Women Must Smile

Joni Ernst

By Shealah Craighead [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons

Tonight the GOP showed that it has been paying attention to America. The Republican Party chose Joni Ernst, a freshman senator from Iowa to deliver their response to President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight. She’s a mother, a veteran, and a farmer, just with those few descriptors she embodies many American ideals. She has an impressive resumé and an equally interesting backstory. Senator Ernst is someone whose opinion I would like to hear. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given that chance. For the second year in a row, someone advised the Republican Respondent that smiling and being pleasing was more important than the words she had to say.

I watched the State of the Union and the Republican Response on PBS. During her response, Senator Ernst had an uncomfortable smile on her face, even while uttering such words as “[t]he forces of violence and oppression don’t care about the innocent” in reference to the recent terror attacks in places like France and Nigeria. After she finished speaking, the only comment made by anyone on PBS is that she smiled too much, which is a mistake many people make. I want to take a moment to point out, as specifically as possible, that this is not a mistake, this is the way women are socialized to behave. We are expected to smile and to be pleasing, and this is wrong. Joni Ernst should have been told to deliver her speech seriously and decisively because she was speaking about important issues. Smiles are okay, when appropriate, but as my roommate remarked when she walked in the door, we shouldn’t feel like we’re listening to an audiobook or a Barbie when a woman politician speaks.

We, as women, have important and timely issues to speak about with authority. When we feel that we must also be pleasing when speaking about those issues we are told that our opinions don’t have as much weight as our male counterparts. This is not acceptable, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. For this to occur, yet again and without comment, reveals just how far we still have to go to reach gender parity in this nation. Just as we’ve seen this issue before (such as in last year’s Republican Response by Cathy McMorris Rodgers) we’ve also seen the other side of this issue again and again, when accomplished women like Hillary Clinton are derided because they don’t smile enough. It’s time to just let women be who they are – strong, capable, and confident.

America, we can do better. Stop telling women to smile.

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