“You’d look prettier if you smiled.”

Most women have, at least once in their lives, heard someone tell them that they should smile more. It’s a line usually delivered by some creepy old man who doesn’t realize that his comments are unwelcome, and at a time when there’s absolutely no reason why you would be smiling.

For those who suffer from resting bitch face, these kinds of comments may be thrown at you more often. Your stony, unamused visage may prompt random strangers to inform you how much your features would be benefited by a smile. Now, it’s safe to say it’s douchey to make a comment like that in the first place. Women don’t exist for the viewing pleasure of others, and they most certainly don’t have to pretend to be happy while taking the subway to work or shopping for groceries. It’s interesting, then, that the term for women who regularly don’t smile, and whose default face is unwelcoming, is resting bitch face. It’s facetious, sure, but we don’t have another term. It’s not an amusing play on some already existent word—that’s the only word we made.

Let’s take a minute to look at the roots of this word, most specifically at bitch. According to the Oxford English dictionary, a bitch is a “malicious or treacherous woman…outstandingly difficult or unpleasant.” The face of a bitch, then, would likely display similar qualities to the bitch herself. It would be a face that told you, at a glance, that the possessor of said face has looked at you, judged you and has decided that she has no desire to interact with you. From a feminist standpoint, the bitch rejects demure femininity in the place of not giving a shit about your opinions of her. It can truly be liberating, at times, to brand yourself as a bitch. It comes with the privilege of not giving a shit, because the explanation for you not giving a shit is that you are, quite simply, a bitch.

Claiming resting bitch face can similarly be liberating for some women. If you look unhappy, and people tell you that, you can easily claim that you have resting bitch face. But it’s important to start looking about what makes you claim it in the first place: the expectation that you should look welcoming, even when resting. The expectation that you should look amused and engaged—not for yourself—but for the pleasure of those who might be looking at you. This term, applied originally and almost exclusively to women, with its heavy reliance on the word bitch, paints a picture about how our society expects women to look and behave. It signals that it is aberrant to look unwelcoming; it is undesirable to appear disinterested. This decidedly female-skewed usage also points to our society’s reduced expectations of male appearance. Men are not required to look welcoming. A man who might possess a resting bitch face is instead told he looks stern, or stoic. If you doubt this, spend some time staring at busts of Roman Senators.

The pattern of female-associated words being derogatory relative to their male counterparts is not new. It can easily be seen in the words used to describe a single person; an unmarried woman has been branded a “spinster” or an “old maid,” where a single man, no matter how old, is heralded as a “bachelor.” That the possession of a resting bitch face—a female-associated word—is considered negative is therefore no surprise. But it’s striking the lack of a male equivalent word. There’s no widely accepted “resting douche face” for the man you’re at least 87 percent sure is named Chad. Even for those who may argue that the possession of a resting bitch face is a gender-neutral phenomenon, we still choose to call it a resting bitch face. Not a resting douche face. Not even a resting angry face.  

So, no, resting bitch face doesn’t exactly exist. We just expect women to look like they’re going to put up with our bullshit.

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