’m sorry they treated you so shamefully ever, but even more so in the 20teens, WTF.

      2. gecko*

        Yeah, I think there’s probably something very Pavlovian about it too–do the thing and more often than not the woman will automatically pop her head up and smile at you, or at least make eye contact; and if you’re selectively socially blind you’re not picking up on the “please die” vibes, just your own “woohoo dopamine from this moment of attention” reaction.

        1. gecko*

          No, you know what it is–it’s like when I want my cat to look up at me, you know, I make all these tsk sounds and baby-talk her like a dummy. I’m being annoying to her but she’s my cat. This subset of men are treating strange women with the same level of respect and attention to humanity that they’d give a pet cat.

            1. Mookie*

              I do, too. She resents being patronized and the most of the ones before her, too. They all can discern fairly well whether we’re bluffing with our enthusiasm or not. The bad, delicious ones sometimes don’t care if it’s a bluff — so long as a pet or grub is in the offing — but they still know.

            2. General Ginger*

              Same. Especially because I tend to do it when I need to give her a shot/a pill/clean her ears or some other thing she really dislikes. But at least she’s MY cat, not a random cat, and I love her, and she at least likes me back.

            3. Len*

              That’s cats, though. Cats are not humans, and they *are* dummies. Fluffy, adorable dummies. Do not feel bad about baby-talking to your cat, really.

              One of my cats seems to prefer falsetto baby-talk, anyway. If I had to guess, it’s because that’s in his own vocal range, and maybe sounds more normal to him than deep rumbly bass.

              He cannot understand the baby-talk words I’m saying, though, because he is a cat.

      3. smoke tree*

        You know these are the same guys who will be totally shocked to discover you have a legitimate reason to be sad. Like it never occurred to them that you are a person with your own life and emotions, not a good feelings dispenser.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I added my “literally on the way to a funeral” above, and I wasn’t even like third with that example.

      4. Ladylike*

        I love this comment, because even though I’m totally fine with a little chivalry, I have experienced every one of these things in the workplace, and this is beautifully worded. Thanks for the chuckle!

      5. Kelsi*

        God I freaking hate that with the elevator. Or the guy who stands there holding the door behind him when you’re still across the damn parking lot, making you feel like an asshole if you don’t hustle.

        1. Library Land*

          One time when I was impossibly far out and a person was holding the door just for me, I had the ‘oh shoot do I have my phone’ moment, stopped, and had to search my purse. The person sighed and went on their way. I’ve decided I want this to be my go-to move if I’m getting the patronizing vibe from the door-holder. In a really obviously fake sort of a ‘just stopped here digging through my purse and waiting you out’ way.

          Luckily it doesn’t happen to me often – and hasn’t since that instance – but I have an action plan when it does!

      6. RUKiddingMe*

        “…there is this obnoxious subset of the male gender that cannot imagine that a woman in the workplace could possibly have anything to do that means more, in the grand scheme of things, than paying attention to him.”

        Or that a woman in any place could have anything that means more than paying attention to them.

    10. JamieS*

      I’ve never been told to smile (excluding school picture days as a child) nor had other female friends/family complain about it so I didn’t even know it was a thing until it was mentioned on here. Maybe it depends on where you live on whether it’s a thing. That or we’re doing something without realizing to discourage men from saying it.

      1. smoke tree*

        I think it might kind of depend on your default facial expressions too. If your resting face or concentrating face look a little too negative, it is certain to bother a certain type of guy. I think they’re just so used to a world in which women will go out of their way to mask any negative emotions that anything less than “benignly content” will register much more strongly than intended.

        1. CMFDF*

          I’ve very rarely been told to smile because my resting face is like annoyingly cheerful.

          I do get the sister comment, since I tend to not wear makeup, that I look very sick and/or tired, am I ok? It’s just my face. That’s just want my face is supposed to look like.

      2. Eye of the Hedgehog*

        same here and I definitely do not have a cheerful resting face. I think possibly my RBF is so off-putting no one even bothers to tell me to smile. Never had anyone rub my belly when I was pregnant either.

        1. Lady Luck*

          I think you’re likely right. I’m tall, broad-shouldered, and widely known to thrive on confrontation, plus I have a very intense natural expression. Men don’t ask me to smile (they generally comment on my unnatural hair color, which I much prefer, but is still frequently a rude attempt to demand my attention), but I have plenty of female friends who get told to smile regularly, despite frequenting exactly the same haunts as me. Men don’t choose targets randomly, no matter how subconscious or ingrained they insist their actions are.

          1. Autumnheart*

            I think there’s something to that. When I was younger, I adopted a “murder walk” to use in certain situations, and it became so ingrained that I do it without thinking. I’m 5’2 and nerdy-looking but if I use that walk, people clear a path.

            1. Alli525*

              I am 5’0″ and I LOVE my “murder walk” – although I just call it my “shoulders and thousand-yard-stare locked in” walk… your term is better :) Sunglasses and headphones also help.

              I developed it in college, after I decided that I was going to move to a major metropolitan area after graduation (now-ex wanted DC, I wanted NYC) and it has never steered me wrong – once I shoulder-checked a big guy who made eye contact with me and THEN veered directly into my path… he didn’t know what hit him.

            2. only acting normal*

              Me too! 5’2” and nerdy-sweet looking (especially when younger). I call mine the rugby player walk and the death stare. :)
              I’ve watched a bunch of lads see me coming and start prepping for the low key harassment, I turned on the walk and stare (past them not at them), and the all sort of stopped short and turned away from me and towards their mates – like magic!

          2. Ego Chamber*

            “they generally comment on my unnatural hair color”

            Omfg if I had a dollar for every time a redneck rando screamed Bluuuue! out the passenger side window of his friend’s pickup truck while I was walking down the street…

            1. Hlyssande*

              “out the passenger side window of his friend’s pickup truck”

              I tried to sing that to myself in the tune of No Scrubs, but got confused when it didn’t parse correctly.

            2. Kelsi*

              It’s interesting, I’ve had the opposite experience! My ratio of “gross creepy compliments” to “genuine, chill, nonthreatening compliments” from dudes has gotten way better since I went blue. Nowadays I get a lot more “love the hair!” and politely moving on, or questions about what product I use, and a lot less “lookin fine baby!”

        2. Wendy Darling*

          I get it very rarely. I have a fairly serious resting face and apparently walk like I’m on my way to wreck someone’s day. I suspect that people are afraid that if they get my attention they will be the beneficiary of my day-wrecking. I also get left alone by street harassers and even the charity muggers only go for me if there’s no one else in the vicinity.

      3. Carrie*

        Yeah, I apparently emit a pheromone or something, because despite being the femmiest femme to ever femme (not really, I don’t wear makeup) I have only ever gotten the “Smile!” thing once. Nor do I get randomly hit on. But that’s just me being lucky, because it *does* happen to other women around here, some of whom I personally know.

    11. kmb*

      I have had a woman tell me to do this once (which is not to discount that it is overwhelmingly gendered, and I thought she did this to me as an internalization of men’s behavior). It was on my busy event day, too, so it was kind of like the reason I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off and have no time to eat, let alone smile, should be pretty clear to everyone who works here.

    12. My privilege is showing*

      As a straight white cis-male who doesn’t do this, who also knows many straight white cis-males who don’t do this… I can’t tell you. Patriarchy secrets, you know?

      1. SoCalHR*

        Yeah, I was hoping for a man who has done this before to be brave enough to post an anonymous comment as to their motivations. ;-)

        1. Windchime*

          I’m only partway through the comments, but I’m gonna bet that we don’t get an explanation from a man on this one.

    13. Anon anony*

      If I had a dollar for every time this happened to me throughout my life, I could have retired years ago! Seriously, who cares?

      1. Not a Mere Device*

        Clearly, a lot of people care. If you’re not one of them, fine, go think about something else–it’s a huge Internet, with lots of things going on.

        Instead, you apparently care enough to have waded through the comments on this to tell us we shouldn’t care, or shouldn’t talk about being bothered, or something.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Seriously. “None of you should care about this because I don’t, GEEZ” is about on par with “why don’t you smile?” for obnoxious self-absorption.

        2. Cal*

          It sounded more like, “who cares if I smile or not?” And not “who cares about this issue?”. Maybe think before attacking?

          1. Kate 2*

            Didn’t sound that way to me, clearly didn’t sound that way to neverjaunty or Not A Mere Device either.

    14. Andy*

      Oh please. I’ve had women tell me to not look so serious before. One even said my phone voice makes me sound depressed all the time. I’m seeing a few #MeToo comments from the fellas too. I think the reason why it sounds like it’s a women-only problem is because men just don’t care.

      The ear and shoulder thing is ridiculous though. I definitely agree there.

      1. Louise*

        Oy. No one here is saying it’s a “women only” problem. We’re saying the problem is often steeped in gender dynamics and sexism (including internalized misogyny).

        I also don’t really know what you’re getting at by saying men are getting more comfortable talking about sexual assault or what that has to do with this conversation. It’s great that we’re opening up more space for men to talk about abuse they’ve faced, since we historically stigmatize men who open up about this stuff as “weak” — which is still a really gendered and sexist comment even though it’s directed at men!

        Look, tone policing sucks. It’s awful to be told that you’re not performing “social optimism and joy” in the way that person expects you to/demands of you. But to act like these comments are unrelated to gender is ignorant at best, and purposefully derailing at worst.

      2. Strawmeatloaf*

        How is it that every time there is a post or article or whatever about a problem that women are facing, someone eventually ends up commenting “but what about the menz?!!?!”

        Is it supposed to be just absolutely impossible that women talk about a problem that they mostly face without getting an invalidated comment? Because when someone says “but it happens to men too!” What they are effectively saying is “because it happens to the male gender also, then there is no point to this conversation and everyone should stop complaining.”

        It’s like when guys comment “it’s not fair we have to wear ties at work! Why do the women get to complain about wearing high heels?” Uh, no one said you weren’t allowed to complain about it? Join the women and get the dress code changed if you care so much!

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Because they can’t stand not having the attention on the menzzzz. They can’t handle that there is a conversation about something that overwhelmingly affects women, being spoken about by women without feeling a massive need to jump into the middle of the conversation and mansplain to the women how they are so wrong about their own lived experiences.

    15. KLH*

      I’ve worked with a lot of men, and I’ve NEVER had one of them tell me to smile more.

    16. London Calling*

      Becauses OBVIOUSLY we were put on earth for male entertainment and to make them feel good about themselves. Virginia Woolf nailed it in A Room of One’s Own when she said that women are supposed to act as magnifying mirrors for men. Self-confidence is often attained, she believes, by considering other people inferior in relation to oneself. She says that throughout history, women have served as models of inferiority who enlarge the superiority of men: “looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.” Men logically become angry and defensive if women ever criticize them, then, since women cease to be inferior and the men accordingly lose the status of superiority on which they are dependent.

    1. Admin of Sys*

      +1 My first reaction was that you should give him a death’s head grin and ask if he wants to know how you got this smile.

      1. Admin of Sys*

        (note: this only works if you can look like a serial killer while grinning, otherwise he may take it as encouragement)

        1. Batshua*

          If you widen your eyes and clench your teeth when you smile, you absolutely will pull off the serial killer grin. People will freak the heck out.

          1. Lady Phoenix*

            You can also try to make your neck look twisted and pull hair over your face…

            … Or you could put those cough masks on and ask him if he thinks your pretty… only to make your mputh look messed up after.

          2. Random Obsessions*

            Also, making the facial expression grow slowly across your face makes it creepier. The deliberate nature of the movement makes it unnerving to the recipient.

          3. Daniela*

            Now I have to go to the restroom and practice til it’s perfect. I picture this like the Sheldon fake-and-creepy smile?

      2. If I wanted to Smile...*

        When I have been told to smile, I lift my lip in a imitation of a snarl. Close enough.

      1. Impolite Society*

        Yeah, I think the creepy-Joker-villian vibe from that somewhat unusual turn of phrase is, possibly, intended. I vaguely remember one of the Joker’s scenes in that movie being a situation where he specifically menaces some woman with one of his stories about his scars, and it involves a women who didn’t smile when he wanted her to.

        And for repeats of this, I’d call him out on it: “Are you going for the Joker-from-Batman psychopath catchphrase on purpose, or is it just a happy coincidence?”

        1. A tester, not a developer*

          I was going to suggest replying with “Dude. I’m not Batman, and you are DEFINITELY no Heath Ledger”. :)

      2. General Ginger*

        Same. Definitely didn’t make me think anything positive about coworker’s image or motivations.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      My partner likes to get in our dog’s face and go, “Why… so… SERIOUS-AH?”, sometimes while moving the dog’s face into a smile. Sometimes the dog likes it because he loves his papa. Sometimes I think the dog is going to bite him (the dog has never bitten a human being, ever) and if that ever happens, there will be no sympathy from me.

      If my partner ever did this to me, I would definitely bite him.

    3. SusanIvanova*

      I didn’t even see the movie and I went there – it was a major meme for a while.

  1. Who the eff is Hank?*

    I’d be so tempted to say something like, “Because I take my work seriously, unlike some people.” Maybe the latter part of that should be more implied than explicitly said.

    1. Breda*

      I probably would just drag my eyes away from the computer, stare at him for a few seconds, and say, completely flat, “Because I’m working, Jeffrey.” Then go back to my work.

      1. Dino*

        I think this is my favorite response. It leaves no wiggle room, isn’t rude, and the “wtf are you expecting of me, I’m at work doing my job, like you should be” is implied by definitely felt by the receiver.

      2. AMPG*

        I had a coworker do this two me a couple of weeks ago, and the conversation went like this:
        Him: I’m going to put a mirror on your computer so that when you look at it you’ll see something that will make you smile.
        Me: I am allowed to do my work without smiling.
        Him: Well…I just meant….
        Him: Um, I didn’t mean….
        Me: You have a good day.

        1. Mookie*

          That is so gross. “Yer so purty you’d make yerself SMILE.” I hope he was smiling, because he was looking at you, when you dismissed him.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        I wouldn’t even look away from the computer. That gives him the attention he craves. At most I would do the “because I’m working Jeffrey” comment, though I might outright ignore him because even making that comment is giving him attention.

        Like a toddler having a tantrum…any attention even negative attention is what they are after. Give them no attention for their misbehavior and eventually (hopefully….) they will knock it the freak off.

    2. mrs__peel*

      I was also thinking of a reply like “I’m working. You should try it sometime”.

    3. LAC*

      I was definitely thinking she should respond, “Because I take my work seriously,” while giving him a meaningful look (thus implying the last bit).

    4. Hey Nonnie*

      I love this. Heheheh.

      Things I might do, in order of increasingly pointed if he refuses to take a hint:

      * Ignore him completely — just don’t react in any way. As far as he can tell, you didn’t hear him at all, because you were, you know, concentrating.
      * Respond in a distracted, I-didn’t-actually-take-in-that-you-said-a-thing voice while not looking up from your work: “Can you close my door when you leave? Thanks.” And then ignore him.
      * Get up from my desk, and without a word shut the office door in his face.

      How many of these I’d get through before just naming his behavior explicitly to him and telling him to knock it off would depend on my mood and my patience. I might be able to take some personal amusement in returning irritation for irritation. Or I might lose all patience for his boundary-violating self.

    5. bekbek*

      I have serious RBF–like, in grade school the other kids were asking me “what’s wrong?”–and now as an adult when I get told to smile, I add even more frown to my perma-scowl and say, totally deadpan, “I’m smiling on the inside.” The silence that follows is the *best*.

  2. The Foreign Octopus*

    This sort of comment never fails to make me see red.

    I once snapped back at a man who told me to smile on the street that I’d smile if he got hit by a fucking bus. Strangely, that wiped the smile off of his face. I don’t know why.

    Alison’s scripts are great and you are not taking this too personally. He’s an ass who needs to learn to mind his own business.

    1. chocolate lover*

      hahahahah I would have loved to see his face.

      In college I worked as a bank teller one summer. A customer told me to SMILE – after she had been yelling at me for a good 5 minutes. That may have been the closest I came to wanting to bite someone at work (see the earlier post about toxic work environments.)

      1. JokeyJules*

        my manager once told me that the face i was making (staring at my computer, in the middle of something, expressionless) wasn’t very attractive.
        i asked him if i was violating our dress code. He stammered and said no, and i said “then why are you commenting on my physical appearance?”

        And now, thankfully, it’s like I am a grey blob. I receive no comments at all. it’s great. 10/10.

          1. JokeyJules*

            this manager in particular needs things spelled out for them.
            instead of “I dont think that’s a good idea”, I say “I dont think that she would appreciate your commentary on her body/hair/appearance/makeup/voice/weight loss because that has nothing to do with her job as a project manager.”

            spell. it. out.

        1. chocolate lover*

          I don’t know if she was trying to alleviate the stress or what, but I’m almost told her to stick a smile where the sun didn’t shine. I was in a perfectly good me until she went on a rant at me because she didn’t like the bank’s policy on something.

        2. Daniela*

          Oh, I love this beyond all reason! That phrase is going to be added to my list for possible future use.

    2. Cringing 24/7*

      You even gave him a helpful hint for how to make you smile and he didn’t do it? Chivalry truly is dead.

    3. Agent Diane*

      I had one just last week where I responded ultrafast with “F off”. His defensive reaction was “I was just being nice” so I explained how many times a week women hear this and that he has no idea what someone is dealing with so maybe don’t do it. He admitted that maybe it was not a good thing.

      He was 60+ so it turns out you can teach a dog new tricks.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        And even if it’s the first time a particular woman has ever heard it… how is telling someone to smile being nice?

      2. Not So NewReader*

        But sometimes you have to bark at them first to get their attention.
        Well done, btw.

      3. I will kill people with this cricket bat*

        This is my standard reply as well. A quick and curt “F*ck off” seems to do the trick. They usually walk away mumbling about how I’m a b*tch, but I’m cool with that.

        1. AKchic*

          F off is no longer sufficient in my part of the world. “Choke on a bag of [phalluses]” seems to be a more effective insult to the flavor of critters in my area.

    4. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

      I find it especially irritating when I get from a guy in an orange jumpsuit. I make a point of noticing what crime the guys who tell me to smile or who complain about my lack of respect is charged with. Would anyone like to guess what category of criminal is the front runner? If you guessed domestic violence you win the prize.

      One of the great pleasures of my professional life is showing those men what they can get away with when they have no power over the woman with whom they are dealing, when she can walk away without worrying. They are shocked! Shook, rocked, flabbergasted. Had one not long ago that was charged with DV call me a bitch, I pointed at him and laughed, giggled really, and then spent a very enjoyable 30 seconds watching him come to terms with no longer being able to intimidate the woman in his life. Then we spent the next half hour discussing his probation being revoked cause he couldn’t quit hitting his wife. I found it exhilarating, him not so much.

      1. Zweisatz*

        *doesn’t want to stop hitting his wife.

        I’m totally with you, just want to make this clear for any onlookers: Abusive men aren’t victim of anything, they choose to act in this manner.

      2. AKchic*

        This surprises me not at all.

        This type of male specimen is not worth the air it breathes and gives others a bad name. This type was so bad, that I only married it once, and it was my starter husband. The marriage lasted less than a year. Never again.

      3. Nicole*

        I love, LOVE this. I spent my childhood watching my mom get the crap kicked out of her and experienced a touch of assault myself for talking back to the abuser(s) as a kid. This warms my bitter heart!

    5. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

      I don’t know how this will nest, so if it’s in an awkward spot, appologies.

      There is a twitter thread or Tumbler or something where a woman mentions leaving the dentist after a major tooth extraction or something. Some dude yells ‘Why don’t you smile?’ so she opened her mouth and let blood and drool roll down her face while he looked on in horror.

      I want this to be my super power.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        OMG, hilarious! Seriously made me LOL! If only we could all be prepared with bloody drool, I would love to see the reaction first-hand.

      2. fort hiss*

        Just want to hop in and say that Twitter person was the fabulous Zoe Quinn, aka the original target of Gamergate. Zoe is amazing!

    6. Joielle*

      Hahahahaha! A guy on the street told me to smile the other day and I scowled at him so hard he physically recoiled. I did actually feel a bit better after that, so thanks, random jackass!

  3. LouiseM*

    This wasn’t even the main point of your post, but sticking…fingers…in…ears? I think my brain just exploded. If someone stuck a finger in my ear I’d probably have them flat on the ground of sheer instinct.

      1. Jam Today*

        I think that often, especially lately thinking about antics at a company I used to work for. If an act will get you arrested if you do it on the subway, you should definitely not be doing it in your office.

      2. Specialk9*

        I thought it was cleaning his earwax with his fingernails, but did OP mean like la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you?

        1. Blueberry*

          I thought OP meant he was sticking his fingers in other people’s ears as he walked by them.

        2. Maolin*

          I think the asshat in question was sticking his finger in *others’* ears. Like a wet Willie. But please God, for all that is sacred in working life, I hope they were dry!

          Just when you thought it couldn’t be more gross. Eww.

    1. DecorativeCacti*

      I had a former coworker go around pulling pony tails. She did it to me once and the look on my face must have been enough, because she never did it again.

      1. Rainy*

        I got this a lot (braid, actually) when I was in my 20s and these days due to some neck and upper back issues, if my head moves in a way I wasn’t expecting my neck almost always immediately goes into spasm. If someone had the temerity to grab my hair in any way I’d just scream and fall down, because even if my neck didn’t spasm and pull my upper back out, I am extremely invested in making sure people don’t do shit like that to me.

    2. Enough*

      Was at a bar when in graduate school (1979) and got talking to 3 guys on campus for a conference. One stood behind me and tickled me. I told him to stop. He tickled me again. I told him not to do that again or he’d regret it. The third time I put my elbow in his stomach. His friends thought it was hilarious. He stopped and I hope he never did it again to any one.

      1. henrietta*

        Used to work for an SVP who liked pinching the cheeks (the face ones, not the butt ones) of his subordinate women. I shared an office with one who’d been on the receiving end more than once, and she felt powerless to object. The single time he tried it with me got him a purely-reflex response of a backhand shoving his hand away and a not-reflex shouting DON’T EVER DO THAT. There was a small crowd when he tried it, and his humiliation among his coworkers when I responded that way was palpable. He never did it to any other woman. Shouldn’t ever have done it once. How hard is it to keep your mitts off other people at work?!

        1. Amber T*

          Cheers – great response! I hope he didn’t take anything out on you and just learned not to touch woman inappropriately.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        My partner had a good friend who unfortunately used to use tickling as flirting. Partner was watching a film with him – he started tickling her, and she pushed him off and told him “Don’t do that again – if you do, I’ll punch you in the balls”. Of course he didn’t believe her, was was surprised when he tried it again and she did in fact punch him in the balls. No one really understood the surprise, but he 100% learned his lesson that at least with her, if she said “don’t touch me”, he needed to take it seriously.

        1. Batshua*

          I’ve never understood why when someone gives a warning with a concrete, specific consequence, people are like “I didn’t think you were serious!”

          I mean, to my knowledge, getting punched in the balls is not very fun, you think the threat alone would be enough.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            Exactly – and especially when you know the person really well, you should know they’re not playing!

        2. whingedrinking*

          A milder version, but I had a friend who would sometimes decide that the best way to make a hug even better is to spontaneously lift the person you’re hugging off the ground.
          Two things to remember if you’re physically picking someone up: it’s easier if you a) get their cooperation first so you’re not just hauling on their dead weight, and b), lift from below the centre of gravity – which in me, as in most women, is located basically in my butt. It’s not impossible if you don’t do those, but it’s harder. My friend did neither. Instead, to compensate, he squeezed really hard with his arms wrapped around my chest as he lifted.
          I am a busty lady to start with, and I was on my period, which makes my boobs sore. I also teach, and direct theatre, so my voice is trained to carry. My shriek of pain rattled the windows, and my friend has not tried to scoop me up like that ever again.

          1. V-Rex*

            Similar thing happened to a friend, someone did the hug-lift thing while this full figured woman was wearing a very tightly cinched corset as part of a costume. She gave a very loud “WHAT THE F***!!!” and read him the riot act, saying he could have broken her ribs. Sure curbed his behavior.

            1. Oh So Very Anon*

              I knew someone who thought if a hug was good, a SUPER TIGHT, AS TIGHT AS YOU CAN bear hug was better. Getting hugged by this guy was painful, and stopped one’s breathing. He would grab you by surprise, and you literally could not get away until he decided to let you go. (Note, he only did this to women.) He couldn’t understand why people ran from him when he approached them with open arms. “Hey, all I want is a hug!” He actually cracked someone’s rib one time, and learned the hard way that not all hugs are equal.

              Lessons learned: 1. Never hug someone without their permission. 2. Once permission is received, hug with respect. 3. If you fail at 1 and/or 2, you will never get another chance.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                “”Hey, all I want is a hug.””

                And all I want is to put an icepick through your head.

          2. Len*

            On the subject of weird huggers: I’m a short, very beardy male. One time, I was walking to the shops through part of a university campus near me, happened to be in a foul mood and I’m sure it showed on my face. Despite this, some total stranger 20-something male student approached me with arms outstretched saying “hug time!!”

            And despite me saying “no… no! NO!” as he approached, he tried to hug me. I blocked him with my arms and shoved him away. He hurried off, saying words to the effect of “nope! nope nope nope”, and I just yelled “what the hell?!”

            My read is, he was a poorly socialised internet shut-in.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            “Two things to remember if you’re physically picking someone up: … ”

            Or, really only one thing: Don’t.

      3. Alli525*

        In high school, I had to bite the girl (who had at least 7 inches and 60 pounds on me) who thought nothing bad would happen if she put me in a headlock. I do NOT react well to people touching my neck, and she never touched me again after that.

      4. Oh So Very Anon*

        I once took a course called Model Mugging. (Google it, it’s pretty awesome.) One participant’s boyfriend thought it was “cute” that she was taking a class in self-defense. He snuck up on her and grabbed her from behind. She reacted instinctively and sent him to the hospital.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          WEll of course it’s cute when women do stuff like learn to protect themselves without some male there to lay claim to them.

      1. Kyrielle*

        And it’s not like it’s considered “acceptable” under 12 either. I mean, I’ve lectured my then-first-grader about personal space for touching someone else’s shoulders after they asked for him to stop – and that’s got nothing on *sticking your finger in their ears* which I feel shouldn’t even need the initial “cut that out” warning.

        1. Clever Name*

          Good for you! Stopping sexual assault starts with teaching people boundaries. When you tell a kid – you can’t touch someone if they don’t want to be touched – you also tell them “no one can touch you if you don’t want to be touched.”

          It may sound extreme – connecting simple touching, like putting a hand on someone’s arm or shoulders with sexual assault, but that is where it starts. We are trained from a young age to put up with discomfort in order to make other people feel comfortable. And people who are looking to harass someone exploit those societal norms.

          I try to reinforce this all the time with my kids. And it can be hard! It means not forcing them to hug grandma. And telling grandma that the kid doesn’t have to hug her. And my youngest is a lover, and wants to hug everyone. Explaining that not everyone wants hugs -and that he has to ask first – has been tough.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            My kid’s daycare does this and it makes me so happy. She’s learning immediately that it’s just fine to say you don’t want someone to do what they’re doing (which is only good for her future safety) and that you ask permission before you touch someone else, and if you forget and they say to stop, you stop immediately.

            It’s great to hear a toddler say “I need some space” when she’s in a group of people that are too close or other kids are following her around too closely at the playground. Making communication of her resistance feel normal now will make it so much easier to deal with people like Jeffrey when she’s older.

            1. RUKiddingMe*


              Hopefully she won’t grow up with the guilt we feel —even though we know we are completely in the right, of telling people to back off. Or worse…accepting unwanted touching to be “nice” because society has socialized us that this is “how women should react/behave.”

              I mean we know and seriously dislike/hate this kind of shit, but we have been socialized as women to accept, not react, be nice, etc., and therefore still get caught off guard at times.

    3. A.N. O'Nyme*

      I first misread that as him sticking his fingers in his own ears for some reason I couldn’t understand, but STICKING YOUR FINGERS IN SOMEONE ELSE’S EARS? What the hell, dude?!

      1. chocolate lover*

        I thought the same thing you did, that he was doing it to himself, maybe pretending he couldn’t hear what people were saying to him?!

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          This should go in Alison’s Great List of Things I Never Thought I’d Read.
          #1,221: Fingers in ears – phrase describing the action of an individual, usually referred to as Percival* walking past a coworker whose attention is diverted (typically by work) and STICKING HIS NASTY FINGER IN COWORKER’S EAR.
          *Percival: alias describing an individual whose behavior is so abominable, nobody wants to or should have to work with or near EVER. See entry for background.
          #9 Percival won his arbitration – one who will not tell a coworker a his WIFE WAS SHOT and about to go into surgery because then he’d have to go cover the guy’s work in the hot warehouse. And then he gets fired, gets union representation to get his job back and then again when “people are mean to him at work.”
          Alison’s book uses a lot of caps.

            1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              It’s tough to narrow down. I could go on for pages. Your turn…oh wait, Friday topic project!

      2. Sally*

        I thought he was sticking his fingers in his own ears, too. All I can say now is +1 to your comment.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        I *hope* he’s sticking his fingers in his own ears!
        If he tried that on me, this is what would happen:
        1. Slap his hand away with excessive force, maybe shove him too
        2. Scream and yell “what the hell are you doing! Get away from me” and so on.
        3. Notify my manager immediately and make it clear I will *not* tolerate that from *anyone*!
        Like, does anyone really need to be told all this???

    4. Murphy*

      Yeah, I think instinct would kick in and I would hit someone who did that because what the eff?

    5. Wendy Darling*

      Seriously if someone stuck their finger IN MY EAR I would instinctively smack the shit out of whatever body part of theirs I could reach, probably while screaming. Because that was my reaction the last time someone did that to me, when I was like 11 years old.

      1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

        Oh my, the ear thing. I have a serious phobia about my ears being touched (I know it’s weird). If someone stuck a finger in my ear, he’d be on the floor. This guy seems not to have enough work to do, maybe ask his boss why he has time to bother other people who are actually working.

    6. Rusty*

      I don’t even like putting my finger in my own ear… what a bizarre thing to do to a coworker?! Not sure how that could slide without a scene

    7. AdAgencyChick*

      I was just coming to post “Fingers…in…EARS?!” with an ellipsis between each word. Glad I checked to see whether someone else had beat me to the punch.

      Which is to say: OP, WOW. This guy needs to be stopped.

    8. SignalLost*

      I bite as a startle reflex. I also have been known to throw elbows. This kind of thing generally only happens once in those situations, and most people will give you a pass even if it isn’t truly a startle reflex. Just sayin’.

      1. SarahJ*

        What on earth? You elbow people under the pretext that you’re startled?
        That’s just as bad as ear poking – maybe worse because it’s painful and violent.

        1. Sally*

          I don’t think that’s what SignalLost meant. It seemed to me that they were saying that biting and elbowing is an involuntary reflex for them when they are startled. And then they added that sometimes when you’re not exactly startled by something, but you are highly offended by it – such as a coworker sticking his fingers in your ears(!!!), it’s not the worst thing in the world if you do what you usually do when you ARE startled. (And I agree. I think touching coworkers in that way is especially egregious and deserves just about any response given.)

          1. SarahJ*

            Yes, that’s how I understood it. And I think it’s not ok!
            1. Fergus pokes Allison in the ear
            2. Allison registers what happened, and quickly scans her responses. She could shout, ‘What the heck, Fergus!’ She knows if she elbows Fergus hard, it would plausibly be an involuntary response.
            3. She elbows Fergus.
            In my mind, that’s unnecessary violence against a coworker and completely unacceptable.

              1. Mookie*

                Tolerant of the men making conscious choices, angry at the women for theirs in response. Sounds about right for this topic.

            1. ket*

              Sticking your finger in someone’s ear is totally unacceptable, and elbowing them back is self-defense.

            2. Not a Mere Device*

              In my mind, sticking a finger in someone’s ear without permission is unnecessary and unprovoked violence. Remember back in elementary school health lessons, they told us “never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.”

              Elbowing someone who has done that feels to me like self-defense, especially in the case of someone who has demonstrated that he will ignore “don’t do that.” It may be poor tactics, depending on the work or other circumstance, but it feels proportionate to me.

            3. Hey Nonnie*

              I am perfectly okay with physical self-defense in response to a physical assault, personally. And unwanted, non-consensual touch IS a physical assault.

              If someone doesn’t like the (frankly, quite predictable) consequences of invading someone’s boundaries, they can keep their mitts to themselves.

            4. mrs__peel*

              Personally, I’m 100% fine with the elbowing in this context. Sticking your fingers in any co-worker’s bodily orifices without permission is a weird violation that entirely justifies that type of response. (Also: unwanted touching in general).

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Exactly. This is a male person sticking a long pointy body part in another person’s body orifice. So many ways that could be perceived.

            5. Strawmeatloaf*

              Only reason I wouldn’t elbow is because the finger could still possibly be in the ear, and then if you elbow they could take the finger out of the ear the wrong way causing damage. Can’t help it if it’s a reflex, but something to look out for.

        2. SignalLost*

          I have elbowed people who have full-body grabbed me from behind, yes. It’s not as though I have confused elbowing someone with shaking hands. My coworker who grabbed me apologized and said she was in the wrong for startling me.

          I assumed it was fairly clear this was a discussion of responses to unwanted, harassing touch. Apparently, I was wrong as to how clear that was.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          I’ve heard it as a good response for tickling (“I can’t help it, I violently flail my arms and legs into my tickler–it’s just how I’m wired”) and would absolutely cultivate it if someone tried to stick their finger in my ear.

    9. Nita*

      Huh. I hope someone accidentally uses a self defense move on him. Just healthy reflexes, nothing personal :)

      1. SusanIvanova*

        I used to teach karate. I have very good reflexes – the offender will get hit, but I’ll pull the punch a bit.


    10. boo bot*

      OMG ew! ew! ew! I had read that as “sticking his fingers in [his own] ears” a la pretending not to be listening to someone, which is annoying, but this… EW.

      Sticking your fingers in someone else’s ears is worse than sticking them in someone else’s mouth, and only slightly better than sticking them in someone else’s nose.

    11. Alienor*

      I nearly died when I read that. I wonder if it’s just a dry finger or the full wet-willy experience. Either way I’d be down in HR so fast that the offender’s own ears would still be ringing with the slap I’d probably given him.

    12. Work Wardrobe*


      *picks up phone to HR*

    13. Solidus Pilcrow*

      The fingers in ears thing really, REALLY squicked me out, even more so than the shoulder rubbing. It’s more… intimate? Can’t articulate why, but that would freak me out so bad and send me screaming to HR.

      1. Nonnon*

        I’ve had the wet finger variant done to me and it was soul-shatteringly horrible. Like, part of me died temporarily.

        1. SarahKay*

          I’ve just tried the wet-finger thing on my own ear as an experiment, and ick!ick! ick!!!
          So someone else doing it to me – they better not need that finger again.

        2. whingedrinking*

          I’d like to think there are boundaries that are just so utterly beyond the pale that no one has any justification for violating them without very clear express permission, especially in a workplace. Two of them would be “penetrating another person’s orifices” and “exposing someone else to your bodily fluids”. And to be quite frank, I’d say the latter is marginally worse, at least for orifices you don’t have to take off your underwear to access.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Most of us seem to grasp by age 5 that we really should not do this to anyone. While everyone needs things explained to them from time to time, we don’t expect to have to go back to things we learned at age 4. I know I can get at a loss for words when I see something that is so basic.

        Since my ears have so much Health History, I’d be wanting to send the guy my bills for my ears for the next year or so. All I would think of is “what is on this guy’s fingers and how long will it take for THIS infection to be over.”

    14. Teapot librarian*

      This is so far out of the realm of expected behavior that I can’t even imagine what my response would be if it happened.

    15. WillyNilly*

      I instinctively thought he was sticking his finders in his own ears (in a “LALALALA I can’t hear you!” fashion) but I just reread the OP and yes it appears he’s sticking his fingers in other people’s ears. Oh lawdy!
      I have ear issues – narrow ear canals that require I get my ears cleaned by a Dr. Plus I get psoriasis in my ears, which requires medication or else I get itchy, painful scabs, which can bleed if irritated. No one gets to touch my ears except me and my Dr. Not my spouse, or my kids, or my massage therapist, or my hair dresser, or anyone. I would be beside myself.

    16. Hey Nonnie*

      Oh man. !!!!

      It’s didn’t even occur to me (until this post) that he was sticking his fingers in someone else’s ear because WHO DOES THAT? I just assumed OP meant he stuck his fingers in his own ears, like he’s jokingly implying he doesn’t want to get involved in work conversations (which is plenty weird in itself).

      But, wow. No, anyone who surprise touches me without permission is likely to get hurt because I will instinctively do the WTF!?! flail. Anyone within flailing range will get smacked. Better hope that I do not currently have heavy or sharp objects in my hands. A few inappropriate men have learned this the hard way; one of ’em got whacked in the face with the DSLR camera I was holding at the time. (I was too busy feeling grossed out to have any sympathy for his face. I DID check to make sure my lens wasn’t damaged, though.)

      1. Jadelyn*

        Ooh, I hope your lens was okay.

        I gave a male friend a bloody nose once because he snuck up behind me and grabbed me. I, acting on pure instinct, snapped my head back, hard, and connected with his nose. I refused to apologize, even though he was trying to pin it on me, just shrugged and said “Dude, you snuck up behind me and grabbed me. Would you rather I elbow you in the gut, or stomp on your foot and break bones? Because those were the alternatives. I reacted the way I would if anyone grabbed me like that without warning, and I’m not sorry. Don’t sneak up behind me like that if you don’t want it to happen again.”

        He suddenly had a much better sense of personal space when it came to getting near me.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          The lens was okay! I still have it an use it, in fact, many years later. And as a bonus, CreepyDude slunk off and left me alone for the rest of the night.

          High five on the head strike though. I typically flail in surprise before I can achieve any kind of directed self-defense movement.

    17. Jadelyn*

      I was thinking spinning around in my chair and violently smacking the offending arm away – like, with truly unneccessary amounts of force, hopefully leaving a bruise – with a full-volume “What the f*** are you doing? Don’t stick your finger in my ear, that’s disgusting! Didn’t your parents teach you any manners?”

    18. BookishMiss*

      I’d go straight to panic attack for reasons. I really don’t understand why “keep your hands to your damn self”is such a difficult concept. Ugh.

    19. Anonymosity*

      I would hit someone who did that. Like slap their hand away, hard. DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME.

    20. Gazebo Slayer*

      I’d shriek, probably quite loudly. And then I would very loudly explain why to the entire office.

    21. Sami*

      If someone stuck their finger in my ear, they’d be in strong danger of having it bent back so far it’d snap off. #notkidding

    22. ENFP in Texas*

      This is what got me. At first I thought he was sticking his fingers in his own ears as he walked by which, okay, weird but whatever.

      But sticking his finger in someone else’s ears? He’d pull his hand back with a stump.

  4. A.N. O'Nyme*

    “Why so serious?”
    “I can’t find a good place to hide a corpse in this blasted building.”
    “I’m plotting world domination through hypnotizing teacups.”
    “Joker asked me to track down Batman” (He’s quoting Joker, I’ll post a link)
    The possibilities are endless, really.
    Note: these suggestions are not entirely serious, Allison’s way is probably better.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      Also I just realized that scene is a very disturbing take on the whole “you need to smile” thing.

    2. willow*

      “I can’t find a good place to hide a corpse in this blasted building.”

      You’re my hero. Now excuse me while I go get some wet paper towels to get the coffee off of everything.

  5. Cait*

    “If you’re walking around telling women to smile, stop it”
    “If you’re walking around telling women to smile, stop it”
    “If you’re walking around telling women to smile, stop it”
    “If you’re walking around telling women to smile, stop it”

    ….it is worth repeating :)

    1. michelenyc*

      There used to be signs in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn telling men to stop telling women to smile. I loved it.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        There used to be a sticker on a defunct pay phone in my Boston neighborhood that said that! I passed by it every day and it always, ironically, did make me smile.

    2. sunshyne84*

      I would be tempted to unload a bunch of fake tales about how much my life sucks. I should try that next time and just be as draining as possible. I bet they’d rethink it after that.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        My stock response to men telling me to smile on the street is “my dog just died, asshole.” (If I know them they get a much longer dressing down.)

    3. Nic*

      I initially read this to the tune of if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.

      That might have made my day.

  6. Dame Judi Brunch*

    Nothing to add to the advice, just wanted to say Jeffrey is a jerk. I’m curious to how he reacts when you put him in his place!

  7. AnonymEsq*

    It’s the office equivalent of asking a woman to smile. And this “rubbing female coworkers’ shoulders, sticking fingers in ears as he’s passing by” sets off a ton of red flags.

    1. Jadelyn*

      This, so much. I’d be annoyed, but might give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s actually trying to cheer people up, if it were just the “why so serious?” thing – but when you combine it with shoulder rubbing and sticking fingers in people’s ears (!!!), suddenly there’s a pattern of violating people’s boundaries and personal space, that is genuinely concerning.

  8. Reinhardt*

    Wow. Any chance he’s stuck in a time warp from 2008 and is just referencing The Dark Knight?

    I know men telling women to smile is a problematic thing, but I don’t understand why men do it (I myself am a man). The only time I’d think it appropriate to tell anyone to smile is if they’re posing for a picture or something

    1. Jasmine*

      Funny thing about pictures is that my stepdad is unable to smile for pictures. Like even if he’s happy, he just can’t force himself to smile so in almost every picture of him since middle school, he has a blank face. It’s so funny when we’ll get pictures taken and someone says “smile!” and doesn’t know that he doesn’t do that and my mom says “he doesn’t smile” which is just such a funny statement because he obviously does smile, but only when he’s incredibly happy or laughing at something.

  9. Antilles*

    And yeah, I’m sure he doesn’t do it to men because men almost never tell other men to smile
    As a man, I can confirm that this never, ever happens*. In fact, I’m not sure I can even remember legitimately can’t even remember even _hearing a story_ about one man walking by and casually telling another man to smile more. I honestly don’t know what I’d do if another man did tell me to smile; I’d probably be so caught off guard that I wouldn’t know how to react.
    *obviously excepting situational things like “actor rehearsing for a play” or “advice on giving a presentation” or similar circumstances.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Legit exception: My son was told he would get a 15 cent raise if he smiled more when working the cash register at McDonalds.

      1. SignalLost*

        Job coaching, though, not making the world prettier. If I got a proportional raise for smiling at work, I’d be the happiest mofo on the planet.

        1. Chinook*

          Plus, at one point, did McDonald’s list, on their menus, that “smiles are free”?

      2. Antilles*

        Agreed that’s an exception, though I’d still kind of classify that as a ‘situational’ thing – a boss telling a customer service clerk to smile more is basically the equivalent of a director telling an actor that he isn’t conveying enough joy.
        It’s a legitimate business request for a clear business purpose – not just a ‘be prettier’.

        1. Close Bracket*

          “It’s a legitimate business request”

          We’ll have to disagree on that point.

          1. Antilles*

            If you’re in a customer service job (and food service is a version of that), being polite and approachable to customers is generally considered part of the job in American culture.
            On a big picture, it’s odd that we have a cultural expectation that low-paid food service employees act like it’s all sunshine and rainbows. And it’s ridiculous that clerks all act say they’re “happy serve you” and “service with a smile” and “it’s my pleasure to stand in a sweaty uniform for minimum wage” and etc. And as someone who put in several years in food service, I can assure you that there were plenty of times when I wasn’t feeling cheery, when I was sick at work, or when there was a customer so awful to me that they probably deserved a punch in the face rather than a smile.
            But none of that matters – the cultural standard here in the US is that food service employees are supposed to act like everything is fantastic and great and it’s “our pleasure” to serve you…so unfortunately “your manager tells you to smile” does count as a business purpose in my books.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              I think this is denial on the part of elites. They don’t want to realize minimum-wage employees aren’t happy with their lot. The requirement to smile, etc. helps them maintain denial.

    2. Close Bracket*

      > I’d probably be so caught off guard that I wouldn’t know how to react.

      Assuming you are a North American, you would smile. It wouldn’t be a happy smile though, it would be a nervous laughter smile.

      1. Antilles*

        I probably would smile (nervously and awkwardly, as you said), but I’d be thrown off enough by someone saying it that I’d definitely take a few seconds to get there.

    3. JHunz*

      This happens to men too in low-level retail positions, but I can’t think of any other time I’ve seen a man told to smile more

    4. Batshua*

      I had one male coworker when I was working with a bunch of other clerks. The dude did not smile at our patients. Which … no. I really wanted to tell him he needed to smile more. Annoying as it is, when you’re front-facing, smiling is usually expected, but I couldn’t figure out any way to tell him that wasn’t going to come off gendered as heck.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        It’s important that we look friendly and approachable to our patients; smiling helps is way different from smile because I want you to.

        1. neverjaunty*

          This. There’s a huge difference between asking someone in a customer-facing role (regardless of gender) to be approachable to customers and “Smile!”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I have gone with, “Use words to make the customer feel welcomed and to let them know you are indeed paying attention to them.” If you think about this makes a lot of sense, because a smile is just that, a smile. Most times people need a little more than a smile to go about business. Pleasant conversation can encourage people to smile on their own.

    5. JLCBL*

      I once witnessed a (male) Starbucks employee tell a male customer to smile. He got no reaction at all. Zero. I am about 50/50 thinking he did not hear him or simply didn’t care. Seconds before he had told me (a female customer) that his day went better when people smiled. It pretty much always works on me, but I am a classically conditioned people-pleaser. The fact that I remember this so vividly shows how rare it is.

    1. Midge*

      Love it! I’d also be a fan of: “Did you have a ‘REAL’ question or were you just interrupting my work to comment on my facial expression?”

  10. Canarian*

    LW, you have my sympathy! I am a brow-furrower, I just do it naturally, and tend to look confused or angry when I’m concentrating, which throws people off. I get people walking by my office all the time and then stopping to say “Is everything ok?!” People I work with a lot or who know me better have learned to understand, but it’s impossible to train an entire office to mind their own business about how I hold my face. It makes me wonder constantly if I’d be treated the same as a man.

    I totally co-sign Alison’s line about “did you know there’s a whole Thing about this?” especially if you try other tactics and they don’t work. It might put him on the defensive, but he deserves it tbh.

    1. Canarian*

      And I forgot to say: barely acknowledging is a good tactic here too. Alison had some advice a couple weeks ago that mentioned using preoccupied body language, being slow to take your eyes off the computer screen or responding slowly.

      Sometimes if a person comes by with an interruption like that, I’ll hold up a finger (the Sally Phillips “bear with… bear with” from Miranda) and finish what I was typing or doing, then turn to them and say “what did you need?” People are usually too sheepish to outright say “Oh, I was just commenting on your facial expression, I don’t need anything.”

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Speaking as a white dude with a naturally serious furrowed look, I think you likely would be treated similarly, but with less intensity. My own hypothesis is that people would be just as likely to form an incorrect impression, but much less likely to actually say something to a man.

      1. tra la la*

        I have a white male colleague in a different department who has a VERY serious resting face and he’s been spoken to about it.

    3. JokeyJules*

      I have an astigmatism, so I’m always furrowing my brows or squinting to see best (those glasses don’t work at all for me)
      “Whats the matter?” “What are you reading?” “why are you making that face?”

      1. Anonymosity*

        This happened to me a lot when I was a kid and wore glasses. I would get, “Why do you look so angry?” I’m squinting because I can’t frickin’ see.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I was constantly being told I was giving people “dirty looks.” No man my parents were just neglecting a very basic part of taking care of their kid.

    4. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

      Apparently, my tired/focused/annoyed/thinking expressions look pretty much the same to a lot of people. Plus resting bitch face. I get a lot of “Everything ok?” which is annoying when it’s the same people asking (and me always responding with “It’s just my face”), but the ones who always immediately jump to “Why are you mad??” make me want to punch them. I usually respond with “I wasn’t until you made that assumption” though.

      In the office, it’s the people who pop into my office and go “You’re awfully quiet today”. I don’t understand what they’re trying to do with that comment. I’m hardly a noisy person in general, so being quiet isn’t unusual. Especially when I’m focused on something.

      1. Drew*

        “You’re awfully quiet today.”

        [thumbs up, no other response]

        “What’s wrong? You should smile!”

        [change fingers]

      2. Maude*

        Yep, I’m often is a very fine mood until some moron tells me to smile, and then like you I just want to start punching people.

        I was out with a running group and one guy who I slightly know said “Hi Maude” and, gasping and not expecting his greeting said “Hey”, and his response was “Uh-oh” to which I loudly said “Why did you say that? This is my face, this is the face my parents gave me, sorry it’s not good enough for you!” I guess it was his idea of a joke but honestly, buddy, expecting a chirpy response with a dazzling smile while we are slogging through a trail run is not exactly the time to find me in the mood to play your stupid idea of a game.

    5. katastrophreak*

      That Guy: “Why so serious?/You should try smiling!/Aw come on, it’s not *that* bad, is it?”

      Me: *holds up finger, slowly pulls eyes away from screen* “Sorry, I was focusing on work. What did you need/Can you repeat that?”

      That Guy: *shuffling off* “Was just stopping by to say hi, no need to be rude.”

      Me: *deadpan under my breath* “No, wait, come back. My deadlines can wait.”

      Coworker: “Wow, you need to teach me your ways.”

      *30 minutes later*

      Boss: “Hey, can we chat a minute?”

      Me: “Yeah, what’s up?”

      Boss: “I got a complaint that you yelled at someone to leave you alone because your deadlines are too much. Did you need some time, or to rearrange your schedule?”

      Me: “Was this ‘That Guy’? About half an hour ago?”


      That guy would not take no for an answer. He was absolutely determined that my Work Face was not pleasant to look at (I face a window, no one even sees my work face) and that the octave and pitch of my voice were inappropriate to run meetings (I was a project manager at that time). My male coworker confirmed my version of events to my male boss and That Guy was no longer allowed to attend meetings while I was in that role. That boss was pretty awesome.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        But your male boss had an issue until you male coworker backed you up though right?

  11. Anonymous Engineer*

    I have worked with several Jeffreys, and I wish I’d had the confidence to reply, “Do you say that to men in the office?” But the world being what it is, I’m sure I’ll get my chance again sooner or later.

  12. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Ahhhh….I worked with someone like this. He’d routinely do it to me. I went the ignoring route because he was just brushed off as Fergus being Fergus by management. Even called me “Smiley”. One of my other coworkers tried to shut him down and he bellows, to the entire office, “Well, Jesus Christ. Look at the sourpuss on this one.”


    For the next several weeks, whenever I saw him, I smiled. Nonstop. Big, huge teethy grin. He finally got unnerved and asked why I was smiling so much as it was creepy. I mentioned that he had said I should smile more. He stammered he may have been incorrect. I immediately snapped my face back to normal and it was never brought up again.

    1. Le Sigh*

      This is the best thing I’ve ever heard.

      I was with my sister in a grocery store one day when a guy said to her, “you’d be a lot prettier if you smiled!” and she shot back, “you’d be a lot prettier if you didn’t talk.”

      The guy did not seem to appreciate that. I did.

      1. Be the Change*

        EPIC. I will have to remember that, although I’m at the age now where men look through me as if I don’t exist.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        The key was to really commit. And I worked hard so my eyes didn’t smile with it so it upped the creepy factor. It was basically the same face I make when getting x-rays at the dentist.

        1. Specialk9*

          I heart you so much. That’s perfect. Especially with the creepy eyes. Oh my, love it.

    2. Foon*

      This is typically what I do when I get a “smile!” comment from a man. Just slap a huge, toothy s*** eating grin on my face- wide-eyed, no blinking, trying to show as much gum as possible. It definitely gets some double-takes. Haven’t had to do it at work though, fortunately.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        This guy is a real prize. He accosted me at the Christmas party last year on why I was still single. (I’ve never brought a date to the work Christmas party for various reasons.) It got heated. When he mentioned I wasn’t getting any younger – he is old enough to be my dad – I picked up my plate and cup and sat at another table.

        1. Work Wardrobe*

          Thought you were going to say, “…I picked up my plate AND THREW IT AT HIM.”

            1. Not So NewReader*

              It’s people like that who make me wonder how they lived to be the age they are without someone strangling them.

  13. Anonforthis*


    Unless he is actually Peewee Herman, no. JFC if someone did that to me at work they’d be losing whatever part of the finger they didn’t yank away from my teeth in time.

    1. Who the eff is Hank?*

      This might be the one and only time that biting your coworker is appropriate.

      1. PhyllisB*

        One more appropriate time to bite: when I was in the 8th grade I sitting on the school bus with my arms loaded with school books. Some doofus boy leaned over the seat and GRABBED MY BREASTS!!! I didn’t even think twice. I turned around and sunk my teeth into his arm. Got in trouble at school for it, but it was worth it. (This was in the days when this was considered one of those”boys will be boys” things.) Luckily when my mother found out about it she went to the school and let them have in spades, and I was no longer in trouble.

        1. Catherine from Canada*

          The summer I was 18 (more decades ago than I care to think about…) I worked as galley crew on a Great Lakes grain carrier. One afternoon, we’d been fishing off the bow. Everyone else left except for one crew man (just slightly older than me) who insisted that I wanted a hug even though I was struggling and insisting that, “NO, I DIDN’T”.
          His shoulder was right at mouth level so I bit him. Hard. Mostly because I was so scared, but still hard enough that he leapt back and scurried away.
          A day or so later, the crew foreman came and asked me what had happened because apparently the guy was refusing to change in front of his crew mates. Nervously, I told the foreman that I’d bitten him. I expected to get in real trouble, maybe even get hauled in front of the captain. Instead, he laughed, and assured me that in his opinion the guy had it coming and that the bruising had spread front and back half way down his torso. The rest of the crew left me alone for the rest of the summer.
          That event kind of taught me not to take cr*p and to stick up for myself when it really wasn’t socially acceptable for “girls” to fight back.

    2. Specialk9*

      I had this vague idea that Peewee Herman had done bad stuff to kids, but apparently he just went to an adult theatre alone and, well, did what one would expect. The 90s were so puritanical, I didn’t realize then. But anyway, Peewee was always very creepy to me. (Apparently his standup character was originally a good bit dirtiee.)

    1. Admin of Sys*

      oh, wow, I totally missed that on first read through. If someone did that to me,I’d instinctively punch them, I think. D:

    2. Workerbee*

      I read that as he walked by sticking fingers in his own ears, which was oddball enough, and so this is MUCH WORSE AGH.

      This is where my “Sorry, I have a reflexive elbow-to-the-spleen reaction” would come in.


  14. lost academic*

    What is it with people in this day and age that don’t understand you can’t touch people at work? My office is a creepy 50s throwback but luckily it hasn’t happened to me (yet). Question – if I grabbed someone doing that and twisted their arm around behind their back/shoved them towards a wall and yelled at them to stop, is that too much of an “overreaction” to keep my job in general? Because that’s really what would happen. I’m OK going out that way.

    1. Boredatwork*

      +1 do it! do it! I had someone kiss me (on the top of the head) and I wish I’d punched him, not stood their dumb founded.

      1. chocolate lover*

        It’s not as satisfying as punching, but dumb-founded seems like an entirely normal response under the circumstance. I probably would have, too.

      2. lost academic*

        Oh, it’ll happen, it’s instinctive given my upbringing. And I’m about 6′ tall and pretty strong.

      3. Peggy*

        OMG, this happened to me, Boredatwork. At a department end-of-academic-year event. It was mortifying.

        1. Peggy*

          And I totally froze. Did not respond in any kind of heroic or satisfying way. Partly because I was so unprepared – this guy was always friendly with me (in a normal way), and had never done anything like that before. Yuck.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Maybe he was drunk. Not an excuse, of course, but makes it more understandable.

      4. bunniferous*

        OH em gee…..the kissing on the top of my head…it has happened to me four freaking times by four different men and this was AFTER I was married!!!!!!

    2. Kathy*

      I mean… if you’re okay going out that way, is it really an overreaction? I had a guy do that to me, he was rubbing the back of my neck and I was repeating over and over, “don’t do that,” and he continued so I finally shouted at him, “DUDE! Stop TOUCHING me!” A bunch of other people turned around and he stopped, but he also never did it again.

    3. SignalLost*

      Depends on whether you can justify it as a startle reflex. That seems overly complicated to me for one, but you can almost certainly get away with punching or biting or slapping – basically, one single-step action. You can also yell, but coherency diminishes the claim that it’s startle reflex. (I actually do have a biting/elbowing startle reflex, depending on the touch. Hurrah for growing up with psychopaths?)

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      I’m just 5 foot tall. Freshmen year in college, first weekend with upperclasses on campus we were leaving the one very overcrowded, pub on campus when a senior football player grabbed me on the backside so hard my feet left the floor. B4 my feet reached the floor I turned with a fist chest high and hit him. It was instinctive, not thought out. He was so big my chest high fist hit him just above his belt buckle!

      I froze, and looked up, and up, and up till I finally reached his face. He was backing up as much as he could in the crowded space, raised hands, apologizing and swearing he would never do it again.

      I learned a great lesson that day and I hope he did too. Not that hitting should be the first choice.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I’m a wee bit over 5 foot. My freshmen year in college one of my roommate’s friend of a friend thought it would be just so hilarious to pick me up. Except I had never met him before, and he came up behind me in the hallway and tried to bear hug pick me up from behind with no warning whatsoever. I instinctively elbowed the bejeesus out of his stomach and kicked his shins until he dropped me.

        The RA on floor ran out when she heard the yelping and then cussed him out. I would have felt bad leaving bruises had he not tried it a *second time* about 2 weeks later. That time he got a black eye.

    5. neverjaunty*

      Yes, it is. A better reaction would be to just bend one of the offending fingers back until he screams in agony. It’s way too much work to twist the entire arm.

    6. Ladybugger*

      One of the proudest moments of my life was shutting down an aspiring good-ol-boy. He was maybe late 20s/just 30, I was early 20s. He had been trying on 70-year-old man behaviour for some reason. He came into my office and said “Hello beautiful!”

      I said, what did you say?

      He repeated himself, cheerfully.

      I gave him the deadest shark eyes of my life and said, in a voice so far sub-zero that frost hung in the air, “Never call me that again.”

      He didn’t. He DID look like he just peed his pants.

    7. Catherine from Canada*

      My 6’7″ son grabbed my shoulders from behind while we were touristing in Pisa. I spun around and punched him before I realized that it was him. His Italian girlfriend laughed. He knows better now.

    8. Pipe Organ Guy*

      I’m a guy, and I know that women have to deal with this on a scale I can hardly imagine.
      With that, in a past church organist job I had, the organ console was right next to the main aisle of the church. One Sunday, I was playing a postlude as usual while people were on their way out at the end of the service. One guy put his hand on my shoulder WHILE I WAS PLAYING. I normally can’t talk while I was playing, but I was so infuriated I yelled something like “DON’T TOUCH ME!” even as I was playing. As it was, this guy and his wife both creeped me out for some reason. Since then, I’ve heard of organists posting trusted friends as guards to intercept any attempts to interact with the organist while he or she is playing.

  15. Ellex*

    Wait, what?! He sticks his fingers in people’s ears as he passes by?!

    That’s a great way for someone – potentially Jeffrey the Jerk – to get hurt if someone has a particularly strong startle reflex or automatic defensive moves. Between that and the shoulder rubbing, Jeffrey is a lawsuit for assault/sexual harassment waiting to happen. If you have a reasonable HR department, you need to talk to them.

  16. Cringing 24/7*

    Don’t break eye-contact with your screen and just reply, “Because I’m working, Jorff.”

  17. Exhausted Trope*

    Yep, yep, yep… “women get told it by dudes all the f’ing time”! I wonder what makes men think they are even in a position to make comments about others faces at work? It’s so offensive. I was told to smile once by a colleague and that was the last time he ever spoke to me like that.

  18. Apostrophina*

    “Jeffrey, would you make that remark to a man?”

    “Sure I would!”

    “Then you should probably go do that, because I’m trying to get some work done.”

    1. Teka*

      The best part is that “would you” can either be a hypothetical or a request. (i.e. “would you ever eat raw octopus?” versus “would you please copy the files for me?”) So you can ask it as the first and then treat his answer as the second.

  19. Boredatwork*

    Ugh, I feel you. I once had an off-the-cuff, “mild harassment in the workplace conversation” with my male boss, where I included everyone who had told me to smile or that I looked too serious…

    He actually had to google “is it okay to tell woman to smile” before he believed me it was sexist.

    1. Frankie*


      “let me quick check google rather than listening to the woman right in front of me…OH you don’t say!”

    2. Greta Vedder*

      Now I am tempted to google that because I’m dying of curiousity to know what it says!

  20. KHB*

    I just want to echo the advice to check in with the other women he’s bothering and offer to stand up for them if they want you to. Jerks like Jeffrey know just how far they can push each individual woman so that she’ll still be left wondering if she’s “taking it too personally,” whether maybe she’s the crazy one and shouldn’t speak up, etc. When women talk to each other, the Jeffries of the world can get away with a lot less.

    1. Foon*

      “I’m always amazed at what women will do because they are afraid of being rude.” -Matt Lauer

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        “Especially if they’re concerned their job might be at stake.” – Harvey Weinstein

      2. neverjaunty*

        I’m not sure if you intended it, but there’s a massive irony in the fact that this amazement comes from a dude. Like, did Mr. Lauer ever stop to think WHY women will go to those extremes?

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          It’s from the first episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I think that context is important.

          1. You're Not My Supervisor*

            Yeah I re-watched that episode the other day and thought “that quote did not age well”

    2. bonkerballs*

      I agree. I would definitely check in with someone if you see something that would make you uncomfortable. I would *not* jump right to loudly calling it out in front of other people if it’s not happening to you unless it’s something truly bizarre like sticking his fingers in people’s ears or you can clearly see that the person he’s doing it to is uncomfortable. So the shoulder rubbing, to me, would definitely be a check in first. I realize this is my own bias based on my work situations, but I’m lucky in that I’ve always worked in very small organizations and I’ve yet to work with a Jeffrey. I can quite honestly say that if any of the men I’ve worked with came up to me and rubbed my shoulders while chatting with me, it wouldn’t make me uncomfortable in the least. But someone else yelling out “oh my god, are you rubbing her shoulders????” would mortify me. I’m all for women standing up for other women, just make sure it’s wanted.

      1. Zweisatz*

        I’m in favor of asking as well because even if someone is uncomfortable with the situation, being put on the spot they might deny it. On the other hand, if you check in first, everyone will be on the same page if it happens again.

  21. fedup*

    I am so, so tired of people, mostly men, telling me to smile. What I do with my face is none of your business.

  22. Narise*

    My response to ‘why do you look so serious’ has been ‘why do you look so impotent?’ It’s a conversation stopper for sure. The one time a man actually started arguing that he wasn’t impotent I replied with ‘It’s OK its a medical condition. It can be treated, you should into it.’ Make sure you ask your question so others can hear.

      1. bolistoli*

        Oh no! We don’t want to hurt his feelings. He’s just TRYING TO BE NICE! Women – always overreacting.

  23. Observer*

    I’m just having such a hard time wrapping my head around this.

    Please DO call this jerk out when you see him touching another woman. And, Alison’s responses are spot on.

    Also, please make sure to report his behavior to HR / Management. Not just what he’s saying to you. Make sure it’s explicit that you are talking about sexual harassment and describe the behavior you are seeing – everything that you have seen. Do it in writing / email.

    The company is responsible for the behavior of it’s staff. But if this guy is not a supervisor, the company has an out if they can claim that they didn’t know. As soon as someone brings it to their attention, they lose that excuse. That is true even if it was not a victim who brought it up. Once someone brings it up to them, then they have reasonable notice that they need to look into this.

    I can see why you didn’t do anything till now, but as you can see you are now in his line of fire. I can understand why you might still not want to wage a battle. But this guy needs to be stopped and an email to HR would be helpful, even if it didn’t do the job by itself.

  24. AreYouStillThere*

    Female-identified here. When I was 19 I told my male server at Applebee’s he was cute but would be cuter if he smiled.

    I cringe at this memory to this day.

    1. Triple Anon*

      It’s ok. I’ve also said creepy things and only realized what a jerk I was being in hindsight. It’s all a learning experience.

    2. Funny memory*

      My sister once wrote on a fast-food comment card “Male servers should shear their hair.”

  25. Crazy is someone's fingers in your ears*

    I worked with a Jeffrey who liked to give back rubs and feel for bra straps. Super creepy. Gives me chills and nausea just thinking about it. Boundaries shouldn’t have to come with an electrified fence to get some people to stop but I’d start making it a fashion statement for this guy.

    On another note, have you tried noise cancelling headphones? You don’t have to acknowledge the ridiculous interruption AND it protects your ears from Mr. Touchy-Feely and Opinionated.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Has OP followed up if Jeffrey is indeed sticking his fingers in other peoples ears or his own ears as he is walking by? I shouldn’t be surprised anymore but sticking his fingers in other peoples ears sounds really out there. How many peoples ears has he stuck his fingers in? How has he not been let go? I think as an adult you only get a free pass to stick your finger in one persons ear, after the second time you finger should get chopped off.

      The back rubs along should be enough to get him fired, but ears is way too crazy. I think I already know the answer but does he only stick his finger in womens ears or men too?

  26. Louise*

    I would be so tempted to not say anything and just scowl while making direct and unwavering eye contact until he left the room on his own accord.

    (whenever a guy is harassing me, my thought is always “how can I strike terror in this pathetic man’s heart.”)

  27. Mary Ellen*

    I would react EXTREMELY BADLY if someone stuck their finger in my ear while I was working. Like, yelling and possibly throwing an elbow badly.

  28. Bea*

    My response is “you’re boring, go away.” I only engage in banter or use my humor when the person deserves it and I like them.

    What a boring basic dbag this guy is.

  29. Amber T*

    So I have Annoying Coworker Fergus, who I think just walks around the office all day. All of our desks slightly face our doors, so we’re all slightly looking to the hallway when we’re looking at our screens. He will wave at you if you’re looking towards your door… it’s gotten to the point that if I hear him coming (and you can hear him from a mile away) I will look at my other monitor, regardless of what I’m working on.

    Once, I was focusing really hard on something, to the point where I was so lost in thought, I didn’t hear him stomping around. He stops and looks in, and says something along the lines of “you look really intense!” Brain recognizes that someone is talking to me, but does not compute what he says, so I semi look at him but am focusing on my monitor, and kind of grunt out a “huh?” So he repeats it, and I pry my eyes off my screen and just kind of glare at him… my brain was still processing what was in my excel doc. His smile kind of falters and he awkwardly shuffles away. Later, I’m in the back getting coffee, he comes back and says “wow, you were really concentrating!” Cue the glare again – “I was working, Fergus, was there something you needed?” Awkward shuffling again.

    He still *must* wave good night when he leaves, which I still ignore, but he bothers me way less now.

    1. [insert witty username here]*

      I’m so with you. I feel so curmudgeonly, but I HAAATTEEE when people walk by my cube (I face away from the opening) and say “good morning!” or “how’s it going!” or there’s one guy that will just tap the top metal part as he walks by. They don’t actually need anything!! I know they’re trying to be polite or friendly or whatever…. but I work in huge financial excel sheets that often require a lot of concentration and attention to detail. Any of the above mentioned examples totally jar me out of whatever I’m focusing on and it makes me want to throw things at the wall. If someone walks by your cube ***and you actually make eye contact***, a quick “hello” or “good morning” seems appropriate, but don’t pull someone away from what they’re focusing on just to say hi.

      1. Rosemary7391*

        This is why I tend to just wave hello/goodbye at folks as I pass. It’s easy to ignore if folks are concentrating, but I’ve done the polite greeting thing. (I don’t stick around for an acknowledgement)

    2. Yorick*

      Fergus sounds like someone I know. Is he from France?

      He just HAD to say hello to you, every single time he saw you. He would interrupt my meetings to say good morning to me for the fifth time.

    3. whingedrinking*

      I am really reaching to understand the logic here. “She looks like she’s concentrating really hard. I’m going to make a huge noisy deal out of it!”

    4. Michaela Westen*

      I remember what a great insight it was when I realized it was inappropriate to expect all my needs for attention to be met at work.

  30. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    Sticking fingers in ears? Can you possibly mean other people’s ears?! Because that would get a throat punch from me. For starters.

    1. Nodumbunny*

      Was coming here just to say this. Please tell me he’s not sticking his fingers in other people’s ears. I would bite his head off.

    2. Abe Froman*

      Totally unrelated, but your username is great. I once knew someone with live journal similarly named.

  31. MLB*

    I would just completely ignore him. Keep on working and pretend he said nothing. Yes it’s annoying but responding just gives him fuel to continue. Before I even finished reading Alison’s advice I thought this was equivalent to men telling women they don’t know to smile. Thankfully it’s only happened to me a handful of times. I suffer from a case of RBF. I’m not an unhappy person but if you didn’t know me you may think I am, and I really DGAF or need you to tell me to smile.

  32. Garland not Andrews*

    I’d totally be tempted to flip him the bird and if he did it again tell him to F** off. Probably wouldn’t unless he caught me at a really bad moment, but I’d be totally tempted.

  33. animaniactoo*

    Anybody who sticks a finger in my ear is getting an elbow in the ribs/stomach or whatever soft tissue part I can reach.

    Even my husband knows he should expect retaliation – strong and heavy for pulling crap like that.

    Sadly, I apparently DO smile when I focus or I’d find some scathing things to say about that. “Because I’m seriously working. DUH.” in as sarcastic a tone as I can manage (it’s my 2nd language).

    1. einahpets*

      I’m currently having to teach my two year old that it isn’t nice to poke people in the face or ear.

      I hope I would never have to have a similar conversation with a coworker, although if I ever do it is going to be hard not to use the same tone I use to teach my kids the concept of personal space / consent.

      1. animaniactoo*

        If you ever have to I think it would be absolutely *brilliant* to use the same tone of voice. Except that he might be amused by that and take it even farther.

      2. Lontra Canadensis*

        If you have to have this conversation with a coworker they *deserve* that tone!

  34. C in the Hood*

    For what it’s worth, I have a female coworker who asks why I’m so serious. Or why I’m smiling. Or why I’m frowning. All regarding my resting expression.

    1. Narise*

      Next time play twenty questions with and don’t stop until you reach 20. ‘Why do you want to know?’ ‘Is it impacting your work?’ Should I be doing something differently?’ keep asking why no matter what she says.

      1. TootsNYC*

        well, the problem with that phrase is that the rejoinder is, “Yes, but I have to look at it.”


        1. Not So NewReader*

          Ah, but there is the preemptive, “Don’t look at my face and it will bother you less.”

          A female cohort was bothered by my graying hair. I said, “I can’t see it from here. It does not bother me in the least. I have no idea why it should bother you so.” Pointing out an unnatural preoccupation with others’ features can shut down further conversation.

      2. You're Not My Supervisor*

        Hah, I actually have a coworker whose normal facial expressions regularly draw comments from men because she always looks serious. She yells out “THIS IS JUST MY FACE” and it’s pretty amazing

  35. MM*

    My instinctive response would be “Why so obnoxious?” but that not might be a good idea. This sounds exactly like my mom’s war stories from the 80s. You know, THIRTY YEARS AGO.

    1. [insert witty username here]*

      Oh but how I wish that response WAS a good idea! It grates my nerves so much that the people who “can’t take a joke” are the ones that are in the “wrong” or “being rude.” NO! YOU’RE OBNOXIOUS! *facepalm*

      1. Not So NewReader*

        And that was a response in the 70s, 80s and even 90s. If I had a dime for every time I heard that. This was so tiring to deal with. My solution was to give them the biggest fakest smile I could muster. It was the quickest way out of this frequently recurring situation and to get back to work. Women were expected to just put up with this nonsense.

  36. Lumen*

    I’m honestly shocked no one has hit him for sticking his finger in their ear. Weirdly, I’m even more shocked by that than by the shoulder-rubbing, since that’s disgustingly common for men to do to female coworkers for some reason. My skin is crawling.

    At work you only ‘need’ to touch someone if you are pulling them out of the path of an oncoming car or performing CPR. And maybe some handshakes. But you really don’t ever need to touch coworkers. I wish some people would get that through their thick skulls: not being allowed to touch someone you work with isn’t a punishment, it’s just normal g-d boundaries.

    ANYWAY: I’ve gotten this sort of “why so serious/ooh so serious” several times. My team often gets jokey complaints from other groups that we’re too quiet/so serious. I can’t do much about the latter because it’s aimed at the entire team, but when it’s directed at me solely I tend to say (with a sort of Gentle ‘Duh’ Tone):

    “Well… I’m working.”

    That usually gets the message across that not only is that the reason I’m not dancing around giggling for their entertainment, but also that they are distracting me and need to keep on walkin’.

    1. Anony McAnonface*

      My buddy has a pretty serious thing about her ears being touched. By anyone, at any time, even if she knows it’s coming. I’ve struggled to help her dye her hair because she’s that sensitive to it. If someone stuck a finger in her ear without warning I’m 100% sure she would punch them in the nearest body part (fun fact, if you do this to someone who is sitting your genitals are the nearest body part) and shriek at full volume and she is very loud.

      I’d be tempted to do the same thing to this guy, even though I don’t care if my ears are touched because WHO STICKS THEIR FINGERS IN SOMEONE’S EAR AT WORK I AM SCREAMING FOREVER.

  37. AnonMurphy*

    I would spin off a Sars/Tomato Nation classic:

    Bellowing at the top of your lungs “WHY is there a FINGER in my EAR!??>!”

  38. Les G*

    Oh, f*ck this shit. My fellow men, we need to be better than this! I will never understand dudes who are so entitled to know a strange woman’s every thought. This happens to my wife too because she never smiles. Seriously, not even on our wedding day.

    1. Who the eff is Hank?*

      I met my sister’s new boyfriend this past weekend, and before our meeting she told him that I never smile and to not take it personally. I have to be over-the-top deliriously happy in order to smile so it’s a rare occurrence.

  39. WFH Lurker*

    My own father does this to me, but not to my brother. He’s elderly, and is truly a product of his times, which frequently isn’t a good thing. Attempting to stop this behavior from him has been unsuccessful in less-than-pleasant ways. Now I just give him a dentist-chair grimace which sinks like a four foot putt.

    I had a coworker a few years ago who went about doing obnoxious things like proclaiming that marriage was government-sanctioned prostitution. He was a real peach. After a few times of him telling me to smile, and me saying in a flat tone, “Ow, no, it hurts”, or “Then say something funny”, or “No thank you”, I finally turned on him and said, “You seem to have a bizarre fascination with my face. The next time you bring up my face, we’ll be discussing it with HR.” He went silent and never spoke to me again. So satisfying.

    1. wickedtongue*

      “proclaiming that marriage was government-sanctioned prostitution.”

      Wait, WHAT

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This dude must have known a teacher I had. He routinely said a similar thing in class. He also said that none of the women would ever get more than a C grade because women can’t learn.

        1. Anonymosity*

          I had a math teacher in high school, one of the football coaches, who would also say things like that about female students. He was surprised when they did well. When I didn’t do well, it was because I was a girl. No, Coach Asshole, it was because I had undiagnosed dyscalculia.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        The woman is marrying for money, the man is buying her. From my spotty knowledge of history I think this was more common in the past, when for various reasons a woman couldn’t live on her own and had to find a husband to survive.
        Of course any two people are free to take this approach to marriage if they choose – and it’s no one else’s business.

    2. Strawmeatloaf*

      My dad does it too, but that’s because he’s a jerk and since I’m his daughter he expects me to do stereotypical girly things and when I don’t do them I’m a failure and obviously depressed *eyeroll*.

      He has this weird sexist/misogynistic combo going on where he thinks women can do anything and be in any position, etc., but HAVE to act in a certain way. When I had some pants that had pockets big enough, I refused to carry a purse because I don’t like them and they get in the way and (lists off a hundred other reasons) he kept getting annoyed I wouldn’t carry one… because? I have never asked him to carry anything of mine that could be put in a purse.

      And then when he sees my neutral not-smiling face he always asks me what’s wrong, and when I tell him “nothing” he then says I should be smiling then. *blech* As soon as I am not relying on him for money anymore, I will be going low contact. Like at college. That was amazing.

  40. Impolite Society*

    This reminds me of one of my workplace’s latest poorly-conceived women’s diversity initiative things. You know the ones – barely-coherent symbolism with no actual action that might inconvenience anyone in power.

    They put out a bright red, painted chair in the lobby (note – people do not hang out in our lobby, not even visitors). Next to a banner with their diversity initiative slogan. Which read, and I am serious: “Sit. Smile. Listen.” It brought to mind misbehaving toddlers rather than women’s empowerment. Then it had a sign telling you where to upload a selfie of yourself in the bright red chair. I don’t get it at all.

    But the tone-deafness of this sign was so loud, my manager, unprompted, pulled me aside and said, “Hey, so I saw the chair thing in the hallway, and my daughters have told me that telling women to smile is a Bad Thing. Is that true? Should I go talk to management about this?”

    Business pro tip: if your diversity initiative can be mistaken for a toddler time-out corner, it may be a bad idea.

    1. Trillion*

      Good on your manager for listening to his daughters and seeking out more clarification.

    2. SignalLost*

      WHAT THE HELL. What is that intended to do? To convey? To be? Does whatever brain trust who came up with that not realize that smile and listen are not exactly empowering statements for women, they’re our daily expectation? I mean, the sit part is nice, we don’t as a gender get to do as much of that as the dudes, but …. holy hell.

    3. Luna*

      I am so confused by this. Who was supposed to sit and listen? The women??? Listen to what, the brilliant men rhapsodizing about female empowerment? I am truly baffled right now. How do the people that come up with and approve that idea manage to get jobs?

    4. irene adler*

      I’d be very much tempted to Sit, Smile, Listen as I make many rude ‘gestures’ to the camera. And then upload the results-lots and lots of them.

    5. Observer*

      I’m laughing so hard at some of the responses.

      Your manager sounds a bit clueless, but he’s clearly trying to do the right thing and he is also willing to listen. That’s worth a lot.

      Whoever dreamed this up really needs a reality check.

  41. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

    OP, you should call this out in whatever way makes sense to you. Alison’s suggestions are great.
    Men who tell women to smile (or have told women to smile in the past): just stop. If you feel bad about doing it because you didn’t realize how gross it was, that’s fine. No need to apologize to anyone. The best gift you can give is stopping that behavior and not doing it again. Trust me: women will notice you’ve stopped and be relieved.

      1. Serin*

        Lord, the idea of a guy apologizing for this is worse than I could have imagined.

        “You know, I myself, in my younger and more ignorant days, used to tell strange women to smile, and I’ve always wanted to find those lovely women and express to them my deepest regrets if I created in them any negative feelings despite ….”

        and once again it translates to “Pay attention to meeee!”

        1. Drew*

          “If anyone was offended by my innocent desire for more happiness in the world, I am truly sorry.”

        2. neverjaunty*

          The sad thing is, though, it works a lot of the time. So many times a dude can just say “golly, I’m so sorry I was a jerk and now I regret my sins” and women rush to shower him with cookies for being One Of The Good Ones.

          1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

            In the words of the inestimable Chris Rock, “you don’t get credit for shit you’re supposed to do,”

      2. Frankie*

        I’ve seen particularly men doing this around women’s issues (and/or simultaneously preaching to other men how they should behave) and the floodgates break forth and everyone is like “WOW, you are the BEST kind of man, run for president!!!” and “you’re so amazing!!” Like basic social decency turns them into heroes.

        Like, if I posted on FB that I finally started giving up my seat on the subway to elderly folks because I was shamed into it, I should not get blue ribbons for that.

  42. KTM*

    Apparently I make a frowny/serious face when I’m concentrating at my desk, which is somehow… a surprise to people? I’m like… my job is hard and I’m working, get over it. I’m enjoying the suggestions here for responses because I just never know what I’m supposed to say when people ask me ‘what’s wrong?’ and I’m like, it’s just my face.

    On a lighter note, I also frown when I read (my husband has commented on multiple occasions that he knows how good a book is that I’m reading based on how much I’m frowning haha). I never understand how at work that people feel the need to comment on it though.

  43. Nita*

    Look around and ask Jeffrey “See Bob over there? He looks pretty serious. Go ask him what’s up.” Repeat with a different male coworker every time.

  44. Comms Girl*

    I’d seriously consider answering that with one of Heath Ledger’s incredibly creepy “Why So Serious?” monologues from The Dark Knight. Pretty sure Jeffrey would think twice before asking you that again :p

    (Damn, I do miss Heath Ledger. His performance as Joker was beyond amazing.)

  45. MondayMonday*

    But it’s not just men. I had a senior female secretary tell me the same thing not too long ago. I found it annoying. I’m working here! I’m concentrating!

    1. Observer*

      Sometimes women say it too, but not as often as men. And, pretty much never to men.

  46. Tuna*

    I agree with Alison’s responses and if that doesn’t work then going to the manager. I have a problem with a repetitive comment from a male subordinate who keeps saying, “You walk so fast”. I have tried to lightly tell him, “Maybe it’s everyone else who is walking slow”and “I’ve got things to do” but he keeps on with his comment randomly. Could be days pass with no comment then here it is. Alison hasn’t great responses but I would be curious how a manager would respond to the comments only.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I like AAM responses like, you have said that several times now, can you explain that? Or, can you agree to stop commenting on that? My favorite, that is a strange/odd/unusual thing to comment on, repeatedly.

    2. LCL*

      Someone subordinate to you is saying this to you? Next time he does it, ask him who added monitoring your walking speed to his duties, and when did they add it.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      “Fergus, why do you keep commenting on how quickly I walk? It’s kind of weird.”

      1. cassie from queens*

        because this workplace isn’t an aaron sorkin movie and the co-workers need to keep up with the person they’re talking to. it’s not sexism unlike the exhortations to smile.

        1. Mookie*

          Unless Tuna says otherwise, I’m content to think she’s living in an Aaron Sorkin movie. I didn’t know he made them, so it seems interesting to me. His television is awful.

        2. Well then*

          there is literally NOTHING in the comment to say that the walking is happening while the male subordinate is talking to Tuna, and thus that he needs to keep up. Methinks you may be projecting juuuuuust the tiniest bit here.

    4. Mookie*

      Argh. A guy I work with — peer, not like your subordinate — is currently in the mode of ordering me to “stop looking so busy” and “stop walking like you’re in a hurry.” My go-to is “you being slow is not my problem, bucko” and “we’re ALL fucking busy, mate.”

      In a politer setting, “yes, I do” to your subordinate’s comment is kind of a complete sentence. And then walk a touch faster, see if he can’t catch up. If he has a problem, he can bloody well say so. His non-sequiturs are not your problem.

  47. Anonymeuse*

    I mean, if it was me I’d be tempted next time to just silently get up from my computer and close my door in his face before going back to work, but I guess I’m a bit too “serious” for guys like Jeffrey.

  48. Werewolves not Swearwolves*

    I am utterly convinced that there are some people who get 100% of their life jollies from messing with people at work. Do not engage this person. It’s a game for them.

    1. London Calling*

      As opposed to actually doing the work they are paid for? yep, and I work with one who has been making a career out of it for 10 years. One of the reasons I am job-hunting.

  49. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    I’m surprised you didn’t suggest that the OP show up to work in costume as Heath Ledger’s Joker. (Don’t actually do this, OP. But if you do, please record it and put his reaction on social media.)

    But also, like…dudes, it’s 2018. This isn’t only objectively gross, but also did he miss that #metoo is a thing now? Why would you model your behavior after Al Franken?

  50. Justin*

    I favor the Broad City response, where they get asked to smile, and hold the corners of their lips up with their middle fingers.

  51. Tricksy Hobbit*

    Hi OP,
    I’m sorry you’re dealing with it this. Jeffery needs to be shut down. Etsy makes a lovely tote bag just for this situation.
    It said “Your so pretty you should smile” with a picture of women giving the finger. The picture is at the link in my username. I’m NOT suggesting that you should give him the finger, but I understanding wanting to.

    Also, I might be tempted to look him dead in the eye while holding a pencil and say, “want to see a magic trick?” This might freak it out enough to stop, but who knows, he might just think your playing with him.
    Good Luck OP!

  52. Thankful for AAM*

    In my forward facing job I get men commenting on what they guess my emotions are all the time. Sometimes it is directly the smile thing but it could be anything, a sort of commiserating, “busy day?” or similar. I don’t think a woman has ever done that.

    What I always feel is that it is an insltrusion into my inner life/personal life. I am at work and my personal or inner life is not relevant to our interaction. Someone up thread mentioned this could be bc the men feel my feelings are their responsibility? I think that could be part of it. And maybe I saw you coming and subconsciously “girded my loins” and my face reflects my inner cringe at the thoight of dealing with this stuff.

    1. mrs__peel*

      “Someone up thread mentioned this could be bc the men feel my feelings are their responsibility? I think that could be part of it.”

      I think that’s maybe too charitable, and it’s one or more of the following:

      (1) As a woman, you can’t possibly have a private, interior life because you’re not a full human being like them;
      (2) They feel a sense of entitlement to know whatever they want about you; and/or
      (3) They feel like it’s your duty to entertain and please them, because obviously women were put on this earth for those purposes.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I think the “I’m responsible for fixing things for you” *is* a thing some men do.

      Of course, most men feel responsible for fixing things for “their” women (their mates, their children, their good friends, their colleagues–any woman they feel connected to). It’s kind of an extension of the time when men -were- the ones with the financial and social power, and they -were- the support and shield for their womenfolk.

      What’s creepy is that a total stranger feels that the clerk behind the DMV counter is one of “his” women!

  53. Lady Pirate*

    The snappy answer to “Smile!” lurking in the back of my mind is, “Cry. Go on, I’ll smile when you cry.”

  54. There All Is Aching*

    Because y’all are great with the snappy comebacks, I’m hoping you can help with a fun way to shut down the “Smile! Aren’t you enjoying winning money?” by guys at the poker table. Argh.

    1. Peggy*

      *Looking them straight in the eye, keeping face perfectly straight*: “I AM smiling, Johnny.*

      1. Mookie*

        YES. If she could finger a pen-knife at the same time, that’d be magnificent.

        Alternative: “With your money, I can afford any expression I want, dudes! Keep losing!”

    2. animaniactoo*

      “If I start smiling, I’ll start losing”

      or alternatively… just start singing the 2nd half of the chorus of The Gambler. With a slight substitution:

      You never count your money
      When you’re sittin’ at the table.
      There’ll be time enough for smilin’
      When the dealing’s done.

    3. neverjaunty*

      “Haha, I know you’re trying to mess with my head so I’ll lose, but no. Now shut the f up and deal.”

  55. HR Recruiter*

    I think there should be a smiling movement. All women should unite and smile incessantly. Then all the men in the world will think we’ve gone totally bonkers and runaway….seriously though how is your face supposed to look when you are working!? I just don’t understand how men think this is ok.

    When I was 18 my raise was denied by the store manager because I didn’t smile. I had the highest review score but one time the store was completely empty and I had nothing to do so I stood there rocking my resting bitch face. Apparently I was supposed to have a huge grin on my face for 8 hours straight. (The men that never smiled did get raises though)

    1. LCL*

      And if he wouldn’t have seen you not smiling, he would have denied your raise for another reason. They would never give a woman a raise for totally insignificant made up reasons. I have had a couple bosses like that, they are straight up evil.

    2. KR*

      I used to be a front end supervisor at a grocery store. At the end of a busy day my face used to HURT from keeping a slight smile on my face so I didn’t have RBF. I am so done with that now that I work in an office full time.

  56. E.R*

    I had a former colleauge who would say “smile!” to me in the morning instead of “hello!” . It drove me crazy. Eventually I just ignored him altogether when he would say that, and if he followed up to ask what was wrong or “why I was so cold” I would explain the sexism in the comment and how it drives me nuts. He never stopped though, I’m not sure he ever got it.
    This has always been complicated for me in that my mother, who was quite the feminist for her time, constantly told me to smile more growing up. For the longest time I was convinced there was something wrong with me or that my face was just … kind of ugly if I didn’t smile? Or there must be some reason why people can’t accept my face when I’m not smiling. Because I got it A LOT.

  57. Tertia*

    Alison obviously knows better than I do, but it seems to me that looking annoyed isn’t the best response because he’s clearly doing it to be annoying. My guess is that he’d see anything acknowledging the comment as a win. So what about:

    * Ignoring him (per Alison’s suggestion)
    * Ignoring him for a few seconds, and then, without looking away from the computer screen, saying “Sorry, Jeffrey, I wasn’t paying attention. Why are you interrupting me?”

  58. NW Mossy*

    How about channeling Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy and the taxi scene? “I’m working here!”

  59. Goya de la Mancha*

    As a proud owner of RBF (Resting Bitch Face), I usually just stare at them silently until they become uncomfortable and move on. So AAM’s advice is probably better to stick with ;)

  60. Argh!*

    As P!nk said (sang) “I’m not here for your entertainment.”

    I would violate TOS if I quoted more of the song!

    If he doesn’t back off, report him to HR. Nobody needs that crap while they work.

  61. EyeEdinburgh*

    The “fingers in ears” thing – What I read happening here is that Joffrey is standing behind women at work, and doing his handsy thing – rubbing their shoulders, or putting his fingers in their ears in what he presumably means as a kind of joke-teasing – “I’m cutting off your hearing so you can’t hear what I’m saying”. (And what he’s saying is doubtless awful.) I’m a woman who’s handled men being obnoxious at work: haven’t we all?

    The thing is: I really do have a fairly violent startle reflex if someone touches me unexpectedly from behind. And when I say “fairly violent”, I have spun round and punched a co-worker in the gut when he approached me silently from behind to give me a nice, friendly, unexpected hug. (I liked him fine, and wouldn’t have done that except when startled, though I didn’t regard us as having a hugging relationship.) I have punched a friend in a non-work situation, who I did regard as huggable, because she too approached me silently from behind and embraced me and I – not having heard her – swung round and hit her.

    I apologised. Both times. I don’t want to hit people. This quite literally happens without thought, it’s completely reflexive, it happens if I get surprised.

    Someone sneaking up behind me and putting their hands on me would get hit, and it wouldn’t be intentional on my part – my intentional response to a situation like that is a loud clear “Get your hands OFF me!”

    The startle reflex is a real thing. It may not be terribly common, but it’s why you don’t – in my opinion – ever take people by surprise with an unexpected touch, and especially not in a work situation where it’s inappropriate to go round touching people anyway.

    1. Emily S.*

      I have a startle reflex too — yes, it’s very real. I have also hit and punched people who startled me, by suddenly approaching me, similar to what you described.

      It’s only happened a handful of times, but as in your case, it was a purely physical reflex. Luckily, it hasn’t ever been in a work situation.

  62. come on, son*

    STICKING FINGERS IN EARS!?!?!? oh my lord am physically uncomfortable at the idea of this happening.

  63. This Daydreamer*

    There was one charmer at my old workplace who told me to smile less than a week after my sister died. I didn’t say anything, just looked at him with an expression that was impossible to mistake for a smile. He actually backed up a few steps while apologizing.

    And yes he knew I’d just lost my sister. Jerk.

  64. Ladylike*

    Assertiveness is not always my strong suit, but I would have no problem screaming in anger, making a scene, and smacking away a hand if a finger is stuck in my ear. Seriously?? Is this guy 12? And his first shoulder rub would also be the last. Just gross.

  65. Maude*

    This letter put me in an immediate rage. Who do people think they are that they should tell anyone else that they need to do anything to make them feel better? I have good ol’ RBF (resting bitch face), which I can’t really help because, well, it’s my face. When I’m working, and thinking, and being productive, I should not have to worry about what other people think of how I look, fer crying out loud. Besides, I’d look like a moron if I went around grinning all the time.

    LOVE some of the answers, I can’t wait to use them in future (because I definitely will have to, sadly).

  66. Lady Phoenix*

    Jeffery is a walking sexual harassment lawsuit, and the fact he hasn’t been FIRED for it says quite a lot about the place you work. I would socument the incidents and ask HR how aware they are of Jeffery’s antics, and then ask the coworkers if they are aware too.

    And if Jeffery comes by to bug you, treat him with an icy indifference and answer, “I’m busy. If this isn’t work related, then i can’t chat. Good bye Jeffery.”

  67. Anony McAnonface*

    My seriously concentrating face sometimes makes me look like I’m about to cry, so I’ve been told. A university professor (a woman) once stopped a lecture to ask me if I was okay and I had to explain it was just my face. That is the only time someone commenting on my facial expression didn’t bother me as it came from a place of concern.

    That said, this guy is a grade-a creepo. Shoulder massages! FINGERS IN EARS!!! I’d go with the less polite scripts. He’s a boundary violater of the worst kind and needs to be told No very sternly. I’d go with something either involving the serial killer slow smile if you feel like it would get him to bugger off, or telling him he’s wasting company time engaging in a behaviour that many would consider to be harassment at worst, and grossly gendered patronizing nonsense at best.

  68. Nicole*

    I wonder if it would be smart for OP to chat with the female coworkers that have also been subject to Jeffrey’s abuse and collectively go to your HR department. I think we need to stop pretending that men are naive and need to be talked to gently about this and start calling it out for what it is and treat it as seriously as it is.

    I don’t even have cable or listen to the radio, but I still know about the slew of scandals male celebrities have been facing lately due to their inappropriate behaviors. He has no excuse to think that behavior is acceptable.

    1. Pointed Reality*

      +10000000 Absolutely!

      This is a much better course of action than the gender bashing, global labelling, pro/anti whataboutism at the top of these comments that accomplishes nothing.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “Keep doing what you’re doing, Jeff. Some day you will find yourself facing sexual harassment charges and wondering why. So keep going.”

    3. Lara*

      Yes. And those male celebrities often relied on the (false) idea that men are just too stupid to read social cues. It’s been proven that men are perfectly capable of reading soft noes, except when they choose not to. I imagine Jeffrey can parse perfectly when Adam doesn’t want to go to the game. He’s equally capable of parsing that Lucinda hates his shoulder rubs. He’s not some clueless ingenue; he’s choosing to inappropriately touch his colleagues when he *knows they don’t like it*.

  69. Cucumberzucchini*

    I have serious RBF. I’ve gotten told to smile more times than I can remember. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I finally learned how to handle it. Prior to that I would smile on command.

    Once a worker at a Panera (male) told me to cheer up when I was crying because my horse has just gotten seriously hurt. I don’t recall exactly what I said to him but I know it was sharp.

    Once a young male cashier at Panera (different location) told me to smile when I was ordering. I told him, “You might think you’re being nice, but women hate that, don’t ever say that to a woman again.” And he looked completely shell-shocked.

    In recent memory I’ve just flatly told men “no” or “why are you telling me to smile?” They don’t have a response. It’s happened a lot less to me in the last year or two. Hopefully they’re learning. Though I still get men trying to talk to me a gas stations and grocery stores like they’re somehow entitled to a conversation with me. I just don’t respond. I don’t know you and I have zero interest in talking to you. I used to feel like I had no choice but to respond because I didn’t want to be rude but learning that nobody is entitled to a conversation especially creepy gas station men as been very freeing.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Answering a question with a question is a great technique for a few situations.

  70. flyover*

    I guess saying “Because it would cost more to put out a contract on you than I expected” would be a bad answer.

  71. SallyForth*

    This line … “Do you know there’s a huge movement against men telling women to change their facial expressions? It makes me curious — do you ever say that to men here?”

  72. Ginger ale for all*

    We have to go through a sexual harassment video each year where I work and I really wish these microaggressions were covered in it. This has hit a chord with so many people and I think it would go over well.

  73. tink*

    “EW, why are you sticking your finger in someone’s EAR?” -me, seeing anyone over the age of roughly 12 doing something like that

  74. nep*

    I’m way late–only seeing this after nearly 500 comments. My blood boils just reading this. Sorry, LW, that you’re having to deal with this JACKASS at work. Putting his finger in women’s ears??!?!?!
    I agree with Alison. He’s got to be called out in a blunt way. The guy is a huge ass and needs to be put in his place and stop disrespecting women.

  75. Free Meerkats*

    Loudly, so everyone hears, “I look serious because I’m doing my fucking job, Jeffrey, you should try it sometime, Jeffrey!”

    This totally deserves a harsh response. If he whines to HR, ask them if they are supporting him only doing this to women, then see what their response is. If it’s anything other than a hard no and they are going to investigate him, times to start looking for another job.

  76. Lee*

    Very late to the party, but just wanted to say:

    Especially when going ‘You should smile!’ at a woman, the use of the Joker reference, and a particularly chaotic version of Joker at that, is way creepier even than just baseline smile-related harassment. That’s just frightening.

  77. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

    Oh my, the ear thing. I have a serious phobia about my ears being touched (I know it’s weird). If someone stuck a finger in my ear, he’d be on the floor. This guy seems not to have enough work to do, maybe ask his boss why he has time to bother other people who are actually working.

  78. Mountainshadows299*

    There aren’t a lot of men in my line of work, but I got lucky the one time a guy finally did decide to tell me to smile at work. He said: “Why do you look so sad? Smile! It’s Tuesday!” To which I looked him dead in the eye and replied: “ACTUALLY, it’s Wednesday.” (Because it was Wednesday).

    Mind you, he was saying this the day after Trump got elected president, and being a staunch Democrat I *wasn’t* too happy. He was also a known Trump supporter, so pretty sure he was doing it, in part, to be an ass.

    I’ve also had a female superior try to tell me that I “needed to smile more” at work but it was after I disagreed with her on a big staffing and procedural change and made lots of valid points against what she was asking us (as her employees) to do, so I took it for what it was- a dressing down because the best she could do was call me a pessimist or overly critical.

  79. Rajendra Kirloskar*

    The person who wrote this letter needs to stop taking herself so seriously. The person saying this is making a humorous reference to the Batman movie, nothing more.

    1. Observer*

      Oh, trying to impersonate a TV villain is not creepy at all. Even in current context. I see.

      1. Lizzy*

        THANK GOODNESS, because I’ve been spending HOURS trying to figure out what was going on!

    2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I’m going to put myself way, WAY out on a limb here, and give you the benefit of the doubt that you have mistakenly assumed there is a sarcasm / tongue in cheek font that you have used that the rest of us cannot see.

      Otherwise, don’t be a Jeffrey

    3. bolistoli*

      Okay! Thanks for the great advice. I will be sure to take the stick out of my a$$ when I feel the need to take myself as seriously as the OP. And while I’m at it, Rajendra, wanna see a magic trick?

  80. UghThatGuyAgain*

    Just after my mother’s sudden, shocking death, a male grocery store employee told me I should smiiiiile on such a nice day!

    It was like time slowed down.

    I remember thinking, “Self, you will never get this opportunity again.”

    Reader, I proceeded to tell that unsuspecting employee all about how my mom had just died and about how he needed to THINK before asking people stupid questions, right there in the frozen foods section.

    I have never seen a sh*t eating grin collapse so fast, or a grown man flee so quickly. It remains, years later, one of the most satisfying interactions of my life.

    That said, most day to day instances of Smile Guy interaction call for my other response, which is to look veeeery puzzled, and then say “Oh…my face just looks like that.” Gets ’em every time.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      I had a similar experience when a yuppie asked me how I stay so thin. I began with “you start with abusive parents in a fundamentalist area which is a bad childhood that causes post-traumatic stress…” and ended with “sudden weight loss from PTS which I haven’t been able to gain back.”
      I am SO proud of myself even a few years later!
      I’m so sorry for your loss, and so happy to have read your post. :)

  81. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

    I never post comments. Seriously, more out of me tonight than in the last ten years combined. But, there’s something about this topic that just really got to me and I can’t let it go. I am so mad on behalf of OP and her co-workers. This has resurrected a lot of memories of being 25, fresh out of law school and having to put up with this type of nonsense, doubting myself, wondering if I’m overreacting, being told to calm down, take a joke. Y’all know.

    So, I’m going to shout into the void a little bit. I’m not gonna try to be nice or apologize in advance for offending. If you read this and thought anything along the lines of “not all men” or “I’ve never seen it” or “women do it too” or “it doesn’t bother me,” you are wrong. You are wrong in the same way people who say they need proof we’ve been to the moon are wrong. You’ll never believe you are, but you are.

    If you posted any such on this thread it is an inescapable fact that you came in on the side of the person who STICKS HIS FINGER IN PEOPLE’S EAR. You did your part to justify the behavior of a man who gives unwanted back rubs and STICKS HIS FINGER IN PEOPLE’S EAR. Why would you have difficulty believing that telling the OP to smile is another manifestation of this guy’s dicktatude? It’s not a small thing, it’s compound f’ing interest. Shame on you. Shame on you.

    Think about how this woman feels going to work every day having to deal with Jeffrey’s horseshit. If we, as a society, had not taught our young women that it’s incumbent on them to be nice and make others feel comfortable, if we didn’t teach our girls that making a scene is the worst of transgressions, if we’d never communicated that boy’s will be boys, then OP would never have written this post. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her what the correct response is, she knows that the correct way to respond to this is, “shut the f up, Jeffrey, and if you touch me one more time I’m going to break your finger.” She’s trying to figure out a way to say that without facing negative repercussions for calling out bullshit. That, friends and neighbors, is the biggest cow paddy of them all, Telling a woman to smile is just a back rub she can’t avoid by keeping a desk between her and Jeffrey.

    I am not meek, I am not mild, I am not timid. My confidence is fine (my self concept is a combo of Beyoncé and Ruth Bader Gingsberg, even though the reality is I’m neither that hot or that smart). I wake up every day, wishing a mf’er would. I relish the combat that comes with practicing law. I am well-respected by my colleagues. I hang out with the cool kids. My go bag is always packed. I live by the idea that there ain’t nothing between you and me but air and opportunity so give it your best shot. Nothing about me says that I’m the type to put up with BS, not my demeanor and not my reputation. And still, I get it – at work, in the store, walking down the street. I am the least likely recipient you could imagine – by any matrix – so, if this is my experience why would anyone doubt that this is something every woman deals with?

    You know why it doesn’t bother me at work so much anymore? Because I am 100% free to respond however I see fit. You know why that is? Cause I can’t get fired – no one can take my ticket to the dance, I work for myself. I’ve even got the added safety of being married to another professional who’s a hella earner and go-getter without any dependents to support. That makes me one of the lucky few.

    It ain’t all men, sure, but I promise it’s every woman. I get to call it out, I’m in a position and have the temperament to bring the thunder. Not having that luxury is demoralizing and debilitating. And it just f’ing sucks. So stop telling women to smile and stop pretending that it’s not part of a bigger problem.

    1. nep*

      Hear, hear.
      Seriously you made my day.
      This–every syllable of this.
      Thank you, Undercover Lady Lawyer.

    2. Woemonster*

      “You know why that is? Cause I can’t get fired – no one can take my ticket to the dance, I work for myself. I’ve even got the added safety of being married to another professional who’s a hella earner and go-getter without any dependents to support. That makes me one of the lucky few.”

      So you can ignore abuse from men because you’re married to a man? Joy.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Um, no, it’s the opposite. She doesn’t *have* to ignore the abuse from men. She can respond to it without worrying about her livelihood, because she can’t get fired, and even if she could, she’s got a partner with a good income.

      2. Merida Ann*

        1. She didn’t say she was married to a man, just that she was married to another professional.
        2. The intent of that point was clearly to indicate that she has more freedom to ignore abuse because her family has a financial safety net in case anything did happen to her own income.

        1. Woemonster*

          She didn’t say she was married to a man

          Point taken. I misread that. But she is still speaking from a place of privilege. “Marry well” is not a solution to these problems and is in fact the cause of a lot of them.

          How many wives are dependent on their husband for income and left destitute when that husband leaves them for some pretty young thing?

          1. Oh So Very Anon*

            Um… I think you’re missing the point. Her point is that, because of her financial/marital situation, she has privileges that most women don’t, and it isn’t fair that a woman should need that kind of backup in order to tell someone to stop being an ass. Clearly you missed this part: Not having that luxury is demoralizing and debilitating. And it just f’ing sucks.”

          2. Wendy Darling*

            I think she was pointing out that she IS privileged in that way. Because she’s not the sole wage earner in her household she has a safety net.

          3. Observer*

            She didn’t say it’s a solutions. She DID say that having the ability to call it out is a LUXURY. Unfortunately, she is RIGHT.

          4. anon4now*

            Isn’t that why spousal support/alimony exists, and mainly comprises men paying a monthly portion of their income to their ex-wives?

      3. bolistoli*

        I hope that you misread her meaning and aren’t just looking for a (weak) reason to attack a well-spoken, caring, strong woman, who is not afraid to speak her mind, while acknowledging that it is a rare privilege for her to be able to do so.

        1. Woemonster*

          That is exactly my point. I am happy that LW is in a good place. But her advice (“marry well”) is not useful in a broadbased way because:
          – She speaks from a place of privilege. What if you’re not rich?
          – She does not take intersectionality into account. What if you are a WOC? What if you are a womon in a country or culture where men do not allow work outside the home?
          – I was going to say “what if you are not straight/cisgendered,” but I realized I misread “hella” as “he”. I apologise for this. But I still think the point is valid.
          – This advice is ultimately “find a man”, which perpetuates patriarchy. The point of feminism is supposed to be that womyn do not need men to self-actualise. This solution is the OPPOSITE of that.

          1. bolistoli*

            She is not giving advice. Please quote exactly where she is advising all of us poor ladies to marry well (ugh). She’s sharing her experience – essentially saying that she could not do it until she reached a certain level of professional and financial freedom. In no way is she recommending this as a deliberate path. Of course she’s relieved to be at this place. But, good lord, she is NOT doing what you are ascribing to her. Your anger, while valid for the situations you describe, is misplaced here.

          2. Observer*

            OK, would please stop insulting everyone’s intelligence. She is not advising anyone to marry well. She doesn’t imply it in any way, shape or form. Trying to claim that she is, is NOT being supportive, it’s nothing but an attempt to tear down someone who has called out a real problem in stark and “unladylike” terms.

            Just stop it. You don’t like it? Deal with it.

    3. bolistoli*

      I have read all your comments, and I wish you would comment more. You are a rock star. Not only for standing up for yourself and others, but for acknowledging that you are in the rare position to be able to do so. Keep doing you, hard! Clearly you have a big fan base here.

    4. mrs__peel*

      (furious applause)

      I want to embroider every word of this comment on the world’s largest throw pillow.

    5. Ganymede*

      You have hit the nail on the head with such eloquence, understanding and force that I am screen-shotting your comment. What you have said is utterly incisive -Thank you.

  82. Stirring fries*

    I’m honestly always surprised when I hear that men regularly tell women to smile more. I’m sure it happens but nobody had ever said that to me and I haven’t heard it said to other people either. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a generally smiley person or I just haven’t encountered jerks. Well, I have definitely met many jerks, I’ve been catcalled a million times and I’ve been told I need to be less shy and quiet (by both men and women). It’s annoying to hear it of course.

    Once I was crying on the street after I was laid off and one friendly person) guy asked me if I’m OK. I thought it was very sweet that a random stranger cared.

  83. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

    I have very aggressive RBF (my mum and husband have both pointed out that I don’t so much wear my heart on my sleeve as turn it into a full outfit with matching shoes and hat). Any time anyone has nervously commented that I am not smiling, it’s usually because they are afraid I might go postal. Only my mum and husband have actually done this, becuase I find most of my colleagues just give me the side eye and a wide berth.

    1. Oilpress*

      You and I should have an RBF competition. I regularly make babies cry, and I’m not proud of it.

  84. Seth*

    I’d love to live in a world where it was only men making condescending, annoying comments to women. I’ve been a man all my life, and I get comments like “smile” or “why do you look so serious?” or whatever all the time. Sometimes it’s an age thing, sometimes it’s a power thing, sometimes it’s peers having a go at each other. But please, if you believe these comments only go one way, stop fooling yourself.

    1. Oilpress*

      You are right. Everyone should knock off the smile crap. It’s annoying from both men and women. Obviously when women do it to men there isn’t a history of sexism underpinning it all, but it’s still really frustrating to hear people tell you that your natural facial disposition is unacceptable to them.

    2. feminazgul*

      The problem is that it happens on a much more frequent basis from men towards women. Nobody’s saying it never happens the other way, just that the large societal trend is in one sexist direction and it gets incredibly fucking old.

    3. NextStop*

      “I’d love to live in a world where it was only men making condescending, annoying comments to women.”

      Personally, I’d prefer a world where no one made condescending, annoying comments to anyone. But, y’know. As long as it doesn’t affect men, it’s not a problem.

    4. Observer*

      I’d love to live in a world where it was only men making condescending, annoying comments to women.

      niiiice. “Après moi, le déluge”

    5. Cornflower Blue*

      “I’d love to live in a world where it was only men making condescending, annoying comments to women”

      So basically, you’re okay with this behavior as long as it’s only women suffering because as a guy, it then wouldn’t affect you? Wow.

  85. Wintermute*

    Next time, do your best impression of The Joker and ask him if he wants to know how you got these scars… You were minding your own business and your co-worker said something so sexist your jaw literally hit the floor, from standing height your jaw fell five feet and ripped open your mouth… and that’s how you got those scars.

  86. Q*

    This is right in line with telling women to smile. I had a moronic colleague tell me to stop looking so serious, or smile when I was focusing on work. I finally told him it’s an extremely rude thing to say and is generally annoying. He replied he knew, he was just joking. He’s not liked by anyone on our team and definitely not by our boss, I guess stupid is as stupid does.

  87. ThursdaysGeek*

    I asked my spouse last night what he thought about men telling women to smile. He said that sounded very condescending.

  88. Anonymouse*

    What if all of your co-workers ask this? It’s just my face! Ugh, I feel for you, OP.

  89. Kara_Lynn*

    Am I the only one who actually feels flattered when a man tells me to smile? At least he noticed me.

      1. Kara_Lynn*

        I’m just saying, there’s so many more important things to worry about than getting a man’s attention. That’s considered a good thing where I’m from at least.

        1. Oh So Very Anon*

          Where I’m from, not needing a man’s attention for validation is a good thing. Insisting on bein treated with respect is a good thing. Not needing to be condescended to in order to feel valued is a good thing.

          Hear me: This man treated this woman shabbily. He may be blissfully unaware of it, but shabby it was. No woman needs this type of attention.

        2. Observer*

          You mean that you’re flattered that you got a guy’s attention because there are so many other things to worry about. Why because you NEED any random guy’s attention, but “nice women” don’t “worry” about it?

    1. Wendy Darling*

      Yeah pretty much that’s so close to just being you that we can go ahead and round it down to you’re the only one.

    2. Yorick*

      I mean, I like getting men’s attention too, when it’s situationally appropriate. But 1) I don’t want it at work and 2) I don’t want it when I’m on the way to the grocery store or the bus stop or trying to get home quickly so I can go to the bathroom.

      True story, I didn’t quite make it to the bathroom (#2) once because a man just HAD to say his whole flirty nonsense before he’d let me pass.

    3. Igg*

      Oh I’m so sorry. Really. That you feel lucky that a man was condescending and sexist bc he noticed you. You are worth more: trust me you don’t want attention from that type of guy

  90. Academentia Escapee*

    Story time – back when I worked in academentia, a male grad student told one of the women working in the computer lab with me to smile. Before she could react, one of the other women in the lab said “ok, picture this, you’re out in the wilderness, you just had a nice pleasant hike. You’re in a nice shady spot away from the trail and you’re digging a shallow unmarked grave for the last guy who interrupted you to tell you to smile…” and then they both smiled.

    He complained, but the lab manager told him to do something anatomically improbable and then he suddenly remembered he had things to do elsewhere.

    1. Igg*

      Of course he complained! Just smile condescendingly and say ‘can’t you take a joke???’ Ugh

  91. Kitty*

    I’m sorry, but can we just circle back to
    sticking fingers in ears as he’s passing by
    That is such a creepy violation I’d probably instinctively react in the moment with a loud WHAT THE F**K

  92. Igg*

    Ugh. He’s being a bro. Definitely feel free to shut it down. I absolutely cannot bear dealing with that!!! Aam response scripts spot on!

Comments are closed.