Telling a girl to ‘give us a smile, love’ is incredibly patronising

Why does it matter what my face is doing when I’m walking around?

This morning I was walking through the streets of the city, minding my own business, when two men in a van drove past me. And as they rolled down their window and shouted at me, I rolled my eyes. I knew exactly what was coming.

They whistled. I didn’t respond. They looked both angry and quite bewildered that I wasn’t flattered by their whistling. So they laughed, patronisingly, and shouted: “Give us a smile, love.” I knew it. And I remembered – yet again – that the expression is loaded with so much casual misogyny.

To begin with, what’s up with calling someone “love”? You don’t even know me. It’s so insincere and really condescending. And the idea that I should have to smile – why? Who am I smiling for? Why does it matter what my face is doing when I’m walking around? Which leads to the next question: why should I smile at strangers who are literally shouting at me from their window as they drive past? They’ve shouted something about my appearance at me – which in certain circumstances is actually really embarrassing – and when I don’t retaliate they get angry at me for being annoyed at them? My crime? As far as I can see it was “going about my life”.

I wonder what they’d actually do if I retaliated? Maybe channel that episode of Sex and The City where Miranda starts shouting back, asks to go to bed with one of them, and then he replies in terror: “God lady, I have a wife.”

But I wouldn’t, because it’s invariably gangs of blokes who say it – and that’s intimidating. They’re showing off and proving how fucking manly they are in front of their friends, usually picking on women walking alone. And it’s so cowardly – they always seem to do it when they’ve got a quick escape. They’ll be in a car about to drive off, or walking past you from a distance on a busy street. They shout what they want and then literally run away.

Overall, it’s about making women  feel small, and suggesting this idea that we should be seen (looking pretty, smiling) and not heard. And I’m sick of it.