If you’ve ever told a woman to smile, you may want to rethink that approach. I’ve sometimes been exhorted to smile, even when I’m not unhappy. Perhaps folks do this because people feel more secure if women are smiling; they think it means that women are happy, or happy with them. In fact, though, a non-smile is not an indication of unhappiness, and a smile can hide a lot of anger.
It seems contradictory, but the thousands of women and men in marches yesterday were both angry and happy at the same time. We were shouting, chanting, chatting, smiling, and laughing simultaneously. At the march and rally I attended, all the women I talked to, and all the signs I read, indicated a shared rage and frustration with politics-as-usual and politicians currently in office. What made us smile, though, was the pleasure of coming together with like-minded people.
I noticed the same phenomenon at the Women’s March I attended last year. We represented a wide variety of specific concerns, a wide range of age-groups, and various ethnic origins. There were some people who represented particular issues but most of us also felt a more generalized dismay.
In San Jose, California yesterday, as in many other cities, one common thread was a disgust with the racism and misogyny of the US president. In fact, that disgust was even more pronounced this year than last year, and that is remarkable when you consider that last year’s rally came shortly after the revelation of the “pussy grabber” audiotape.
This year’s rally follows a year of #MeToo exposés, and we are now breathing a collective sigh of relief that we no longer have to hide our individual experiences. We realize the breadth and depth of the problem, and it is extraordinarily liberating to be able to talk about our, sometimes embarrassing, stories. We can now throw off our self-imposed guilt and shame and put those burdens where they belong, on the men who have abused their power. That makes us smile.
We can also smile because we now have the understanding and support of good men who never really understood the problem before. Now that they do, they are standing with us and marching with us. Yesterday I saw many men who were happy to be a part of this protest; they walked with their partners, their children, their sisters, and their mothers. One sign I saw said “Men of quality don’t fear equality,” and that says so much. It has taken decades longer than it should have, but it is a delight to see more men supporting women’s rights.
So, when you see the pictures of the Women’s Marches from every major city in the US and many cities in other countries, don’t misunderstand the smiles and the exhilaration you see. Those smiles hide the fact that we are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it anymore.
The old adage that we need to “grin and bear it” has been turned on its head. Instead, we can now grin and lay bare the injustices and abuse we have experienced. And when we come together to do that, we make each other happy.