What should you do when your boss tells you to smile?
There has been a LOT in the news lately about “bitchface” (when your resting face looks slightly angry/bitchy). A lot of women have poked fun at the problem, such as the Smile, Bitch! Training Camp or this great cartoon, but the policing of women’s facial expressions is also starting (finally!) to be more understood as a form of harassment — often on the street, as in one of the catcalls men feel entitled to make to women. But reader F has a different problem: her coworkers and superiors are the ones telling her to smile. Here’s her question:
I’m hoping you or the Corporette community could give me some advice. I am a recent university graduate who’s accepted a public sector position. I have my own office but we keep our doors open, and anyone who walks by can see my face as I work. A number of my coworkers and superiors have stopped while walking by to tell me that I look “too serious” or “angry” while I’m working. I do furrow my eyebrows when I concentrate, and often am reading very tiny print, which makes me squint a bit.
It seems silly to put mental energy into holding my face into a more pleasing expression while I work, but the comments are getting on my nerves and I’m unsure if there is any ‘talk.’ I haven’t found a good response to the comments yet. Do you have any ideas of something appropriately light-hearted I could reply that wouldn’t be rude if said to a superior?
MAN. Welcome to the club, Reader F! I also “suffer” from resting bitchface, and I can’t wait to hear what the readers say here.
A few thoughts for you:
Ignore them. F’em. Your face is your face. Smile when you talk to people, when you see them in the hall, when it comes up naturally — eventually they’ll learn that you don’t have a permanent black cloud over your head.
Reconfigure your desk so you don’t face the door. In my law office we had L-shaped desks, and most of the lawyers, myself included, had our computer screens along the wall — not facing the door. If anyone asks, say you did it for ergonomics or sun-related reasons or some such. (In fact, it’s probably not a bad idea to look into ergonomics if you’re already going to the trouble to reconfigure your office.)
Educate people on a one-on-one basis. If you have one or two main offenders whom you are otherwise friends with, you could possibly send them a link to one of the articles above. Another way to go about it is to gently ask your coworker (with a smile), “Out of curiosity, when was the last time you said something like this to a male coworker?” In a perfect world, he will be thankful you said something, and learn the error of his ways. Be warned, though — this is likely to net you a reputation as “someone who can’t take a joke” and enhance your, er, bitch image.
Talk to HR. This disturbs me, particularly coming from the supervisors — they should know better. You may want to say something to HR such as, “I’m not sure if you’re aware that some of the supervisors are doing this. I don’t meant to get anyone in trouble, and I have a pretty thick skin so it doesn’t bother me, but I’d hate for it to become an issue down the line.” And then leave it to HR to educate them that this is a form of harassment.
I would especially talk to HR if a) it is happening from numerous superiors and coworkers (which suggests it’s a problem with office culture), or b) you’ve talked to a coworker about it directly and he persists in telling you to smile.
Ladies, take it away — how should Reader F handle this situation?