I’m going to a BBQ back garden gig tonight, so I’m not going to have time to write up a full review. So I thought I’d actually live up to the whole ‘and occasionally writes about her life’ tagline I have up there.
Kristen Stewart is a much derided actress. It doesn’t help that what she’s mostly known for – the Twilight series – is terribly written, with wooden characters espousing that having your boyfriend control you is a great idea if he makes you into a vampire eventually. Throw in some unfortunate racial overtones, and you’ve got a recipe for some truly terrible films. Stewart’s performance is only a reflection of the character she has been given, the vacuous and emotionless Bella Swan. We all hate Bella Swan, for very good reasons. Stewart also hates Bella Swan, for pretty much the same reasons that we have. As a self-calling film buff, after watching some of her independent films, I know she has more talent than the mainstream media has let on (feel free to disagree with me on this, subjective opinions and all that).
The most consistent criticism of her is that no matter where she is, be she on screen or on the red carpet, Stewart does not smile. This has led to her being labelled as ’emotionless’ and ‘expressionless’, and becoming the frequent butt of jokes about how she can’t change her facial expression, like, at all.
But why should we criticise her for not smiling? Why is it such a problem?
Stewart has said that she finds the rigmarole of interviews and photo shoots and walking in front of legions of paparazzi to be uncomfortable experiences. And which one of us would blame her for that? Her job is to act, not to be some object for the media. So she expresses her discomfort by being herself, by not forcing herself to act all smiles and happiness when she doesn’t want to. And yet we all judge her for this.
This strikes a cord with me on a personal level. I’m an expressive and happy person when I want to be and when I’m in a situation where I’m comfortable and not under pressure. When I’m out and about, shopping or travelling, my face is neutral. There’s something about a woman going about with a neutral expression that people in western society seem to find threatening. I frequently get demands to be happy and smiling from random strangers. ‘Oh, cheer up love, it might never happen’, women behind tills chirp at me. ‘You’d be really pretty if you only smiled’, train conductors tell me. ‘Give me a smile darlin’ or I’ll give you something to smile about’, men will say into my face. People find the time to get in my face and tell me this BS out of some misguided notion that the world must see me smile and that I must present a happy face to what I see.
Maybe you don’t see this as a feminist issue. To me, who experiences this on a regular basis, it is something that needs to be combated. It’s a question of my personal agency. How dare people demand that I smile, because that’s how they feel comfortable with seeing women! It’s my choice to go around looking as miserable as bloody sin if I so choose to.
The media and society have led us all to believe that women must be happy. Women should present a happy face to the world. To look stoic, like men are allowed to, is to be troublesome. Women who don’t smile are either being sultry, for the benefit of man, or just being difficult. A woman is a comforting, wholesome image; the ideal woman is a mother, a virgin, a whore, all rolled into one, and accepting what fate presents to her with a wide, unquestioning smile upon her face. To look just plain neutral about it all is to give the impression that you are unhappy with something – as if you have taken the red pill, gone through the veil, and are not pleased with what you’ve found.
So I say we should all praise Stewart for her refusal to conduct her to the standards of our society. It can be a brave thing to go out without a smile on your face. Smiling and looking happy is not a right that people should demand of you. It’s your agency, your choice, your right to be as plain-faced as you want to be.