Monday, December 4, 2017

What does a Fake Smile Say About How we Treat Women?

Part of my life involves trying to "hold onto the One" as much as possible. This involves trying to pay careful attention to everything in both the world around me and my consciousness. If you do this, you start to notice subtleties that you would miss otherwise.

One thing that I notice that I find somewhat creepy is the "smile mask" that a some women wear. I walk along the street and sometimes this involves looking at the faces of other people. When I do this, I sometimes see that a woman notices me and instantly breaks out a fake smile. It's too fast to be a conscious choice. Nor, I suspect is it a spontaneous statement about how nice it is to see my face. Instead, I strongly suspect, it is a conditioned response. A lot of women have been trained to smile---just like Pavlov's dog was conditioned to salivate whenever he rang a bell.

I suspect that there are two cultural factors at work here. First, being a part of the service economy, being friendly and out-going has ceased to be a personality quirk and instead become a condition of employment. A smile isn't a genuine expression of happiness anymore, it's a necessary activity at your place of employment.

The second element is the socialization process that a lot of girls and young women are subjected to. This is so much of a thing that I found a blog post devoted to this issue. It starts by talking about the author's personal experience of being a woman:
It’s early, and I’m only half awake as I walk down the street to the bus stop. I walk past a group of people going the opposite direction; a man comes towards me to say, “Hey, why aren’t you smiling?” It takes a while before I realize what just happened. I keep walking as I hear him mutter something less nice about me. I feel violated, as if my feelings have been taken ransom. Whatever emotion I have or choose to show is suddenly not mine but for the rest of the world to consider and qualify. What would happen if I chose to smile at the request of that stranger? Would he take my response as a signal for him to try his advances at me? Does my refusal to comply mean I'm the stuck-up bitch he claims I am?
From the blog "Culturacolectiva",
by Maria Suarez

Am I making too big a deal about this? I don't know. I like people who smile and are nice to me just as much as the next guy. But I also like people who are "real" and let me know exactly what they are thinking about things. And I have also met a lot of people who have learned (or maybe a more accurate way of saying it would be "have been trained") to pay so much attention to what other people think of them that they find it impossible to express any emotions that they feel are negative. Can these women who involuntarily smile when I look into their eyes tell a man what they really feel? Or have they internalized a way of relating to men so deeply that they simply can no longer do so?


Time to use blue font and put out my begging bowl.

I suspect that most people think that mendicant monks beg for food only because they are hungry. But that isn't really true. Monks beg because it is something that forces them to put themselves in the position of being at the lowest rung of human society. It forces them to understand what it is like to be totally at the mercy of others. Being a monk is an extremely high-status thing in most Eastern countries, which means that forcing them to beg and having lay people decide what goes into the bowl "inverts" the relationship. It helps both sides of the equation realize that monks are just human beings like everyone else. A Western Zen master, Bernie Glassman, goes to the point of having "street retreats" where he forces middle-class students hand over everything that identifies them, put on rough old clothes, and, force them to beg for food on the streets of American cities---posing as homeless people. He feels that this does a better job of "blowing up" their preconceived notions than a day of intense Zen meditation.

It's the same thing when a creative person puts out an "ask" for support on a Patreon account. You stop being an independent thinker who is above all that stuff and put yourself in the position of being a "money grubber" just like any other human being in a capitalist society. It also puts the reader in the situation of realizing that the piece they are reading isn't something that comes from a "groovy intellectual", but instead arrives from a specific person who has many of the same problems that you do---including how to pay the rent. Nowadays part of that distance is the idea that"all content on the Web should be free".

So if you can, think about making even a token contribution---a dollar a month on Patreon helps. Buy a book. Share the link with friends if you think it is good. And if you really can't afford anything, that's fine too. The monk blesses the person who wants to fill the bowl but cannot offer a copper more than the person who gives a token amount out of their extreme excess. 


I've heard that there is something called a "repressed memory" that keeps people from being able to remember traumatic experiences. I don't know how that would work, but I can attest to there being a totally different situation where you cannot escape a memory---it haunts you day and night---but it is so painful that it is impossible to express to another human being. What happens to people who have to present a pleasant, happy visage to other people that it has become the "default" and they have to force themselves to express their true emotions? 

In Japan a new medical condition has been identified which they call "Smile Mask Syndrome" (SMS). A psychologist first noticed this when she found students who were still smiling and wearing their "happy face" when relating especially painful experiences. Our facial expressions and body language are so important to our ability to communicate with others, it must really screw up our self-image and inter-personal relationships if you have been trained to smile and be happy looking when you are crying inside. Indeed, SMS seems to be associated with depression and physical illness.

I'm kinda lucky in my job because it's the sort of work that is diametrically opposed to this sort of thing. I have to yell at people, look furious, and threaten people with physical arrest. The "happy face" management style just doesn't work when you end up calling the cops and having someone put into handcuffs. (Although that sort of work also takes its toll---I've felt pretty awful some nights after having to deal with a "problem patron".) But truth be told, I'd much rather risk getting my lights punched out than ending up with a permanent "happy face" glued over my real one. 

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