Home Featured The [Second] Worst Thing a Man Can Do To a Woman

The [Second] Worst Thing a Man Can Do To a Woman


smile baby

I came across the following Salon article due to this introductory clause on their Twitter account, “This is the absolute worst thing a man can say to a woman.”

“Smile, baby”: The words no woman wants to hear

Yesterday, I missed a train and I was frustrated, hot and tired. A man standing in the station decided it was a good time to pass his hand along my arm as I ran by and whisper, “You’d be even prettier if you smiled.” Here’s the thing about “Smile, baby,” the more commonly uttered variant of the same sentiment: No woman wants to hear it. And every woman wonders, no matter how briefly, about what could happen if she doesn’t smile. I was in a crowded place and perfectly safe, but that is actually, in the end, irrelevant. I have, in the past, been followed by men like him.

Without exception, this phrase means a man is entirely comfortable telling a woman, probably one he doesn’t even know, what he wants her to do with her body to please him. This suggests a lack of respect for other people’s bodily integrity and autonomy. The phrase, and others more sexually explicit, are verbal expressions of male entitlement. The touching would reinforce that suggestion. Two “inconsequential” little words. A small thing, until you consider street harassment as the normalization of male dominance. Harassing men are arbiters of public space and their everyday regulation of women in those spaces results in what, in 1993, Cynthia Grant Bowman called the “informal ghettoization of women.” Then it’s not so small.

Street harassment is very gendered, linked to violence and overwhelmingly heteronormative. Women are generally not harassing men, grabbing their bodies or otherwise threatening them in public. I have been called every conceivable gendered slur under the sun for not complying with the sexualized demands of total strangers in public places. I’m taking about boys and men muttering obscenities, making pornographic suggestions, touching people they don’t know in intimate ways, lurking on stoops, staring from benches, and following girls in cars. It puts a damper on a sunny day when you go for a walk and someone yells that you’re a “fucking slut” because you don’t respond to their request that you stop and talk to them.

Read the full article at [Salon.com]

See Also:  For Those Who Think Young [Guest Post by @8plus9]


  1. Really though? "[Smile baby] means a man is entirely comfortable telling a woman, probably one he doesn’t even know, what he wants her to do with her body to please him. This suggests a lack of respect for other people’s bodily integrity and autonomy. "

    A bit overblow, I think. A random comment like this usually manages to pull me out of my serious/funky mood. I view it as a man noting that a woman looks unhappy and making a small comment/gesture to try to make her day a little better. Maybe I'm being too simplistic.

    1. Eh, I actually agree with the statement, mostly because of the response I get if I choose **NOT** to smile after they so politely commanded me. About 30% of the time it is a harmless icebreaker by a man who can think of nothing else to say on the fly, but that 70% has hampered my life enough for me to have limited tolerance for it.
      Hilariously, turnabout is not fair play. When I was younger and a bit more reckless my friends and I used to yell, "smile, baby" to sour-faced men while on the stoop, and let's just say it did not get the most positive of responses. Shoot, a transgender blew a kiss or said some sort of catcall and got stabbed by a man up here just last week. Priviledge is awesome.

    2. Cosign 100% Rhea. That was one of the top-ten stupidest quotes I've read on the internet. Considering all amount of stupidity on the internet, that's really impressive, in a negative way.

    3. more than a bit overblown….the author of this article was doin too much and needs to sat down somewhere and take a huge chill pill. It's not that serious.
      Another thing to consider is that it's not the easiest thing in the world for a man to strike up a conversation with a woman he may find attractive and want to talk to. Coming up with witty repertoire to engage a lady is not effortless for all men, even the most charming of men. It makes it even more difficult if the lady looks unapproachable and is scowling and not smiling.
      Over the years I've received many compliments on my smile and a lot of attention because I smile a lot.

    4. The thing is that he didn't say "smile baby" because he really cared about your mood/life/well-being. He said it to get a response – your number, validating that he has "game", or whatever. The author is talking about street harassment, in that because he used that phrase as an "in", when you don't comply, you get called a b*tch, ugly, or told "that's why you mad now". If you have enough of these experiences, then unfortunately even the ones who "didn't mean anything by it" get put into the same category as the harassers.

  2. I would take more offense to the man passing his hand along her arm while he whispered it into her ear. It's an obvious violation of her personal space.

  3. I just don't experience street harassment on the regular and I think it has more to do with location. I live in Houston and you have to drive everywhere here. There are no trains (light rail only) and the places where I do walk (rice village, uptown/kirby, city centre) I don't notice street harassment occurring. It's common to look people in the eye, say hello and smile here. It's not a big deal for a man to stop a woman and start a conversation so maybe that's why a lot of men here don't feel the need to resort to such extreme measures to get a woman's attention. Now, I'm sure it happens here but probably in areas where I don't frequent. The types that carry on like that (I assume) are confined to certain spots in town because they lack the resources (transportation, bus fare) to go anywhere else. The thing about living here is that we're not all on top of each other and forced to be in each other's spaces (with the exception of downtown). It's rather segregated and some say even elitist but….whelp!

    1. You must be describing Houston, Minnesota, because it doesn't sound much like Houston Texas. First off, the only black folks here who will stop somebody and hold a conversation are older black people with home training. Sistas here (30-ish and under) generally avoid eye contact with brothers at all costs. Forget about holding a conversation or even saying hello. Secondly, Houston is not much of a segregated town, unless you're talking about areas like the East Side (generally Hispanic), or Fifth Ward (generally black). And even those areas are not exclusively one race or another. Most areas here are a melting pot of ethnicities. And thirdly, Houston is probably the least elitist big city in the nation. There is probably no other major city in the country where you can find cow pastures next to a multi-million dollar residential development.

      1. No, I'm talking about Houston TX. We obviously have two different perspectives. I have no problem meeting friendly black people. Not sure how you can negate "my" experience here. I have men speak to me all the time and make quick conversation. I do agree the older black people here seem to be more friendly however I've met plenty of nice younger people as well. I was just at the national black MBA conference last week and I heard plenty of out of towners talking about how friendly the people are in Houston. I'm not saying your experience isn't real but I find it difficult to believe if you get out often and not just travel to work, grocery store, the gym and back home.

        When I said segregation I wasn't speaking in terms of race and ethnicity. I was speaking more in terms of SES.

        I said: "….some say even elitist…." I wasn't speaking in absolutes. There are some people here who feel that way because they told me that's how they felt. And I can actually see where they are coming from especially since I've met some heavy hitters in the city recently. There are social circles of people here that if you are fortunate enough to network with are able to help you advance tremendously. All of these oil and gas execs are not hanging around your average Joes. I'm talking about social elites here not zoning laws.

  4. While I normally don't engage in commenting to women foreign to me, I can see where the "harrassment" feeling could come from. Perhaps some men *do* need to think deeper and further about how their own interactions with strange women will be viewed. It's a dicey subject, to be sure.
    My recent post Late Night Thoughts…

  5. "smile" is one I do not use just for this reason. I will simply smile my damnself and say hello….otherwise I keep it moving. women are an interesting…phenonmenon. But like everyone else, I know they want to be bothered WHEN THEY WANT TO BE BOTHERED and when they don't want to be bothered, they simply DON'T. a female friend of mine always 'carries on' about guys approaching her and when she lets them know she isn't interested [for whatever reason], she is puzzled at their 'insistence and/or determination' – I think for some guys, they're just trained to TRY HARDER, BE persistent…without any kind of discerning. She feels like, if there is a room full of other women, why don't the guys go and bother them. I guess there lies the women's understanding of men and vice versa? i.e., mars and venus? LOL

  6. Well the baby part is already crossing the cat calling line and usually it’s some creeper saying it . I think some men may don’t understand that while they don’t mean any harm with saying ” smile baby” that woman has probably heard that same line 20 times that day from men who didn’t responded positively when she didn’t ” smile” or stop and give him her number.

    Honestly if I’m walking down the street and I look sad or upset, why even stop and try to talk to me? Why not just leave me alone, clearly I look like I don’t want to be bothered.

    I have the right to walk done the street happy , sad, mad or crazy, and it’s really not your place to call it out or try to change my mood, especially if your using a ” smile baby “.

    1. I wonder if the comment came from a Denzel, Morris or Boris look-alike how it would be received then??
      One thing about women is if they are instantly not attracted to you then they won't want your attention in any way shape or form because u are considered bothersome and they don't want to look at your ugly mug. ijs.

      1. I really hate that argument. Women know for a FACT that the FIRST thought in our heads once we see an attractive man is "I HOPE HE DON'T SAY ANYTHING TO EFF THIS UP" because our attraction can wither faster than cut herbs left in the sun if he says something offensive.
        The entire "it isn't harassment if he's attractive"thing is a moot point. I'm talking HARASSMENT, not a simple "hi my name is__" approach. Lets stop pushing this narrative.

      2. If the comment came from Idris Elba, I'd still be pissed. I'ma need you to be a tad more respectful than catcalling to me. Also, please be a bit more original than the homeless man down the street who uses the same line.

        And how would you feel if an ugly woman was following you as you walked down the street trying to get your number? You'd probably wonder why she's being so persistent after you've already expressed your disinterest. Ugh, why won't she just leave you alone?

        Multiply by 200, and that's just how women feel. And the sheer frequency that it happens to women automatically makes the fact that it comes from Flavor Flav or Denzel irrelevant.

  7. It's funny because I was having a convo with my guy friend just the other day about stereotype threat.

    The bottom line is that black men need to realize what this black woman in speaking towards is exactly the same thing that happens to them.

    We all walk around with stereotype threat and it's real and should not be dismissed but embraced and understood because we all experience it.

    If you're a black man that's ever been addressed by another man and it made you feel uneasy, intimidated, threatened and especially in danger…you should not be so quick to dismiss our interactions with those same types of black men who invoke those feelings!

    C'mon…stop acting like you don't experience the same things we do. You do, and this street harassment is one of them. Many of you get street harassed and sometimes that harassment has deadly consequences just as it does for us!

    1. Thank you! Black men don't like police staring the down for no reason. Why do you think women want to be stared down by men? Any unwanted attention that is persistent can be considered harassment. Why are catcalls, unwanted touching, and unsolicited "advice" (in the form of "smile") any different?

  8. Touching a stranger is a big NO. Can you say creep? I think mostly everyone on here can agree with that.

    As far as saying "smile baby" or in some way telling a random woman to smile (no matter how nice you say it, you're not asking but telling her) offends me because it's like the guy is pointing out a flaw and it's his job to fix it. I don't at all mind a guy wanting to put a smile on my face if I appear to not be in a good mood, but I think the best way to do that is to complement her in some way. "Your dress/hair/shoes are beautiful" "I like your style" or something like that. Pay attention to what POSITIVELY attracts you to her. If complimenting her outfit that she probably took more than a few minutes to put together the night before doesn't make her smile, then I dunno what will. Telling her to smile is bringing up a negative. That she's doing something wrong. Complementing is a positive. That she did something right. Every woman is different but if you want a good reaction from a stranger, which one would come out of your mouth? It kinda reminds me of grade school, when a boy would pick on a girl because he doesn't know how to express that he likes her. Well once you're grown, you should have figured it out by now!

    After a guy would tell a woman to smile, what does he expect after that? For her to skip down the sidewalk? Or is he striking up a conversation? In all honesty I'm not sure what the point of telling a woman to smile is or what the guy expects to happen after that.

    1. The touching is a problem. That I don't like. I don't think the comment should be taken too seriously. Folks need to lighten up a bit…ijs.

  9. I'm finding the male response a bit disheartening. I just need a couple of answers right quick:

    1) How is simply "telling" me to smile going to lift my mood if you don't know why I'm "frowning"? Wouldn't "doing" something to make me smile be a better option? Oh, but you (not a singular "you") don't know how to make me smile…because you don't know me. So again, the point?

    2) Has anyone that you have never met before ever told you how to feel? You don't find the idea of that odd?

    3) Are you really ready to deny that all it is.. is an encounter with a "pleasant" looking woman that you would like to be a little more "pleasant" for you? Or, as an alternative question…have you ever asked a woman you were NOT attracted to, or even an elderly woman, to smile? Or, for that matter, another man who looked a bit "down"?

    1. Listen, can we please all stop acting like this is a friendly bout of pleasantries for the greater good out of the goodness and kindness of hearts and agree that it is a means to an end? I could begin to understand it if you were the type of person that said it to everyone (I do know a few people like that), but mostly, it is JUST as "harmless" as a Caucasian person assuming it is ok to touch my hair. But it doesn't matter, I fully expect this to be dismissed as another "angry" rant.

      1. I whole heartedly agree with you! While some may want to view it as a simple pleasantry, it's alarming. As a woman, there are already certain parameters that we have to be mindful of as the article pointed out being followed and just someone watching you in general.

        For example, this happened to me yesterday morning: I am standing at the bus stop pleasantly waiting for the bus to come and a big red Ford truck with all the windows rolled down stops right in front of me. I immediately feel threatened. I look around (it's a really busy street so I'm not on high alarm, but I am alarmed), and this guy turns his head my way and says, "You look pretty." I say, "thank you." He sits there and just looks at me and I'm thinking "what is going on? Please drive off. This is making me feel very much so weirded/creeped out." Then he proceeds to ask my name and if I could take his number to call him some time and take it just to have him move along, but no he asks "Where are you headed? Do you need a ride?" I replied "no." Then he finally drives off. Thank God! (sigh of relief) I'm sure he didn't mean any harm and was just trying to talk to me, but it scared the living daylights out of me and heightens my already high awareness of my surroundings and people and cars I see. This may be testament to what I have already experienced, but a guy has literally popped up where I caught a bus once to give me a ride and I'm like what in the hell are you watching me? That has happened twice – not in the same city – but it has happened.

        It just does not in any way feel good for a stranger to roll up on you, tell you something or anything for that matter especially since my safety is my main concern and a little bit more in jeopardy as a woman, and I've read many times the stories of such things happening and women never been seen again alive. While it might not be intended to be feel violating, it is simply because our safety could be at stake depending on our response, how it is received, and how the stranger chooses to respond.

  10. I really, Really, REALLY want to understand how saying 'Smile"- just Smile on its own- is so offensive and harrassment towards Women. heck, I have been told to Smile as a Kid and even Now by BOTH Men and Women, at Work, at a park, just Walking, etc and Not Once did I take it as using Pyschological Power- Grabing, "controlling" my Will other than TRYING to Cheer me Up.

    I get that there are Creeper Guys, and this Street harrassment has been beaten to a pulp, much like natural hair vs weave, and how "teaching Men/Boys Not to Rape' AUTOMATICALLY says Males are Inherent Deviants and Monsters ( anyone going to retort THIS????), and many, many other topics that are Very Controversial and probably Never, EVER get a Consensus from Both Genders or among and between Races and Ethnicities.

    Sorry, Saying "Smile" is NOT a Woman- Only Thing, it's a Person Thing and NO, I Do Not See how it is Offensive and that gives Me, a man, some sort of Patriarchial Privilege.

    1. i agree that we're kinda setting up the stage that males= evil as a base setting, but from the research i've done, you're not supposed to tell other people how to act (in terms of telling the opposite gender to 'smile').

      welcome to the new age, the new age, woooahhhh #radioactive

      1. If that's the case then if there was a dollar for Every Time a Woman said "Man Up", "Grow a Pair", and Demanded some sort of Chivalrous Action done BECAUSE she is a Woman, All us Men, let alone Brothas, would be some Multi-Millionaires.

    2. A smile is not going to change my mood. It doesn't cheer anyone up. You have ZERO idea as to why I'm not smiling. Hell, maybe I don't have any teeth and am ashamed. And I bet you'd take back your "smile" comment in a second. If I am really stressed out about something, a smile is not going to fix it. It's rude of ANYONE to say this. What do I need to smile for your benefit for?

    3. Furthermore, the altruism of the statement is completely lost, when you get called a b*tch because you didn't comply with the command.

  11. saying 'smile baby' is the worse thing I could say? Hmm… so that's worse than:

    'I'm gay, and sleeping with your father'
    'That baby doesn't look like me'
    'That outfit doesn't go with them shoes'
    'I got (insert three letter acronym) and you should get tested'
    'Your mother doesn't mean anything to me, it's you I love'

    But no.. "baby smile"… gotcha

  12. What some men have never learned is that women are people, and people can't be controlled or manipulated the same way as a cell phone or a computer. Commands don't work unless she's already buying what you're selling.

    If you want her to smile, you need to evoke the right emotions so that smiling is a natural reaction. Engage her and bring your own positive vibe and energy… and watch the magic happen 🙂

  13. Putting “sexual harassment” aside (but not to undermine it.) “Smile baby” is tacky. Furthermore, depending on what your going through or whatever’s happening in your life at that time, smiling may just not be an option.

  14. I've told a stranger "you look like you need a hug" and gave them a hug before. Done this probably a handful of times. But I guess showin a lil love can be deemed as "harrassment" so I will never ever do that again.

  15. I'm old(er) so I don't really get catcalled like I used to. Although this morning as I was walking to the bus stop, this dude did yell from the passenger side of the car that I looked nice and then hollered his number as the car drove away. So there's that. But I digress.

    Usually the men who tell me to smile, girl are older Black dudes who are just chilling on the sidewalks. It's always a quick exchange. The recognize my cuteness and want me to ameliorate it with a smile. I owe them nothing. Not a smile. Not a word. But I understand the gesture and what they're trying to do. No one has followed me or annoyed me after I walk past – but that's just me. So if that's the baseline for harassment, then ehhhhhh…get older, wider, and see what happens when you wishing somebody reminded you that you was fine. I want men to be educated to govern themselves accordingly, etc., but damn we eliminating all potential flirting mechanisms and making you feel good moments too?!
    My recent post One to Grow On

    1. PREACH, SISTA!!!
      I was just thinking the same thing, before I got to your post. I have spent too much time in my life being depressed, sad, angry, etc. If someone says something to me that can lighten my load for even a few seconds I take it in the spirit in which it is given. Again, now that my hair is gray and natural and I am no longer a size 7 (pauses in wistful reminiscence) it is actually a compliment when someone says something nice to me about how I look.

  16. It's really not that big a deal. The writer need move from where ever she lives. I get told that all the time where I live (South) so I guess we're just more hospitable around here. The only that gets me with the whole "smile" thing is that guys feels like you're only approachable when you're smiling because if you're not smiling you hate everything. And most times that's not the case. Not trying to sound depressed or anything but I don't walk around with a smile 24/7. I smile when I find something funny or delightful otherwise I where a neutral face (which unfortunately is pouty). My point is just because a girl isn't smiling doesn't mean she's angry or depressed. It means just that, she's not smiling. If you walk up and say something funny or delightful, like me, the expression changes.

  17. Via the original article:

    "The big problem with this article is that it equates a mildly inappropriate version of "Cheer up," (and seriously, there are plenty of people who don't get social interaction and might have missed the inappropriateness of it entirely) with sexual assault. There are two worthwhile conversations to be had here: one on the appropriateness of phrases like "cheer up," the other on appropriate behavior between strangers and how to maintain it, and there are commenters here trying to have both conversations. The problem is that they are fundamentally different conversations, and have to be seen as such to be understood, and not seen as just different versions of the same thing."

  18. Come on ladies? Is the the worst? t is probably annoying and a shitty pick up line,but I can think of much more. I might smile at a woman and nod my head as a hello,and she either say hello or give me a half smile. I don't want to lead her on and think I am tryna park,so now that I am not single I don't do it. Now I just keep my eyes straight.

  19. Question for all those who think that this is an acceptable way to approach a stranger…. how many dates has ANYONE ever gone on because they yelled "smile, baby" or some variation thereof?


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