The Corner

A Stupid Time to Be Alive, Part 1,098,678

From the Washington Post:

The “Day Without a Woman” strike on Wednesday may mean a day with fewer smiles.

While not every one plans to skip work, many who want to show solidarity with the growing feminist movement said they plan to strike from unpaid work that women disproportionately do, including cooking, cleaning and, some said, smiling.

More specifically, fake smiling.

Some feminists say the happy face they sport by habit — or on command — is a form of unpaid “emotional labor.” They do it to be pleasant, to be likable, or because someone told them to do it: “Why don’t you smile!”

They do it because if they don’t, there’s a name for it (Resting Bitch Face).

“From the time you are small, as a woman you are encouraged to put on a friendly face,” said Ariana Ascherl, an activist in Anne Arundel, Md., who is organizing a rally in front of the Supreme Court Wednesday with the Democratic Socialists of America.

On her day of action, she also plans to abstain from doing laundry and volunteering at her daughter’s school. She is also trying to be more conscious about how and when she smiles. “I’ve been accused of having a resting nice face,” she said. “Social conditioning is a hard thing to break.”

Where to begin? Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way. This is really stupid.

Beyond that, this strikes me as a parodic updating of ideas stretching back through Betty Friedan, the Frankfurt School Marxists to Rousseau. Civilization — specifically Western Civilization or capitalism or whatever — is oppressive and repressive. It requires people to behave contrary to their nature. Blah blah blah. For some people, this fact produces a profound form of highly intellectualized asininity. Friedan famously compared the traditional suburban home to Auschwitz: “The women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps. . . . ” Theodore Adorno argued that modern appliances in America were imbued with the spirit of fascist intolerance. Literally, things like your refrigerator and car were animated by “the violent, hard-hitting, unresting jerkiness of Fascist maltreatment.” Rousseau believed that man is born free but is everywhere in chains. Etc, etc.

So when I say this smile-strike is stupid, I am not dismissing the fact that it taps into a great and rich tradition of stupidity, running like a raging river of imbecility through Western Civilization for centuries.

The important point, however, is that the feminists have a point. Girls are taught to be pleasant from a very young age. The thing is, so are boys. Certainly not in entirely the same way. By all means let’s have a really important conference at Bryn Mawr about that. But the fact is that raising young humans to be polite, pleasant, decent, etc., is not the stuff of oppression and intolerance. It is literally the stuff of civilization itself. The root of civilization is the verb “civilize.” We could certainly raise young people to smile less. To be more aggressive in their wants and desires. To be rude or antagonistic to what remains of social norms. But that would a) be really stupid and b) would be no less oppressive or tyrannical, since we would still be imposing norms on children. We would just be imposing much dumber norms that would make society even uglier.

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