Sweetness should be gender-neutral

8 08 2013

Just read this article and in response to the Guardian’s request for comments, this is mine:

I want my daughters to be nice–VERY nice.

Although I was somewhat cognisant as a child about the power that comes from smiling (particularly in getting what I wanted from my parents), it wasn’t until I was 13 years old that I became fully aware of the power my smile could have on the outside world.

It was toward the end of the academic school year and I was using my smile, as well as my verbal skills, to convince my history teacher to accept an assignment that was 3 days overdue. I cannot remember what excuse I had up my sleeve on this particular occasion (as turning in assignments on time is something I have always struggled to do and I have more excuses than any other person I know) but whatever I did, worked. My teacher not only agreed to accept my late assignment but he also agreed not to take any points off for tardiness, so long as it remained “our little secret” (which it did until this very moment). Just as I was leaving the classroom, however, he stopped me, put his hand on my shoulder and looked sternly into my eyes. “You know, you aren’t always going to be able to use your smile to get away with things.” I couldn’t help but smile right back at him. He shook his head, rolled his eyes and walked back to his desk, smiling.

26 years after that conversation with my history teacher and I’m still smiling. I smile multiple times a day. Even when I am sad, stressed or angry, even when I am being serious, when I’m at a job interview, when I’m at a board meeting or giving a lecture, even when I’ve been called into my daughter’s school because she’s had a bad fall, even when a friend is crying in my arms of a broken heart—a smile will eventually creep up on me. This smile will provide perspective, a sense of calm and a sweetness, it will warm the moment; it will also infect whoever is in front of me.I was cute back then and I was sweet. I was a child after all—aren’t all children, irrespective of gender cute and sweet? And I had a killer smile. It worked like a charm and I got most things I wanted. But I was also smart, driven and curious about just about everything life had to offer. How in the world did we get to get to the point where we are questioning whether we want cute and sweet children who smile a lot?

Do I get a way with a lot of things other people don’t because of my smile?  Maybe. Do people with killer smiles generally get away with more in life? Who knows. Probably. All I know is that deep wrinkles are already setting in around the corners of my eyes but I’d choose these lines over frown lines any day.

Smiling is what makes us human. It softens us. It makes us even the toughest grown-up look sweet.

What an extraordinary trait: to be able to convey a message filled with positive energy without having to utter a single sound.

And the best part is that the moment you smile at someone they smile back. At least most of the time. We have all experienced the effect of a smile at some point in our lives and fortunately, we also have loads of scientific research for sceptics out there, demonstrating the effect that even a “fake” smile can have in provoking a sensation of happiness.

I think it is wrong to suggest that a smile is a female crutch. It is a human crutch and thank God we are all capable of smiling.

And yes, maybe some of us smile more than others but this is our gift not a curse.

I find it very strange that some people out there have come to peace with the idea of raising a child who doesn’t smile, but whatever, that is their own private matter. But it is abhorrent to use a girl with a frown wedged between her brows as a poster child for the feminist movement. It is also just plain ridiculous.

I want nothing more than my two daughters to feel empowered by their killer smiles and I want nothing more than for them to go through their entire life smiling—not as “if she is waitressing or pole-dancing or apologising for some vague but enormous infraction, like the very fact of her own existence” as Catherine Newman is so worried might be happening behind the smiling eyes of a child—but simply smiling.

And I want nothing more than for my daughters to use their killer smiles to infect people—as many people as possible in their lifetime—with happiness. Because that’s what it’s all about. They can have a rich intellectual and professional lives but without a capacity to muster up a carefree smile, without the capacity for kindness and generosity, a will to want to please others and to be accommodating, intellectual endeavours will always fall short of providing them with the happiness they deserve. Unlike Mrs Newman, I do want my daughters to wear their good nature like a gemstone—would much prefer that over any other material gems they may choose to adorn themselves with in the future.

I am certain that if I had sons I would want exactly the same for them.

Sweetness should be gender neutral.




6 responses

8 08 2013

Loved it!!

Miraculously Sent from my iPhone

8 08 2013

I loved it Niki! Absolutely – infect as many as you can!

8 08 2013
Catherine McSweeney


I am blown away by this! this is such powerful, compelling, persuasive, beautiful writing. You write with such style, force and coherence that sweeps me along with your ideas towards your conclusion.

Its very powerful in its force of argument and ideas, but also light and vivid and funny and charming.

Wow wow wow you are such a great writer.

This is quite apart from the fact that I love and agree with everything you’re saying!

So great niki. Keep writing and smiling!

XxxxSent from Samsung Mobile

10 08 2013
Mary Ann barbery

Niki, I just read your article on smiling and happiness…..the photo is so so perfect!!!!!! Loved it!!!!mamamiel

11 08 2013
Mary Ann barbery

You should have a column!!!!!

16 08 2013
Gabriela Monterroso

Muy bien dicho! While I was reading this I was imagining your smile the whole time. After all this years I can still see it because, indeed, you were always smiling! Loved it!

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