Don’t Be Such a Girl! Science, Gender and Social Expectations of Faking Emotion

noahandme

This guy always makes me smile.

In an interview for Wired magazine, Marianne LaFrance, an experimental psychologist at Yale University said,

“On average girls and women smile more. This appears to be a function of two things. Boys are encouraged not to smile very much. Expressivity is taken by some as sign of emotionality, of femininity, something many men wouldn’t be caught dead being associated with.”

It makes sense, really. We’re trained, as little girls, to make everyone feel better. We’re told to smile when things get stressful, to smile when we greet someone, in photos, to even smile at strangers we don’t even know. When we don’t, people get worried. “Are you ok?” they ask. “What’s wrong? Are you sick?” Socially, it’s expected. Girls are not really given the option to avoid smiling.

Men and boys, on the other hand, are not expected to smile on command (either spoken or unspoken). If a man never smiles, people call him focused, intense, serious. Alternately, if a man does happen to smile, it’s kind of like a bonus. He’s a nice guy, he’s friendly. But if he smiles too much? It’s just as isolating. He’s insecure; he’s fake.

If a woman rarely smiles, she’s labeled as moody, unhappy, stressed out. She takes herself too seriously.  She can’t handle pressure. If you don’t feel like smiling? Too bad. Fake it.

Adrian Furnham Ph.D.,  argues that Southerners smile more than other regions in the US. This also makes sense because we’re often taught (especially as Southern women) to be overly concerned with others and their comfort, and smiling indicates friendliness. To not smile is to be sullen, rude. Nobody likes rude little girls. Nobody likes rude women.

We even have rules about genuine smiles and fake smiles:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201410/the-surprising-psychology-smiling

I have a proposal.

I think we should teach our little girls to smile when they want to. Let’s try to not pressure them into fake happiness for the benefit of others. Let’s teach our little boys that’s it’s ok to smile if they feel like it. Let’s begin as early as possible, demonstrating to our kids that genuine feelings and the expression of feelings is appropriate and ok. That doesn’t mean they get a license to be brats, by any means. It just means they are allowed to be genuine. Is it too much to hope that social expectations might shift, just the slightest, to allow our sons and daughters to be able to express their true emotions without judgement? I’d like to think so.

It makes me smile just thinking about it.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.

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