THE BLOG

Being Told 'Smile, Love' Is Not Just Irritating, It's Catcalling-Lite

24/08/2015 16:48 BST | Updated 24/08/2016 10:59 BST

The other day, I was minding my own business, filling petrol in my car.

As I was doing so, a car of about three guys pulled up, and two of the passengers got out.

One guy started talking loudly to the driver, the driver responded and then the guy paused, looked at me, and said to his friend: "I can't concentrate on what you're saying, I'm too busy looking at this beautiful lady over here."

It seriously pissed me off.

Now some of you might be thinking, what's got her feminist knickers into a twist?

But the remark made me feel uncomfortable. It wasn't exactly catcalling but it fell into a weird grey area. Let's dub it 'catcalling-lite'.

It's one thing if a guy comes up to you and says: "I hope you don't mind, but I just wanted to tell you that you're beautiful". That's what I would call a compliment.

But this was announced to an audience and sounded leery.

I didn't appreciate being looked at. Or let me rephrase that - I don't mind being looked at, but the minute someone vocalises it, it sounds beyond creepy, whether you're a man or woman.

And the worst was that when he realised I wasn't going to fling the petrol hose away and pepper him with gratitude-filled kisses, his face turned sour.

So far, so normal. It happens to women every day who don't respond to catcalls and weird comments from men by instantly dropping their knickers.

But this bozo couldn't let it go.

When I went into the shop to pay, he looked at me (now less with amorous creepiness in his eyes and more like an injured insect), and said those two words that will turn any normal, nice female into a Samurai sword-brandishing, hot poker-wielding maniac: "Smile, love."

That just did it.

Without wanting to get the tiny violins out, I had just spent an hour driving and my head was full of thoughts of my late husband who passed away three months ago, and I was just feeling sad - missing him something chronic.

I didn't want to smile, and especially not because some stranger had told me to. But what I was really cross about was instead of replying to his "Smile, love" with: "Why? I'm looking at you, aren't I?', I didn't.

Because I was wondering whether or not I was making a big deal about it. Whether or not the act was actually sexist. And this is one of the biggest challenges we face regarding catcalling - whether it's a wolf whistle or a seemingly well-intentioned remark, if a man's comments about your appearance and sexuality makes you feel uncomfortable, then that is not okay.

In fact, aside from a pithy retort, what I really wanted to say to the guy was this:

I have never, ever heard a woman say to a man: "Smile, it might never happen". A man is allowed to get on with being a grumpy shit while a woman is expected to put on a cheery facade like a performing geisha.

It is not okay for you to tell me what emotion to feel or what facial expression to pull. We are not in the 1950s and I am not a housewife cooking dinner for your boss.

It is not okay for you to talk about me in the third person and then expect me to be grateful for your advances. In the petrol station forecourt, for fuck's sake.

Whether or not I am blowing this out of proportion is irrelevant. You made me feel uncomfortable, objectified and you, as a man, are never going to know how this feels. Unless, perhaps, we smear you in baby oil and throw you into a drunk hen party.

If you don't like what you're hearing, as I did that day, you can just take your own advice you doled out as you clutched your limp Ginster's pasty: "Smile, love."