Why Are Girls Supposed to Smile and Boys Aren't?

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Boys are made of snakes and snails, and puppy dog tails,

Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.

We expect girls to smile when they are having a bad day but as regards boys, that's another story.  When boys have a bad day and they become grouchy, angry, and mean, we smile condoningly  and  come up with some profundity, such as, "Boys will be boys."  

 We don't allow girls to be who they really are.  Society encourages a false sense of self in girls.  Girls are allowed not only to act or show who they really are, but also what they really feel and think.  As a result of this cultural pressure, a false sense of self develops in girls.  This problem is much more acute in the case of girls than it is for boys.  While boys just have to be brave, girls have to be good.  

 Our culture trains girls to eschew their true emotions and fake a more congenial expression for the sake of others.  Teachers tell girls to be nice in school, and parents and relatives reinforce this at home.  Are they telling her this simply because they want her to feel better?  Perhaps.  After all, it makes good psychological sense; if you smile, you feel  better.  But, if that is the reason we do it, why don't we want boys to feel better, as well?  Or, do we tell girls to smile because "good girls" are not supposed to get upset?  Perhaps, unintentionally, the message we convey to the females in our society is this, "It's okay for girls to cry, but don't get angry when you cry.  We don't approve of anger in women.  Don't even think of shouting, stomping, or kicking the table.  No Way Jose(phine!)"  

 As a girl grows older and enters the dating or marrying stage, she comes in contact with males who consider any display of anger, or any forceful, intense expression of emotions, exclusively a masculine privilege.  Any expression of strong emotions by a female, with the exception of fear, becomes a challenge to the authority of the male whose instant reaction is, "how dare you."  The epithet awarded to a female who openly expresses anger, starts with the letter "b...."  No such epithet is yet invented for a male who displays similar behavior.  

 With such a cultural training, not only girls, but boys are in trouble too.  We don't let them cry because they are boys.  We don't encourage them to smile, either.  So what should the boys do?  Stay angry or glum-faced all the time?  They are practically out of touch with their emotions, except the anger.  So, when a boy meets a girl and sex becomes nothing but old news, he is then unable to provide the emotional intimacy the relationship needs to survive and grow.  It is at this point that guys wish the football season had commenced, they yearn to go back to their old beer joint, and the saying that boys are from Mars and girls are from Venus, rings truer than ever.  

 Boys are encouraged to magnify what they possess in a small measure.  For example, boys are encouraged to exhibit bravery and courage.  These are powerful incentives for boys to demonstrate and display their strength and speed. Girls, on the other hand, are in a greater predicament than boys. Instead of magnifying what they have in small measure, they are encouraged to deny and suppress what they have in good measure.  In a classroom, a girl knows the answer, but she won't raise her hand and say it because of the teasing that would follow.  She understands that girls are supposed to be beautiful and not brainy.  

 The modern cultural training for girls is sometimes phrased as the "Indoctrination of the female for goodness." To be good, a female has to reconcile the opposites.  Female training is a study of paradox.  Girls are supposed to be sexy but not sexual; be a full -blooded woman but flat-chested and straight-shouldered like a man, be independent but conforming; be clever but not "brainy", be competitive but non-threatening to the guys, be honest but maintain the false self.  

 Psychology, especially from the 1950's onwards, have increasingly drawn attention to the existence of "true self" and "false self"-- we all, whether male or female, sacrifice a part of our true self in order to be accepted and approved in the society.  We feel one thing on the inside but express another on the outside.  For example, we may feel rebuffed on the inside, but on the outside, we smile and say "Thank You".  

 Not all that we  suppress and control should be expressed.  Thanks goodness that we don't blurt out everything that we think in our head.  These controls naturally develop with emotional maturity and stability.  As adults acknowledge a child's true feelings and the child feels supported and validated, he or she acts with a greater sense of responsibly and consideration for others.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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