Something happened this past week that has just amplified an issue I’ve had for some time. I went to the beach on Wednesday to relax and spend some time by myself. I really needed this day to just shut my brain off for a bit because for the last while I’ve been so go-go-go, I haven’t felt relaxed in quite awhile. I was sitting on my towel, under my umbrella, reading a book when I noticed a few texts and emails from work. This annoyed me slightly and reminded me why a Wednesday as a day off was too difficult to be able to turn off, as most other people are working still. During this 30 second interaction with my phone, I happened to look up and notice a family with 2 small children were beginning to set up camp in front of me. Now, admittedly this is not my favourite sight as children tend to be louder in general (but so do teenager groups) and as I’m on a public beach I’m not upset by this development, just simply noticed and then proceed to contemplate my work situation again. A few moments later I was pulled from my thoughts by the father of this family, who proceeded to question me if I had just rolled my eyes at his family. I was so caught off guard it took me a moment to realize he was even talking to me and then I held up my phone and politely said “no, sir. I’m thinking about the work situation.” That was not good enough, he became aggressive and raised his voice, continuing to berate me in front of the whole beach, claiming to have seen me “roll my eyes” even though I was wearing sunglasses that you cannot see my eyes through (part of why I bought them). I kept repeating I was just sitting here, that it was a work message and that it was not directed at him until finally, he uttered the infamous sentence “well, you have a resting bitch face then” before he finally moved off down the beach with his family. Now, why did this experience bother me so much? Not for the reasons you might think.
1. His family did not appear to be upset over this interaction. His wife merely started gathering up their belongings as it started and the children just stood there. No one cried or reacted or tried to approach him to calm him down. Which tells me they are used to his temper and that really made me sad for them. I also felt sad that his children would grow up thinking that was appropriate behaviour.
2. No one said anything until after he left. People all around witnessed the interaction and how he was acting and no one said anything. Granted most are with their families and don’t want that anger directed at them but had someone simply said “Hey man, there are kids here, just walk away” it would have shown him (even slightly) that his behaviour was not okay and to yell at a stranger like that was not how to handle the problem. Even if I was upset by them sitting in front of me (which I truly wasn’t) or had “rolled my eyes”, did that really affect them? If I were sitting there huffing audibly or commented to them directly about it, then sure his response would have been more valid but an eye roll should not warrant a public shaming.
3. I don’t like to be accused of doing something I didn’t do. Like most people my ego was hurt a bit by him publicly claiming I was being rude to a family with small children. The one family beside me said after they couldn’t believe how he acted and they knew I didn’t do it but still… did they or were they just trying to get out of more awkwardness? What about the other people around? Then I had to remind myself that I know the true me and so what if others believe me or not, I know my truth. I also reminded myself that I cannot control others or their perceptions of me. This has been a constant battle my whole life and a lesson I need to remind myself of over and over. I’ve always been a people pleaser and wanted to be well-liked and often have tried too hard because of it. Thankfully as I’ve grown, I’ve become aware of this and have made steps to become more self-assured and care less about what people think of me. Travelling has helped a great deal!
4. Finally, the thing that bothered me the most and is probably the most problematic is the comment “resting bitch face”. Since my server days I have been plagued by that sentence in varying forms, because when I am thinking (like counting change for instance) I have a “look” on my face that either made my bosses think I was stressed out or overwhelmed by my section or customers claim I was rude or giving bad service. It actually took me years to realize it was my face doing something “wrong” and I had to work hard to try and relax it and appear nicer. My job made the instances more frequent but it was not restricted to work, I was often getting comments simply walking down the street or out at a club or bar with friends. The worst part is that I am not alone, women constantly have random men saying things like “Why aren’t you smiling?”, “What, are you upset?”, “Bad mood today?” if they aren’t smiling, acting how they except or (the most appalling) aren’t interested in flirting with them. I’ve heard it many times over the years but since this incident, I’ve had more woman say how it happens to them all the time! This should not be a regular occurrence and I am frustrated that it unfortunately is. I am also upset that as women we feel we need to justify our face, our feelings or our “bitchiness”. Some women actually own it saying things like “Ya, so what, I am a bitch”. Yes, sometimes I am rude, mean, annoyed, frustrated but I’m also happy, sad, joyful, angry and everything in between because I am HUMAN. I will own it if I am in a bad mood or if I’m deliberately being rude to someone but I am not defined by my mood or by my perceived mood. We have to stop commenting to women for not being what we expect them to be. We have to stop expecting women to be a certain way in general. We have to stop making it okay to say things like “smile” to a woman because you wouldn’t say that to a man walking down the street. We need it to be okay for a woman to be mad or upset. We need to stop justifying our feelings. Period.
I know this happens to men in other ways too, but for the sake of this article, I’m only talking about women.
Let’s start a discussion below. Has this happened to you? What are your thoughts? Do you think I’m overreacting?