I am cruising down the sidewalk, squeezing melons in a grocery store, wending my way through a crowd of Pabst-drinking hipsters wearing ironic and medically unnecessary eyewear, or wandering despondently through the labyrinthine hallways of my office complex, when suddenly, I lock eyes with a total stranger. Like a deer caught in headlights, I do the thing which comes naturally to nice people: I freaking smile. But does this stranger smile back? Oh no. S/he does not smile. S/he looks directly into those dreamy windows to my soul, sees the ineffable beauty that resides there, and glowers.
Despite what mid-century television shows set in small towns would have you believe, this is not a phenomenon limited to The City. It does, however, happen a great deal more often in The City, due to there being significantly less elbow room. Every time this happens, it makes me feel embarrassed: I extended myself in the name of friendliness to a stranger, only to be rejected on the most basic of levels. They have taken the social power away from me, for no other reason than they can. Stupid meanie heads! Thus, I give you The Cityface:
Some call it The Bitchface or The Cuntface, but whatever nomenclature is used, its purpose is to stop smile-rejection in its tracks. I invented it to keep myself from proffering wanton undeserved smiles, and protect myself from power-theft. I wear it in public pretty much all the time these days, and avoid eye contact to fend off smile-temptation.
Given my essentially neurotic nature, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I am not the only one to have given extensive thought to the power dynamics of facial expressions: Shulamith Firestone, in "The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution" has this to say on the subject:
"The smile is the child/woman equivalent of the shuffle; it indicates acquiescence of the victim to his own oppression. In my own case, I had to train myself out of that phony smile, which is like a nervous tic on every teenage girl. ... My 'dream' action for the women's liberation movement: a smile boycott, at which declaration all women would instantly abandon their "pleasing" smiles, henceforth only smiling when something pleased them."
I had pretty much fallen in love with Firestone's giant brain previous to coming upon this passage, but this was the clincher. I, for one, plan to personally take this 'dream' action and make it a reality. I know I said my New Year's resolution was to 'take more pictures,' but I think 'smile less,' or at least 'smile falsely less' will be a more instructive one.
Next up, I will be training myself to not only not smile, but to not smile at people who first smile at me. Take that, jerkfaces! Don't worry, though: My "sitting on the kitchen floor at 3 a.m. after too many G&Ts" face will remain quintessentially the same.